From the Left
By Brendan LeRoy
Since I was a child I have enjoyed pondering the puzzles and mysteries of life. What lies beyond the stars or the depths of the oceans? How did the people tens of thousands of years ago live? This all fascinated me from a young age. Before long, I began questioning the moral mysteries, cultural influences and political systems. No different from my beliefs regarding distant space or the lives of the most ancient peoples are my views regarding morality, religion and economics.
How is it that I can have a thoughtful and rational discussion about the religion of ancient humans, but discussing Islam becomes hostile? The same people with whom I may engage in an imaginative dialogue regarding the sacrificial rituals of the Mayans becomes heated when switched to the questionable termination of life as a result of abortion or capital punishment. We cannot discuss things such as poverty, firearms, gambling, euthanasia, homosexuality or animal testing without a backlash from our hardwired values driven by blind emotion.
Noam Chomsky, a controversial Harvard professor and philosopher, described the function of morality in humans. He gave an example of a pet dog that is hit and killed by a car in front of a house. The family of the pet heard that dog meat was delicious and decided to butcher, cook and serve their dead pet for dinner. Why should we find this horrifying, do we not eat cows, pigs and chickens? Chomsky states that we tend to align our moral values with our lifestyles and Western culture unequivocally abhors the consumption of dogs. He calls this ‘moral grammar.’ Like linguistic grammar, which is a strange, but fascinating, universal that is innate to all humans, so is a certain set of morality by a deeply ingrained distinction of right and wrong, despite the fact we do not all subscribe to the same definitions.
Moral grammar can be broken down into five categories: rejection of harm, valuing fairness, yearning for community, respect for authority and promoting purity. Morality may be natural to us, but the definitions are remarkably fluid and often illogical; it is backed up by a rationality aligned with our own anecdotal experiences. In American society most are not familiar with the consumption of dog, stoning adulterers or the sacrifice of humans. Our problems arise when an issue falls into two or more of these categories, therefore multiple psychological responses to these moral unanswerables lead to the lack of consensus becoming all too familiar.
Mark Twain said, “In matters concerning religion and politics, a man’s reasoning powers are not above a monkey’s.” To me, the theories of Noam Chomsky and Mark Twain mesh. Morality is not logical; morality is instinctual, primal even. When our values and beliefs are questioned, we will fight one another like baboons. Should we legalize euthanasia because it is fair or reject it as harmful? Do gay and lesbian relationships contribute to the betterment of community or does it fly in the face of our long held cultural views of what is pure? Does the Affordable Care Act help the poor and better our communities, or is it unfair to those whom, by hard work and determination, earned health care? Are the police breaking apart the Ferguson community or are the police the authority which protects and serves justice?
Like everyone else, I attain certain views based on my experiences and interpretation of the world. Those views shape beliefs, and the strongest of those beliefs create my values. Sometimes those values are based on rationalization and sometimes by cultural indoctrination. When I first began taking an interest in these moral and social issues I did not understand the absurdity created by my inability to see beyond my closed mind, resulting in a hardened and hating heart.
My intent within these columns is not to persuade, but rather to present an idea you may never have heard. I only assert the various radical ideas that bounce from side to side within mind. I am a college student in my twenties, if my views have shifted and warped, broken and mended as many times as they have in five years or so, chances are I know nothing. Isn’t that what Chomsky and Mark Twain say, to talk about politics and religion as if I have authority would be barbaric? To say I know the answer when it seems impossible that there is one would be irrational and ignorant. I love unsolvable puzzles, not politics. I could ponder morality and human institutions until the day I die and I will never know the truth. Unfortunately, politics is the art of assessing these ideas and claiming to have found the answer.
It saddens me to see how blind we all are, and I am no saint. The 10 percent approval of Congress should translate to a ten percent approval of us. The government is not called a representative republic without reason. Perhaps we hate Congress because we hate our own reflection in the mirror. Today I challenge you to truly think and understand the views of your political rivals. Pick an issue that you feel most strongly about and put yourselves in the shoes of the opposition. Imagine how wonderful it would be if we could learn to understand one another and build upon each other’s values. But, chances are, I am probably wrong.
“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” – Mark Twain, Following the Equator.