A dull-witted man tends to be alarmed by every accountAdvertisements
“Right and Wrong” in forms both good and evil or correct and incorrect are a delusion of our own making. Each and every one of us – perhaps with the exception of Heraclitus – from the moment we are born, spend our waking breaths building ourselves a fantasy world based on what and how we observe.
It has been a long path to this realisation. One I first glanced in high school in the 90’s, when I became aware that I was perhaps not as capable as I thought nor was I loved and admired by all others who laid eyes upon me. This feels like an odd kind of admission, but I had somehow managed to blindly stumble into my teens free of revelation that perhaps I wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Causally, I think I understand where failing to notice this sooner came from. I grew up with an action movie mentality, in which I would take place of some OP hero and had a parent (it could be argued I had two, but I’d dispute) affirming I was a generally excellent addition to the human race and that became my reality.
Perhaps this caused my hatred of high school and almost every person within. It and they signified the crumbling edifice of my own ego. I couldn’t understand why disagreements occurred, the opposite sex were not falling over themselves to know me, why I couldn’t succeed at everything I turned my mind to and that there were others – friends included – who were much more capable than I. On occasions when I applied myself (of which I can count on one hand), I was accused of cheating or asked if I wished to receive a medal for achieving what was expected of me. As any wounded animal would, I retreated into a safe space and healed my ego. I became uncharacteristically insular and quiet, doing my best to avoid any social interactions where possible and set about rebuilding the fantasy of my previous beliefs.
This odd pendulum swing from Golden God to Gollum would occur a few more times as I aged, but slowly eroded into the person I am now – though who is to say the journey is ended? Not I. It should be noted that my time spent in a safe space was time utterly wasted. When exposed to something that challenges our beliefs we have two options. Accept the challenge or ignore it. Acceptance leads to understanding, ignorance leads to oblivion.
Alongside my erosion of false selves was an erosion of dogmatism. I started to realise that nobody is ever right – or wrong – about anything, because these are concepts that simply do not exist anywhere other than the human mind. They have been invented by us, for us and serve us situationally. A creation of our minds in an attempt to rationalise the juxtaposition of human barbarism and kindness we witness, experience and perpetrate within our lifetimes.
Now, saying there is no such thing as right or wrong could appear controversial, but it is not designed to be. It’s an attempt to highlight that we can believe something to be universally wrong, but there can be instances where we will justify the same thing as right. Here are some easy ones:
Perhaps one would think mutilating and infant’s genitalia barbaric, yet male circumcision is practiced around the world without so much as a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Further, there are places where female circumcision is performed. Think about that for a second. Where is that shrug now?
Slavery may seem abhorrent, yet there are prison inmates around the world labouring for profitable businesses through convict-leasing programs, cleaning and maintaining public parks and roadways or risking life and limb fighting wildfires.
Torture could be considered universally wrong, yet the Geneva Conventions can be globally circumvented by “detaining” suspects at black sites and subjecting them to euphemistically dubbed “enhanced interrogation” techniques based on those developed by the Gestapo in the 1930’s.
The slaughter of animals for food may be deeply upsetting to us, yet entire ecosystems are wiped from the earth to make way for crops without so much as a tear lost for generations of insect, native plant, field mouse, rabbit, owl or hawk.
These examples are practiced today and lawfully defensible. What does that make them? Right or wrong? Leaping to their defence or condemnation puts us on one side of a fence that only exists in our own minds. Regardless of how justifiable or horrifying an act perpetrated is to us, there are no moral dilemmas and no infraction of rights that exist anywhere outside of our own (often culturally biased) viewpoint.
Morality is a Fashion Statement
The cognitively disruptive outcome of noticing a non-linear, eternally changing moral landscape is that right and wrong or good and evil can’t exist at all or must instantaneously co-exist in the same space. The opinions we carry are caused by something outside ourselves we observe from our unique perspective, parse and assume, stitching together a ratty patchwork quilt that adorns our worldview. This becomes very obvious when looking at any part of human history. Time and again we see genocide, torture, liberation and enlightenment recursively appearing in no particular order. The end result is coming to understand that moral human progress is Sisyphean in nature. The sooner we learn this, the closer we are to a peripheral glance of good old Heraclitus’ account or as he called it: Logos.
Crystal Clear as Mud
The interesting aspect of coming to this realisation is it can help facilitate a dereliction of ego to some degree. It can lessen the discomfort of being provided with a perspective that challenges what we think we are certain of. It removes the monostructural view that there is a binary answer associated with every idea. It can help stop us being so wrapped up in our own surety and aid our understanding that our perspective is exactly that – ours. Some may agree, others may not and that’s okay.
I have said before we all carry bias and blind spots. We can hold on to them with an iron grip, or we can let go when we discover something that shakes their foundations. It’s up to us to evolve like the rest of the animals, or repeat the history that erodes the fantasy of our progress.
Tools of the Tirade
This might serve as a reminder to carry an ember of caveat with us at all times in the hope that we may find ourselves setting light to our own credulity. This intention is markedly different from donning a “skeptic” lanyard every time a discussion begins. In the authors experience, “I’m a skeptic” translates to “I’m a naturally contrary bastard and wear it like an Olympic medal.” I have yet to encounter a self-identifying skeptic interested in learning, rather than enjoying strong-arming their opinion onto others.
How are we to combat the panic of drowning in uncertainty? Humans evolved through observing patterns in the natural world to help navigate and survive it, creating intricate myth and narrative around them. We are now largely unaware of either patterns or our intuition. We may even spend time time suppressing them with whatever belief is currently held fashionable. We do not have to know things. A best guess is good enough until we are presented with something that allows us to update our knowledge. Our openness to change is the load bearing lynchpin that helps us maintain the framework of our ideas.
My wife always says “We don’t know what we don’t know” and accepting that without attributing a fictitious positive or negative moral value is our first step in breaking through barriers to learning our ego may create. This should help us to see thoughts counter to our own as different, rather than worthy of outrage and breathless mental collapse.
Finally, I have purposefully avoided using the word reason anywhere here – as its meaning feels all but ruined by the fashionable perfection myth enforced by our aseptic modernity. I aim to cover some practical steps I’ve been toying with in a forthcoming article, but in the meantime, let’s play around with alternative perspectives to beliefs we hold dear and see how it feels.