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Véra Nabokov, preemptive strikes, and the Talmud

Friday, May 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — i personally am better acquainted with “innocent until proven guilty”, but.. ]
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Contemplating this:

in light of the Talmud:

Obviously if Véra Nabokov intended to protect her husband, she intended to shoot his would-be assassin right before the assassination attempt, not right after it.

**

If Someone Comes to Kill You, Rise Up and Kill Him First:

Several days before the horror of September 11, 2001, Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke to Conservative rabbis in an international conference call. Responding to a concern expressed about Israel’s policy of preemptive targeted killings of suspected terrorist leaders and the inevitable collateral damage, Mr. Peres defended the practice, citing an oft-quoted rabbinic legal dictum, “Im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo,” “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him (first).” The uproar last July by Israel-bashers and, more credibly, by the Israeli Jewish public after the Israeli army bombed a Gaza apartment building, inadvertently killing fourteen civilians, including nine children, along with arch-terrorist Salah Shehada, again focused attention on the issue of collateral damage in the implementation of “Im ba l’hargekha.”

File under preemptive strikes, targeted killings, drones, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, etc.

Wealth redistribution: from rich to poor, or from goats to sheep?

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — surplus and lack vs good and evil ]
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SPEC DQ Sanders Cruz

I have to admit, I’m used to wealth redistribution being a concept on the left — socialist, whether in the sense indistinguishable from communist, often found in the US, or in the more moderate sense of the word found more frequently in Europe — as proposed by Bernie Sanders in the upper panel, and was surprised to see Sen. Cruz‘ father using the same concept, albeir in a different sense, lower panel, on the right.

As my title suggests, the distinction to be drawn here is between the material distinction between rich and poor, and the spiritual distinction between sheep and goats.

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For a different distinction, see also Tim Furnish‘s comment in his book Sects, Lies and the Caliphate “that liberals are almost always messianic, while conservatives tend more toward the apocalyptic”:

It’s certainly the Democrat party, for the most part, that worships the idea of our elected democratic officials as messianic wealth-redistributors, assisted by their hordes of bureaucratic disciples; while the GOP (not unreasonably, perhaps) obsesses about apocalyptic demise—whether politically, theologically, or both.

Furnish is writing in response to Anne Barbeau Gardiner‘s review of Ross Douthat‘s book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics here — making use of a distinction which comes from Douthat himself:

The fourth heresy is American nationalism, which has two sides, messianic and apocalyptic. The messianic side turns democracy into a religion capable of doing the “redemptive work that orthodoxy reserves for Christ and his Church,” while the apocalyptic side envisions our national history as a “downhill slide.” Today these two sides are “bipartisan afflictions.” Each takes its turn in the driver’s seat — the messianic when a favored political party is in power, the apocalyptic when it is out of power — with the result that they go through cycles of “utopian hopes and millennial angst.” Moreover, the two parties are “theological worlds unto themselves,” creating a Manichean landscape of good versus evil where a Christian is pressured to conform his “theology to ideology.”

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Within a purely secular context, transfers of wealth happen all the time, in regular clock time, by means of gift, trade, theft and plunder.

Within a Christian theological context, however, humans taking it upon themselves to separate the sheep from the goats is surely no different from separating the wheat from the tares — and as such, distinctly not something to be done until “the harvest” — in “the end times”.

Matthew 13. 24-30:

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

And that’s a very different scenario, in which the timing is by definition unknown.

The trouble with moral high ground

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — fitness landscapes and the Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond ]
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With the rise and fall of sea levels, sky levels, land emerges or submerges, mountain ranges with scattered lakes in their valleys transform into archipelagos, island clusters surge up to become continents — rise and fall, ebb and flow, wave upon wave..

I mean, really, what of the moral high ground?

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Consider these:

Figure 13: Schematic “adaptive” or “fitness” landscape. 

Adaptive Basins and Strange Peaks

Biologists talk about adaptive landscapes. In these metaphorical places, species climb uphill towards optimal fitness. Going up is a struggle. Climbing takes energy. Optimal peaks can be hard to attain. Many species are distracted by getting stuck on sub-optimal false peaks, or waylaid by the intervening rugged landscape.

Sources:

  • ResearchGate, Schematic “adaptive” or “fitness” landscape
  • The Technium, Adaptive Basins and Strange Peaks
  • **

    Nemesis and the Prophets are agreed:

    Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill made low

    — or as Mary said of her son’s father:

    He buffets proud folk about like leaves in a gale.
    He upsets those that hold themselves high and mighty
    and rescues the least one of us.

    Ursula le Guin voiced Lao Tzu for us in English:

    True goodness
    is like water.
    Water’s good
    for everything.
    It doesn’t compete.

    It goes right
    to the low loathsome places,
    and so finds the way.

    Furthermore:

    What’s softest in the world
    rushes and runs
    over what’s hardest in the world.

    The immaterial
    enters
    the impenetrable.

    **

    O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

    Two wrongs make a right or wrong — in theory?

    Sunday, November 15th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the (Pythagorean) arithmetic of morals ]
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    Extermination_of_Evil_Sendan_Kendatsuba 600

    Sendan Kendatsuba, one of the guardians of Buddhist law, banishing evil, Tokyo National Museum

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    What’s right is generally supposed to be positive, while what’s wrong is seen as negative — and as they saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    In effect, that’s saying two negatives don’t make a positive. And if you add them, that’s correct.

    But if you multiply two negatives, you get a positive — hunh?

    So two wrongs can indeed make a right — that’s the mathematics of vengeance — multiplicative:

    And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

    — Deuteronomy 19.13

    And it is also true that two wrongs don’t make a right — that’s a mathematics that denies vengeance — additive.

    And then there’s the mathematics of forgiveness :

    Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

    — Romans 12.21

    Patient men, desirous of the Face of their Lord, who perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them, secretly and in public, and who avert evil with good — theirs shall be the Ultimate Abode

    — Qur’an 13.22

    And what’s most interesting to me in all this, is that the mathematical formulations, additive and multiplicative alike, don’t make a feature of time — where as their moral equivalents tend to introduce time into the equation / situation — in each case, it’s the response to evil, real or potential, that is considered.

    Two serpent-eats-tail views of the Brennan email hack

    Sunday, October 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — spy vs spy as delicate moral balance ]
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    spy vs spy

    There are two sentences in When The Hackers Become The Hacked: Why Reading John Brennan’s Emails Feels Wrong, Ali Watkins‘ HuffPo piece a couple of days ago, that feature a neat sense of paradox, and what’s most interesting about them is that they show us two different sides of the coin.

    The first [upper panel, below] has a bit of an “ooh, look” feel to it, finding its turning point in the fact that the keeper of secrets has had his own secrets exposed:

    SPEC Brennan

    while the second [lower panel, above] centers on how it feels “from the inside“.

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    All of which reminds me of the Talmudic distinction between the Israelites’ view, watching as their enemies the Egyptians perish in the Red Sea, and God’s view, seeing the Egyptian plight from the inside as it were, encapsulated in R Johanan‘s phrase:

    My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing songs!

    Kudos to Ali Watkins.


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