Humanity

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In english class the other day, most of the class seemed outraged when someone said that the junior school was getting ipads for their classrooms for the little kids to learn to read better. I guess most people didn't think the benefits outweighed the costs and thought that the school was wasting money on things they didn't need. But in a way, isn't that pretty much what happens all the time in our consumerist lives? I was thinking, if we were the ones who were getting ipads, I doubt as many people would be complaining. Such is the model of human hypocrisy and the foundation of capitalism and poverty.


'Right,' said Roger, the self-appointed captain of the lifeboat.

'There are twelve of us on this vessel, which is great, because it can hold up to twenty. And we have plenty of rations to last until someone comes to get us, which won't be longer than 24 hours. So, I think that means we can safely allow ourselves an extra chocolate biscuit and a shot of rum each. Any objections?'

'Much as I'd doubtless enjoy the extra biscuit,' said Mr Mates,'shouldn't our main priority right now be to get the boat over there and pick up the poor drowning woman who has been shouting at us for the last half hour?' A few people looked down into the hull of the boat, embarrassed, while the others shook their heads in disbelief.

'I thought we had agreed,' said Roger. 'It's not our fault she's drowning, and if we pick her up, we won't be able to enjoy our extra rations. Why should we disrupt our cosy set-up here?' There were grunts of agreement.

'Because we could save her, and if we don't she'll die. Isn't that reason enough?'

'Life's a bitch,' replied Roger. 'If she dies, it's not because we killed her. Anyone for a digestive?'

(Source: 'Lifeboat Earth' by Onora O'Neill, republished in World Hunger and Moral Obligation, edited by W.Aiken and H. La Follette (Prentice-Hall, 1977))


The lifeboat metaphor is pretty easy to translate. The boat is the affluent West and the drowning woman those dying of malnutrition and preventable disease in the developing world. And the attitude of the developed world is, on this view, as callous as Roger's. We have enough food and medicine for everyone, but we would rather enjoy luxuries and let others die than forfeit our 'extra biscuit' to save them. If the people on the lifeboat are grossly immoral, then so are we.

In the real world, however, food and other goods are not just sitting there waiting to be distributed. Wealth is created and earned. So if I refused to give some of my surplus to someone else, I am not unfairly appropriating what is due to him, I am simply keeping what is rightfully mine.

However, even if the analogy is altered to reflect this fact, the apparent immorality does not disappear. Let us imagine that all the food and supplies on the boat belong to the individuals in it. Nevertheless, once in the boat, and once the need of the drowning woman is recognised, wouldn't it still be wrong to say, 'Let her die. These biscuits are mine!'? As long as there is enough surplus to provide for her too, the fact that is dying should make us give up some of our privately owned provisions for her.

The UN has set a target for developed countries to give 0.7% of their GDP (gross domestic product) to overseas aid. Few have met it. For the vast majority of people, to give even 1 per cent of their income to help the impoverished would have a negligible effect on their quality of life. The lifeboat analogy suggests that it is not so much that we would be good people if we did so, but that we are terribly wrong not to.

Taken from 'The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten (And ninety-nine other thought experiments)' by Julian Baggini (2005))


People's morals seem to deviate a lot though. That's why in the field of politics there is constant debate between right and left wing and, at their extremes, capitalism vs communism. In my opinion though, extremes of anything can't be good. Obviously capitalism poses moral dilemmas such as the one above, where no matter what not helping those less fortunate is immoral -- we can't just be selfish and serve ourselves. We are not all born equal, but shouldn't we try as much as we can to make the gaps smaller, not divide ourselves further apart? We are all of one species after all. The problem with communism is then, conversely, that there is not enough diversity. We ARE all born different, we have different aspirations and likes, dislikes that we should be able to aspire to. Dystopian fiction such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Huxley's Brave New World, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (I could list more, there are so many) demonstrate that being all the same and working towards the advance of humanity as a whole in the most efficient way possible is also something that we have emotional response to -- something that we cannot, for some reason or another, agree with. So what's the conclusion? We can't have either? We have to have a perfect balance between equality and diversity?

Honestly, I don't know what I think personally at all. I just know that extremes are never good.

As a final though, what do you think makes us human?

Does being human justify our hypocrisy, our greed, our selfishness? We often analyse literary characters who are imperfect because they are more 'human' - 3 dimensional, imperfect. Take tragic heroes such as King Lear, Macbeth. Even good characters who slip up once -- we forgive them because they made a 'human error'. It's true, we all make mistakes. But does this mean that we can justify any wrongs we commit with the line "we're all just human"? Isn't that a bit bleak and pathetic? As if our humanity is the CAUSE for all our immorality, even though at the same time it is also the reason for morality itself?

Are morals ideas that have always existed in us, that are congruous and inseparable from our code of humanity? Or are they planted by society, imposed by our environment? Is that why there are so many conflicting opinions in the world that seem to be the cause of both such beauty and chaos?

Perhaps the way to explain this is that it is in our ID to be self-preserving, to put ourselves before others. In that case, the morality system we have in place must be society-imposed. However, this in turn creates many more problems -- when and why did society create these 'morals'? What about preservation of the species as a whole (Charles Darwin)? Does this mean that the ten commandments were definitely invented? The implications are enormous.

The more I think about it, the more the story of the tree of knowledge giving birth to sin seems to be plausible. This way, there is reason for the conflict within each of us when we are in these types of situations (all the time). Philosophically, it is convenient to blame everything on a God and a Devil, it seems to be able to explain why we have so many seemingly unsolvable problems in our world -- good was never meant to be mixed with evil, and our earth seems to have become the retarded illegitimate child, with no idea what to do with the two sides imposed on it. That being said, widely accepted scientific theory has already overturned much of the teachings of the Bible and Church...

So where does this leave ethics?

I don't know. I don't even know if it matters. But sometimes I end up thinking about things like these. I can only pose questions, hoping to inspire the same thoughts in others.

true chaos and randomness

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omg I feel so bad for not updating. I've been meaning to update ever since I got back from Rome, but the weekend was so amazing and so much happened that I could never be bothered. And then since then even more stuff has happened so i've been avoiding updating even more... I'm so bad at keeping up after I've fallen behind...

And now I don't even feel like updating anymore. omg fml.

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13 february 2011

Fucking hell, I haven't blogged for ages. Well I started to write the above post but nothing was coming and I got distracted so I decided to just not do anything that time. But yeah, just got home from jamies since my parents wouldn't let me stay the night since I was out last night as well, but I really cbf arguing so whatever.

This year is going to be really busy. It annoys me in some ways but I think I just have to be positive and go at it as it comes.

It's pretty sad that some of my closest friends are leaving for overseas universities etc. Actually most of the time I don't feel like they value me as a close friend at all but I do think that way about them, so although it makes me feel unappreciated sometimes it doesn't really matter, their leaving still affects me on that level. It's not that I'm trying to push people away or anything like that, it's just hard for me to get close to people. Even the people I'm closest to I find hard to tolerate for long periods of time haha, I guess that's the way I am. But I do think that friendship is something to be held onto for a long time, and I think that if the effort is put in, people can stay friends for a lifetime. So, I wish them all the best of luck for their university embarkings and hope to see them sometime in the near future. Maybe next summer, maybe randomly when we're on holidays. Who knows? But, the world is surely a small place.

So as I sit here at 12.42am on a Sunday morning running on 4 or 5 hours of sleep from last night, what's on my mind? Not much. I have music blaring out of my headphones, I feel pretty peaceful I guess. Not happy, but not angry or anything. Very zen. I hoped that this blog was a place to chronicle significant events in my life so that I wouldn't forget them in the future, but it's a bit tiresome to recount days and experiences. Maybe human experience is meant to be lost in the labyrinths of our memories. Either way, it seems that I'm not that interested lately in writing my daily events but rather my feelings. Something that has impacted on my art subject matter for sure, because I can't think of one at all. I don't want to deal with the physical and static. I want to deal with feelings and emotion, but these are things that are quite difficult to put forward visually. What is happiness? Peace? Anger, sadness, love, hate, annoyance, nonchalance? What colour are they, what shape are they? No matter what metaphors we can use to describe them, analogies are never enough. These are things that cannot be captured by science, and perhaps never will be. Perhaps they were never meant to be. Maybe they just aren't, and there is no meaning behind them at all.

The only way this night could get any more perfect would be if it was slightly colder and it was raining heavily outside. Strange though, that such a feeling of blandness would be what I consider close to perfect. Perfection can never truly exist in my opinion though. There's a certain beauty in imperfection that perfection can never possess. Diversity, personality, creativity. These are things that cannot be captured by perfection.

I downloaded Burlesque today so I guess I'll watch that tonight as well. Man I left my ipod on my desk for literally less than 6 hours as I went out and when I come home it's gone. Jesus christ my brother...

Sometimes when I look at you I wonder what is going through your mind. Sometimes I think I already know. But I always think maybe there is something more. I'm curious though you know? I want to go inside and see what it's like inside your head. Everyone thinks so differently. I probably shouldn't be so interested in you specifically, but some things just can't be helped you know?

Why was I chosen to be me? I could have been anyone else. Am I thankful? Is there anything to be thankful for, if it is just as it is? I can't imagine being inside anyone else's head. I'm feeling a weird kind of unconsciousness of who I am not. That probably won't make sense to anyone else but it makes sense in my head. If we were to accept the existence of souls, maybe I am an old soul and I have no recollection of my past self or selves. That makes us essentially separate entities I guess. So, being an old soul is the same as being a new soul. Or maybe the same as having no soul at all.

What the hell am I on about? This kind of nonsense is the kinda stuff people come up with when they're high or drunk... Yeah I guess my thoughts are pretty scattered tonight. See the chaos of my brain that comes together to form a perfect balance that I consider to be close to perfect? I feel no negativity right now... It's quite wonderful.