Friday, February 4, 2011

Philosophical at 2 a.m.

Funny how Alex should bring up the everlasting question of morality. You can't escape references to morality in any intellectual setting; books, art, politics, philosophy, everything seems to revolve around different people's perceptions of morality. Lord knows I've discussed it in school enough times. Yet it never ceases to be a fascinating topic for the simple reason that every person on this planet has a different idea (even if sometimes it's only a infinitesimal difference) of what constitutes as moral and immoral and thus your conversation about the topic will always be slightly or perhaps radically different. The opinions of others influence our own opinions, too, even those of us with the thickest skulls and most squared shoulders, and discussion remains the best way to learn and to shape your own definition of morality.

At any rate, the topic of morality has frequented my thoughts as of late. I believe this whole philosophical attitude started a few months ago as an introspective look at myself, at which point I realized that my self-evaluation had evolved into an evaluation of humanity as a whole. A stranger to the class may find it ironic that my Environmental Science class has provoked me to move away from blindly accepting that we must always do what's best for the environment and to move towards taking a critical look at all of the possible solutions to a problem in the environment, both conservative and liberal. It's something that I actually very much appreciate; our teacher provides ample time for discussion and debates about environmental issues ranging from water usage to saving endangered animals to eight year old bear hunters. It's not as if I've suddenly transformed into a "Drill, baby, drill" type gal and of course I'm still very pro-wildlife/nature/environment, but the often well-reasoned arguments from people on all different stances on the issue is an incredibly formative experience. That class has, I think, played a large role in my questioning of what is morality and if humans even have basic morals, and if so, what are they, and why do we have them?

Essentially -- if I can hope to summarize months' worth of cluttered thoughts -- my casual philosophy on human nature consists of two parts. Firstly, I establish that I completely reject the concept that humans are inherently good or evil; we typically have certain good and bad qualities when we first spring into existence but they don't define who we are. The second part of my philosophy mainly springs from an intense internal discussion about how one can justify people's such wildly varying opinions on every issue, from God and religion to who's morally justified for fighting in a war to whether we should conserve or exploit the environment. I'm not one for philosophical blanket statements -- I seriously doubt that humans can be explained away in a theory -- and I don't have any sort of answer to the question of "why are we here?," as I really rather do reject all religious answers to that question and I can't accept the more scientific explanation that we're just here to procreate and carry on the species. I don't believe that humans are superior to any other living species, but I certainly think that our consciousness and our ability to manipulate technology and, to a certain extent, control nature sets us apart from other animals in that we are both blessed with and burdened by the added responsibility of being held accountable for our actions; for facing the dilemma of not knowing how many natural resources we can use before we're overstaying our welcome, so to speak; we seem to be limited not by a natural instinct that other species have that tells them what they need to survive and when to stop, but by our own conscious beliefs. I'm a bit of a hardcore Agnostic with no real faith in God/a god, so I don't really believe that a higher power set our brains up so that we would work perfectly in this world; but I do believe -- or at least I think I do -- that we are, as a species, self-regulating. You see, the explanation that I have come up with for why our disagreements about ideology and other non-concrete controversial topics is because we need both the peace lovers and the violence lovers and everyone in between to keep our population and our treatment of the environment in check. To put it in plainer terms, I think that perhaps it's almost a good thing, or at least not a straight-up bad thing, that we have people who want to go to war, because they are somewhat canceled out by the number of people who support the opposite direction, peace. I think that we all have different ideas of morality and life and death and responsibility to the environment because we all balance each other out in the end. We need one extreme to balance out the other extreme; we have less drastic, more internal conflicts to provide more moderate options. And you're always going to have people who go overboard (at least in some people's opinion) to save the environment because they are counteracted by the people who go out of their way to not save the environment because they think that we'll be perfectly safe no matter what. So, to a certain extent, I don't think it matters, on a large scale, that we have extremists in either direction, because: we don't know what our responsibility on Earth is. We have literally no way of taking a step away from Earth and objectively looking at the situation. We are living in the world and we have to make decisions and actions based on what we know, not what really exists (which may be different in some cases). And the only way for us to ensure that we don't completely destroy the planet or each other is to have all of these people with these wildly different opinions because, in some crazy way, they balance each other out until we reach a more moderate overall population.

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