Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Society & Morals: The Dialogues of Jeff & Kim

The Dialogues of Jeff & Kim: On Society & Morals
by Alraune

Our conversation begins in a small apartment somewhere in Pennsylvania. A young man and woman, both in their twenties, are sitting at a round oak kitchen table. It is daylight outside, but the evening has set. The two had just finished playing rummy and chatting about metaphysics. The young woman, named Kim, is shuffling a worn deck of cards while the man leans back in the wooden chair in which he is seated and stairs out the kitchen window onto the busy street below.

Kim: What are you thinking about, Jeff?

Jeff: I was thinking about how there are people who say we make our own world. And if that is so, and I think the world is a messed up placelike how that guy just cursed out that lady down therethen what does that say about me?

Kim: Well, what if we don't make our own world? What if someone or something else is making it? What would that say about that someone or something else?

Jeff: And if we all make our world, what does that say about us?

Kim: I guess no one is perfect, and we are all messed up.

Jeff: But we all know it, and yet some are more messed up than others. And still some think they are barely messed up and the bulk of our problems are the fault of those who are more messed up.

Kim: Well, doesn't the killer and the warmonger do more wrong to our world than the liar?

Jeff: I think my gut reaction would be “yes,” but any sort of reasoning would inevitably conclude that's probably not true.

Kim. Are you saying a little girl who lies to her mother is just as bad as a psychopath who kills hundreds of thousands of people? You can't be serious! Besides, maybe if we could stop the big problems we'd have time to correct the little ones.

Jeff: But the little ones add up.

Kim: Yes, but they are nowhere near as destructive as some.

Jeff: I don't know. A thousand little bugs make one big tick. Imagine if everyone or even 25% of people lied to everyone on a regular basis. Could they not wreak more havoc than most bullets or bombs?

Kim: I just don't believe lying is as bad as killing. Maybe in some instances, like huge lies where someone lies to the fireman and tells him there is no one in the building, or if the majority are lying the majority of the time, but certainly not always.

Jeff: Likewise, killing is not always the greater evil. We kill to eat, life must feed on life. And we kill for self defense. Killing for the preservation of life is considered good, for the one who's life it preserves. But can you really be all that certain a little “white lie” is as harmless as you think?

Kim: What if I told you that you were one of the most attractive men I've ever seen, but I was only telling you that to make you feel good about yourself (no offense), would that be so bad?

Jeff: Well, supposing I took you seriously, so that I thought more highly of myself than I ought too. And suppose I went out after a much more attractive woman than yourself (no offense), and I was shot down in a really mean and rude manner so that I developed some sort of complex, or depression, or worse. Would any of that be your fault?

Kim: No. It would be the ignorant woman who did that to you, who must have been much uglier inside than myself. You see, I was trying to be nice, but she was not. I couldn't have known the future, so I can't be held responsible for what you did with the information I provided you, or how that caused others to affect you.

Jeff: I see. Push it off on me and the other woman. You had no part in it.

Kim: I didn't say I had no part in it, but that I cannot be held responsible for what ocurred because I cannot tell the future. Not to mention, I would not be the only cause. If anything I was merely an indirect cause among many others.

Jeff: Ok, but do you see my point then?

Kim: No. I do not.

Jeff: A thousand little bugs make one big tick. You might be a good bug, just doing your “buggy thing,” maybe even trying to help out a little, but you're still a bug.

Kim: First off, don't call me a bug. Second off, even good intentions that are not lies can sometimes go horribly wrong. Supposing you told your best friend you saw his girlfriend cheating on him. You did not lie, and you did the socially acceptable thing and told him (him being your best friend and all), but then he went and beat her and the guy up. Would that not be at least partially your fault, using your logic?

Jeff: No. Because in that instance I was the only one actually doing the right thing. He did the wrong thing and his girlfriend and the other guy did the wrong thing. The truth, by definition, cannot be the wrong thing. Lying would have been the wrong thing for me to do. Besides, what good would I have done by lying or holding my tongue? At least there was the possibility of some good in me telling the truth and caring enough about my friend to do so.

Kim: I see. So it's not just the intention which counts with you, but right or wrong. And how do you know what is right and what is wrong?

Jeff: Experience!

Kim: I'm waiting...

Jeff: Like I said, “experience.” It is right for me to tell you the porch is icy so you do not fall and hurt yourself. It is right to do that which saves pain, sorrow, suffering, death, and generally protects happiness and well-being.

Kim: So how would my telling you that you are more attractive than you actually are be wrong under that definition? And how would telling your friend his girlfriend is cheating on him be right by that definition?

Jeff: Immediate necessity. It would not have been an immediate necessity for you to tell me I was very attractive in order to save me from loss of well-being. On the other hand, it would have been an immediate necessity to tell my friend his girlfriend was cheating on him to potentially save him pain and suffering. She could have given him a disease!

Kim: Ok, so you are saying that right and wrong is something you learn by experience, and that to do right is to save yourself or others from a loss of well-being by acting out of an immediate necessity to do so.

Jeff: Precisely.

Kim: But what about his girlfriend? Surely you did her wrong because you caused her a loss of well-being.

Jeff: Ah, I knew you were going to bring that up!

Kim: Of course.

Jeff: Well obviously, given the fact that we must kill to eat or preserve our own lives in certain situations, then I would say that an immediate and personal care is also a part of immediate necessity.

Kim: In other words, if you care for someone and you do not want their well-being to be endangered, you would do what you learned from experience to be the correct thing to do under such a circumstance to prevent a loss of well-being provided it was an immediate necessity.

Jeff: Yes. I would do unto them what I wanted done unto me.

Kim: But what if I would have wanted you to lie to me and tell me I was the most attractive woman you ever saw, even though I know that to not be the truth? Would I then, by your definition, be guilty of doing you wrong by telling you what I would have wanted to hear myself?

Jeff: I think you make a good point, and the answer is that morality cannot be totally subjective, otherwise problems such as you mention would arise.

Kim: If it is even a problem. You are trying to say that my little “white lie” can cause big problems. You called me a bug, remember.

Jeff: Oh yes, I seem to have forgotten about that. And there is your answer! Morality is both a subjective thing such as: Do unto others as you want done to yourself, and a form of social order in which you do what is best for society. In other words, don't be a bunch of fleas biting the dog! If everybody is telling little “white lies”, then nobody is telling the truth and society is bogged down and hindered in its progression.

Kim: There you go again you jerk!

Jeff: What?

Kim: You called me a bug again!

Jeff: Ah, sorry about that. Don't worry, I'm a bug too. We all are! And if one of us little bugs gets too annoying society swats us and squishes us, just like bugs.

Kim: Well, you might be a bug anyway, but if you are right, then how does society make such a judgement? Besides treating others as we would want to be treated how do we, as a society, decide what is right or wrong for its progression? And can one outweigh the other? For instance, supposing you were a social and political activist who the majority could all agree on a subjective and personal level really was no threat and certainly not deserving of imprisonment, but your ideas were a threat to the current social structure? In such circumstances it seems that society always wins and the individual is done away with. Just look at Christ, Ghandi, Mandella, and Martin Luther King, Jr., or on the other side of the coin: Hitler, Mao, or Stalin.

Jeff: I think you are confusing the force of government with society in many of your examples, but I get your point. Although we need to be careful not to confuse government with society.

Kim: But why? Isn't government what establishes and maintains social order?

Jeff: Hence why the world is messed up.

Kim: So what, now you want anarchy?

Jeff: No, but I don't think a government should be telling me what to do anymore than I would want another person telling me what to do.

Kim: Maybe that's the problem? Everybody has an opinion, even governments and whole societies.

Jeff: No opinions are not the problem, it is when they are enforced or hindered with force which is the problem.

Kim: I think you might be right.

Jeff: Of course I am.

Kim: About what? That I am a bug?

Jeff: I said I was sorry. I didn't mean it that way. Would you let it go already?

Kim: I'll let it go for now, just don't let it happen again.

Jeff: Agreed. Now, where were we?

Kim: Forcing or hindering opinions.

Jeff: Ah yes.

Kim: But what if one is of the opinion that they should hurt another group?

Jeff: You mean like a government?

Kim: No, I mean like a hate-group.

Jeff: Oh, you can see my obvious confusion.

Kim: There you go again. You really do want anarchy don't you?

Jeff: No, just peace.

Kim: So what of it?

Jeff: I believe they should be allowed to voice their opinion, but that they should be dealt with if they try to force their opinion on others by hurting others or hindering their well-being.

Kim: But what if their opinion hurts someone's well-being, like their feelings?

Jeff: That's not a good enough reason to force them to do anything.

Kim: But isn't their opinion dangerous, or potentially so?

Jeff: Yes, and that is the chance a free society is supposed to be willing to take. Otherwise, any government or majority could say anything is potentially dangerous and before long no one would have any freedom, and no opinion. At least not any opinion that ever mattered, in which case why have one?

Kim: But we still haven't resolved when it is that the moral opinion of society should supercede that of the individual, or even if so.

Jeff: The society is an organism like the individual, and like the individual it will ultimately place itself above all others if it comes down to it even if it means breaking the Golden Rule.

Kim: You mean eventhough no well functioning human being would want to be killed by another for self preservation they would still kill if they had to in order to preserve their own life, such as where self preservation overrides the Golden Rule in the case of eating or self defense. You mean a society will do that to?

Jeff: Yes. Eventhough it does not appear to be an organism like you or I would normally think of, it is still an organism and behaves exactly like one.

Kim: Well then it seems as if everything is really just “survival of the fittest” then. Why do we even bother?

Jeff: I think we bother because there is something else about our humanity that we are trying to figure out, something which rises above the animalistic survival-of-the-fittest mentality such as in the case of one who gives their life for another.

Kim: Self-sacrifice for a loved-one or for society is noble, but when have you ever known a society to be willing to sacrifice itself? And what does it really get you except dead? Is a child whose mother died saving her from a burning building better off than a dead child and a living mother? Who will raise her? How could she possibly not be messed up for the rest of her life? And what of sacrificing your child to save your own life (due to medical complications), is it any less noble to save yourself, whom you also love and others love? Maybe the mother has children already who need her?

Jeff: So you think sacrifice of the self is the same as sacrificing another, and it's really just a different expression of survival?

Kim: Yes. All it is really saying is, “Ok. I know we all have to eat, so I'll tell you what, how about you eat me today instead of fighting over it?” I mean, even if a mother dies saving her child, and especially if she knew it was going to turn out that way, wasn't she really just doing it to preserve her offspring? So in the end, she was really just doing it for herself eventhough we'd love to think she was some super noble and loving mother, she was only doing what she thought was in her own interest of self-preservation.

Jeff: Wow! And all of this coming from a mother. I'll never look at my own mother the same again! So a loving mother is nothing more than a woman who knows her time has come and gone so she offers to let her young eat her rather than eating her young. How depressing is that?

Kim: Hey, if it really is all survival-of-the-fittest then that is the reality, and “yes,” it is depressing. So maybe we bother with things like the Golden Rule because it is better to lie to ourselves in order to preserve our own happiness and well-being? I mean who could really find happiness knowing that that mysterious force we call love is nothing more than the depressing situation I described above?

Jeff: I think you just described the ultimate problem with the world and why it is so messed up.

Kim: I did?

Jeff: Yes. We all know we would not want to be used by another for its own preservation, yet we must and do use others for our own preservation. Even societies are built on that premise where it uses all of its members to preserve itself. We are all walking in a constant state of hypocrisy from which there is no escape if we love our own lives. All of our morals are really just “niceties” we do to make ourselves feel less hypocritical because in the end we are all just killers.

Kim: So now I am a killer because I want to live. Is there no difference between killing for fun and killing for necessity?

Jeff: Yes. And the difference we created is what makes our existence bearable, and it also helps to preserve our own lives by maintaining a sense of order where a bunch of psychopaths are not running around killing for sport.

Kim: Wow! And you said I was depressing. I get your point, but I don't agree with it.

Jeff: How so?

Kim: Well, I just don't believe that the only difference between me and some guy who hacks people up and eats them for breakfast is that I am well behaved. For starters, I do not eat people.

Jeff: Good point, and I was hoping you would say that, otherwise I would have had to of ended this conversation and ran to a public area for my own self-preservation.

Kim: But you do look tasty. I think I have some salt and ketchup packets in my purse.

Jeff: I make a better lollipop than a cheesburger.

Kim: Behave yourself, and get back to why you think I am a psychopathic cannibal bug, yet are perfectly willing to make corny passes at me.

Jeff: Oh that's easy! I'm a man. We'll make a pass at anything if the mood is right.

Kim: Gee thanks. You sure know how to charm a lady. So now I'm just anything too. You're a real Romeo there, Jeff.

Jeff: Why is it that everything I say to you is taken as an insult?

Kim: Because it is.

Jeff: Ok, let's drop it and get back to the discussion.

Kim: As I was saying (and some of your comments make me wonder why), I believe there is a basic good in humanity, so I just don't buy your estimation that we are all somehow walking hypocritical killers.

Jeff: I hear that a lot. What does that even mean? Where is this basic good? There are wars everywhere, the majority of the world's population is in poverty, corporate banks are out to make a buck and rob the little man at every turn, children are kidnapped and worse, women and men are kidnapped and worse, governments are killing people every day in the name of “civility”, an enormous number of people are doped up on some sort of prescription drugs because there is supposedly something wrong with everyone's mind or body or something or other, and the list could go on for days. Where is this basic good you are talking about?

Kim: Well, you don't have to fear for your life every time you leave your house do you? You can basically enjoy yourself and basically live your life, right?

Jeff: Living is not necessarily “good” living, and “basically enjoy” means what? That I can get up at 5am, be stuck in traffic, put up with people who hate their job, grab a cheeseburger for lunch, put up with more people who hate their job, get stuck in traffic again, go home take a hot shower, drink a beer, eat a steak, read a book and then go to bed only to do it again for five sometimes six days?

Kim: So what do you want, a free ride?

Jeff: See. You complain that I insult you, but so far you've called me a jerk, an anarchist, and now a free-loader.

Kim: Well all is fair in love and war.

Jeff: Yes it seems so, and “no” I do not want a free ride, but I do not believe what passes for a “basically good” life is basically good. I think it is tolerable for most people, and some can't take it, which is evidence that it can't be all that good. Look at the suicide, homocide and crime rates in a society and let that be your judge as to whether or not life is “basically good” and there is a “basic good” in the hearts of humanity. That's probably why our society is so quick to put everyone on meds, so they can mask how shitty it really is.

Kim: So then what do you believe is good and what is your grand idea?

Jeff: Grab some papers and I'll go get some beer. This is going to take awhile.

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