Monday, December 21, 2009

We are Human... but what does that mean?

If a wide ranging and thoughtful reading can make us wise... Litlove of Tales from the Reading Room might be offered as convincing evidence in the affirmative. Her recent post,
Being Cruel to be Kind, comes close to the heart of what I deeply believe to be one of the most important and liberating insights into human behavior and our extraordinarily primitive understanding of how we come by our capacity to make ethical and moral judgments and to alter our actions accordingly.

Our pre-medieval legal assumptions--linking cognitive awareness of social codes to the ability to act on same being but one of the more egregious cases in point: that is, if you "know" it's wrong, and you do it... you're guilty. As though the capacity to act were nothing more than a cognitive triggered event.

Expanding on a comment I wrote to Litlove's post: I think that our ‘normal’ assumptions of free will are no less warped and distorted than that of an individual with Aspergus syndrome... or someone with bipolar disorder in a manic state. Only different.

Different, yes, and so fall under different normatively defined judgments and assumptions. We become responsible by acknowledging responsibility–and the ‘normal’ pattern is the one we learn–assuming that everyone else outside that pattern is either willfully deviant and ‘bad,’ or suffering from a ‘disability,’ as though it were an either/or: those in the fold are good or bad, those outside… just don’t know any better and are not capable of making ethical or moral distinctions. When the reality is far more likely that there are different ways of assimilating this necessary fiction of personal responsibility–and ways of adapting to it–which enable all of us, Normies.. and those outside the Normy fold, to some limited degree, to be capable of assuming responsibility.

Let me repeat: we become responsible by accepting responsibility for our actions. I remember writing something like that in a journal entry... "I become who I am as I accept responsibility for the consequences of my actions. " There's a lot to unpack in that statement... that in accepting what amounts to a profound FICTION... that we are, not only the cause, but the FREE AGENTS of cause and consequence of our actions--we become, what began as a fictive construct... in fact... free and responsible agents.

But we do not come by this all in the same way. Who is the autistic woman who has been working to inspect conditions of cattle taken to slaughterhouses? She offers us a level of mindful consciousness... of conscience... that calls to mind legends of Francis of Assisi. She LISTENS to the animals... and converts what she hears to an ethical judgment translatable to legal and Normy understanding.

To treat anyone as though they are incapable of normative understanding, reduces them to the sub-human...and releases 'us' we so-called Normies' to exploit and torture them to our own perceived advantage... with a free conscience. Our courts of law do this thousands of times every day.

We come by this strange and seemingly paradoxical capacity, not all by the same paths. Yes, we only fully join the human community as we become 'moral and ethical' free agents... but we are only half way there... or less. when we exclude those who learn by different means... and there is room here to consider, by way of extension--to a more limited degree... those other species, the other animals we have invited to share in our domesticated state. How different, really--the arguments we offer to their exploitation than those we apply to fellow humans we deem mentally, socially, politically, psychologically deficient and inferior?

1 comment:

  1. What a sensitive and profound post, Jacob. And I agree with your premise - bearing the burden of responsibility is by no means 'normal' behaviour for any individual. It is a cultural necessity, and therefore a cultural construct, and as such we have to think how it is constructed, who wins and who loses in the fictions we tell ourselves. Interrogating the contours of that story, rewriting it constantly - that is what we must do if we aspire to the level of humanity that is congruent with the assumption of responsibility.