Making people feel uncomfortable
This was sort of an interesting exchange the other night, out to dinner with some long-time acquaintances of my wife. I’d met them once some years ago at a party at our house in the ‘burbs, but I didn’t really recall. At any rate, nice people; engaging and on the ball. She’s a psychologist to troubled kids and he’s a big-ticket salesman for digital operating room equipment.
At first, we talked about the psychological problems some people experience, and while I understand there are often underlying physical issues such as injury, or hormonal or other chemical "imbalances," I ultimately have to come down at least 70-30 on the side of free will. Unless you’re an absolute basket case with little hope, I simply think that most of what we do is to make excuses for why we ultimately choose to do what we do. In that moment, when you understand and acknowledge that you have an alcohol problem, for instance, you still must make or order the drink, raise it to your lips, drink it in, and swallow it. You do not have to.
They tended to disagree on a "medical" level, as if to deny free will on the part of people with "problems" doing the right thing. My response, basically, is that it doesn’t matter to me in any case. Even if they are totally helpless, which I seriously doubt, it doesn’t make their problems in any way my problem (from a social standpoint).
It gets worse. Truth be told, I’m perfectly satisfied when it
ultimately ends up very bad for some of these people, even when it
means they die. At a point, you just get tired of hearing their
excuses, and I hasten to point out that should I ever go
off the deep end, I’m not expecting a lot of help from anyone. And should I get so bad that I’m guilt tripping, manipulating, and playing on
people’s sense of good will, I hope someone just takes me out and cleans
up the evidence good and tight. "Judge, and prepare to be judged," as Rand used to say and I relayed to them.
Now keep this in mind as we move along to topic number two: religion. Note that the implication of the argument, above, is that it’s me who is arguing that morality exists and they who are arguing it doesn’t; i.e., you’re just responding to chemical stimuli and not really choosing right or wrong. You’re a complex robot executing commands.
I’m not sure how it got started; and in such situations, my approach to the topic of religion, in person, is quite different from this blog. I’m somewhat conciliatory and typically make my position clear only by implication. But anyway, he thought he had me.
So you believe in right or wrong? Then where does that come from, if not from a higher power?
The look on his face was as though he was crouched for the kill. I just paused, allowing him a moment to revel in his sure victory, and I asked a simple question: what’s right or wrong about simply obeying or disobeying the commandment of a higher power that threatens to kill and torture you if you don’t? Is a prisoner in a torture chamber "a good person" because he obeys what he’s told? How about one under credible threat of going there unless he tows the line? Is this the basis of your Grand Morality?
There’s one thing I like about dealing with quick-minded people. Being quick of mind, they tend to run down a chain of logic at light speed — and the look on his face told me he’d grasped a whole chain of implications to my question right there in a flash.
I pressed on. It really comes down to a standard of value, I told him. If your standard of value isn’t some
imaginary friend supreme being, then by what standard might you judge values? How about human life in the general? Wouldn’t that be a logical conclusion if you didn’t have a sadistic omnipotent mutherfucker God? Do you think you can figure out what’s generally good and bad for a human life in the physical and psychological (call it "spiritual," if you wish) sense? Alright, now, are you equipped naturally to automatically and without a mind, seek out and acquire those good values, or do you have to identify them with your mind, seek them out, often cooperate with others, and acquire them?
So what could be more moral than the natural condition of being completely free to pursue, or not, the values necessary for your survival, health, and well being (happiness) and then pursue them of your own free will — and not in fear of the wrath of an
incorporeal psychopath supreme being?
The look on his face told me all I needed to know. This was the first time in his life he’d ever heard anything remotely like this. Most people are too dumb to grasp it and its implications without dozens and dozens of exposures and lots of patience (the brainwashing is severe in almost everybody), but he wasn’t, and I always enjoy seeing that flash of understanding. He’ll probably end up compartmentalizing it and living the contradiction; but at least he heard it.