Monday, October 17, 2022

Really Happening

In my recent post about the importance of marriage I brought up the example of Niels Bohr twinkling that the horseshoe "works even if you don't believe in it," or the Jewish philosopher* who wryly worried that his misfortune was God being "angry because I don't believe in him," but a better example occurs to me. That we might be taking spiritual damage we can't see from wrong actions is often dismissed as "just your opinion," the implication being that it's not really, really happening, it's just that some people have this idea that it's happening, so it can be safely ignored. The same can be said about the effect that our small actions have on others in society: How can a gay marriage in Wichita affect children in Cleveland in any way? Don't be ridiculous.  It's none of your damned business. The principle is extended that my relationship is none of your damned business even if you are my mother, my neighbor, or the person kneeling next to me at the communion rail. You just feel that way, it's not really real.

As a tangent that will draw way too much emotional energy but just occurred to me as similar, the claim that a fetus is a human is treated as just an opinion that some people have, a personal addition to their morality that they are welcome to but is not "really" true. You can add that value you in as an ornament on your Christmas tree if you want, but that's nothing I need to bother my pretty little head about. 

The takeaway is that we all like to do this, and before you insert your "none of your business" defense, consider that you are almost certainly doing it yourself somewhere. Conservatives, communitarians, liberals, greens, and libertarians all have their versions.  Just play that out in your head a little bit before kicking others.**

Some of the people who see things this way are libertarians, or economic conservatives.  But most of them are liberals, and there are equivalents from that side of the national understanding that are pertinent. The claim is that climate change is happening whether you think it is or not.They don't like it when you dismiss this as very shaky, or true but greatly overestimated, and the like.  No. No. It's REALLY happening.  Whether you think it is or not is irrelevant. And when you think of it, that's a very good point.  Just because I'm too dumb or pigheaded to see it doesn't mean it's not true. 

We could extend this to things that are less measurable and more philosophical, like vegetarianism. Whether you get it that it is true that it's cruel to animals is irrelevant. It IS cruel to animals, even if you look aside. People defended slavery as reasonable, too.  Your OPINION doesn't matter.*** Come to think of it, it applies to so many things.  Just because it is your opinion that America can afford this doesn't mean that it can.  Just because you believe that Big Pharma can easily change to do X doesn't mean it can. 

It's easy on the "Just because you think it's racist/fascist/unholy/unAmerican" declarations.  It's fun to see that it goes deeper. Fun for me, that's who.

*I still can't remember who this guy is.  I think he was at Columbia for many years.  Help if you can.  He may be the same guy who is big on choice theory and the anecdote about the two choices of pie versus three choices.  Help me out if you can.

** (I forget.  It was brilliant at the time, I swear.  I hope to remember it soon.)

*** Don't say to a liberal, especially one who thinks they have had some education, that their opinion "doesn't matter" in the sense that it does not logically affect the reasoning.  They will interpret this, whether in ignorance or instrumentally, as evidence that you are a fascist who does not care about the opinions of others.



Grim said...

I indeed take it to be a very important moral principle to identify what is, and is not, one's business; and to mind that which is, and keep one's nose out of that which is not.

There is an important debate here as you note. Is it 'our' business if (to borrow one of your examples) gay couples in Cleveland do whatever? Do we want it to be? Is the proper question whether we can identify any effect on our lives or institutions, such that if and only if there is a reasonable effect on us it becomes our business? Or does the polarity work the other way: we respect a natural liberty pertaining to all persons, and thus accept that they are entitled to a wide array of things that are their own business up until they are being positively harmful above some significant threshold (say, until it becomes a life-or-limb issue for another person).

I was reading an account of the Chinese social credit system at Hot Air today, and reflecting on how much Plato in his late period would have approved of it. Of course such a system can be corrupted (and, according to my understanding of human nature, is nearly certain to be corrupted) into a mere system of control by the powerful over the weak. Yet how nicely it realizes his project in the Laws of having a central council of public virtue, which aligns and monitors all actions with a guiding moral philosophy.

I absolutely hate it. To me it seems like a base violation of 'that liberty that no good man gives up except with life itself' (to quote the Declaration of Arbroath). But I can definitely see how a philosopher like Plato would find it delightful and aspirational.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is a difference between what we do as a matter of law and what we do as a matter of love to/for 1.the person whose actions we are examining and 2. other affected people. I don't tend much for laws unless clear harm can be shown. But there is a great deal that might not be law yet still be an intervention I undertake. A neighbor who humiliates wife or children in public, for example. Or even in private, actually. You can't tell me what to do can be countered with I can tell you whatever the hell I want. And I can get the whole neighborhood to tell you the same thing. That is also a freedom.

There's a legitimate value in everyone staying in their own lane as much as possible. But not only do bad actors hide behind that, free riding on the desire for peace that communities naturally have, but good actors gradually become worse in such communities. Public nuisance such as noise or bad driving become the norm. If we don't have social pressure, we have to resort more and more to hard laws, written down and enforced. Community expectations are a better way to go.

Remember that in some subcultures it's considered shameful to be told what to do, not just a bad policy for a community to engage in to all live together. That shouldn't matter. That's the subculture's problem, to my mind. If we want to limit what the law can do, we have to let community pressure do some of that work. People won't do the right thing if left alone, not by a long shot. Never have. That takes a lot of learning and being told how to behave.

dhill said...

Here, I have seen it expressed clearly before:

Christopher B said...

And then you have Dreher's merited impossibility construct .. That'll never happen, and when it does it'll be glorious/you bigots deserved it.

Galen said...

Was the Columbia professor Sydney Morgenbesser? Sounds like his brand of wit.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That sounds familiar. Looking him up, I did recognise some of the things he said, so I'm going with it.