An old essay by Andrei.
11 Sept. 2009
11 Sep. 2009
Eight years ago, on a day much like any other, many Americans in Washington D.C. and New York started their morning rituals with much practice aforethought. The alarm clock shattered the blissful silence of sleep, followed by the quickened morning breakfast, seeing children (if they had any) off, and the commute to work. And, for many on four flights that day, it was similar. Four irrelevant flights, lost within the blue sky, simple blips on a flight controller’s radar covered by hundreds of others. Rejecting absurd conspiracy theories, all was stale, linear, and forward, until nineteen men took action – nineteen men, none of whom themselves had a western education, but were lead by a man who did and once thrived in western society named Osama bin Laden. Nineteen men, who took charge of planes carrying men, women, and children, used them like meteors sent by God’s hand into the earth and its structures bellow. And all those Americans, those innocent civilians – men, women, and children – finally having completed a fair portion of their morning ritual, were disintegrated by the burning fuel of the jets, or crushed by the rubble of the falling behemoths. What if the nineteen hijackers lived their lives exactly as they had up to a point, except for having a western education? Would a westernized ethics class – showing the various types of ethical concepts and philosophers – have prevented or lessened this tragedy? What if they had used college as a cover – and actually learned from it? Would they all have committed the acts they did? Or what if they had been there before? Would they have joined al-Qaeda in the first place? Or would they have excused all of these actions based on their own ethical reasoning – duty-bound to Allah, to sacrifice themselves as “martyrs” to Islam and let God sort out those innocent whom had to be collateral damage?
Does one even have a choice in the matter? Are morals biologically and socially pre-determined, locked and sealed from change like a “read-only” file in a computer once adolescence is reached? Or are morals conscientiously chosen through the exercise of free will, with one able to pick and choose the influence that he or she will heed? There are those who support either the nature, which in this context includes both biological and social upbringing (which in this context is determinist), or the nurture (which in this context is free-will) side of the argument, but it seems that this is – in actuality – a false dichotomy. Modern-day psychology shows, in healthy individuals, that it is virtually split. The argument of determinism versus free will has raged for centuries, both on actions and thoughts. Some philosophers, like Schopenhauer and later Nietzsche, saw both – that we are not absolved of our nature, but that we can overcome it through a strong will, acting independently to a degree, and forming our own values independent of social or biological conditioning. (Nietzsche S23) One is then left with the question of how to escape what may be negative influence – how is one helped to find the door?
Even the most well taught ethics class cannot, in of itself, make a person ethical – regardless of whether they have, or are free of, psychological defects as we define it. A student is not fully ‘tabula rasa’ upon setting foot into said class. Whether a college student or a high school student, they have already had years of development through social interaction, religious indoctrination, or tragedy. And, assuming that an objective moral code even exists, one may still end up with an ‘immoral’ conclusion, regardless of the ethical reasoning they use. However, exposed to different trains of thought, and the brute logic of many ethical theories, one has little choice but to become self-critical. The door can, at least, be shown – but it is up to the individual to walk through it. Even for one who has a concept of subjective morality, it then becomes not the “if” one thinks an action is moral or not, but “why”. How one reaches the conclusion, and acts accordingly, whether through Kantian duty-ethics, forms of utilitarianism, existentialism, or Nietzschean trans-valuation. Of course, it is a pipe dream to expect everyone to view a person as ethical or moral, but this speaks with vision guided by the lens of western society. The critical-thinking introduced by education concerning ethics, through introduction to different theories and formulae around ethical decisions, is a better form of moral education than mindlessly espousing the values instilled by others. One should be able to state, with a clear conscience, their reasoning behind their beliefs, and either affirm or reject those they held beforehand. One can open the door that has been shown, and find their self – or at least a little piece.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. London: Penguin Books, 1973.