Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Rules of the Game, intro

Ever since my brother sent me this essay by Carl Sagan called "The Rules of the Game", I've fallen in love with it. It talks about the evolution of our morality.

Probably the best and easiest way for me to relate all of it to you is to simply post a link to it, as I did. But I would like to post it in parts so we could discuss and talk about each part separately and at leisure.

Where does Your morality come from? What set of rules do you use to determine right from wrong? here's a very early attempt at answering that question:

Everything morally right derives from one of four sources:
It concerns either full perception or intelligent development of what is true;
or the preservation of organized society, where every man is rendered his due and all obligations are faithfully discharged;
or the greatness and strength of a noble, invincible spirit;
or order and moderation in everything said and done, whereby is temperance and self-control.

De Officiis, I, 5 (45-44 B.C.E)

I did not personally like this answer, it seems a bit lost and unhinged. Translating an arabic parable "he explained water, after much effort, with water". Sagan used it to start his essay, so..

He then relates this simple yet to the point story from his own childhood:

I remember the end of a long ago perfect day in 1939... a day that powerfully influenced my thinking, a day when my parents introduced me to the wonders of the New York World's Fair.
It was late, well past my bedtime. Safely perched on my father's shoulders, holding onto his ears, my mother reassuringly at my side, I turned to see the great Trylon and Perisphere, the architectural icons of the fair, illuminated in shimmering blue pastels. We were abandoning the future, the "World of Tomorrow,", for the BMT subway train. As we paused to rearrange our possessions, my father got to talking with a small, tired man carrying a tray around his neck. He was selling pencils. My father reached into the crumpled brown paper bag that held the remains of our lunches, withdrew an apple, and handed it to the pencil man. I let out a loud wail. I disliked apples then, and had refused this one both at lunch and at dinner. But I had, nevertheless, a proprietary interest in it. It was my apple, and my father had just given it away to a funny-looking stranger... who, to compound my anguish, was now glaring unsympathetically in my direction.
Although my father was a person of nearly limitless patience and tenderness, I could see he was disappointed in me. He swept me up and hugged me tight to him.
"He's a poor stiff, out of work," he said to me, too quietly for the man to hear. "He hasn't eaten all day. We have enough. We can give him an apple."
I reconsidered, stifled my sobs, took another wistful glance at the World of Tomorrow, and gratefully fell asleep in his arms.

So, the dilemma was, the boy Sagan could not comprehend or understand why giving the apple (that he did not like or want) to someone else. His dad explained by immediately trying to get his boy to "empathize" with the homeless person by listing his problems "poor", "out of work", "hungry", and then pointing out that it won't "hurt us". Point being, if it threatened our own "wealth" in any substantial way, then we might not give him the food. So if they had 4 apples and NOTHING else, 1 for papa, 1 for mama, and 1 for little Carl, would they give the 4th apple to the homeless person? probably they'd save it to share it between them when they became hungry tomorrow, since they were homeless hungry people themselves :P

What are the boundaries of goodness?

Us wealthy kuwaitis don't think about such matters. We think about going to chocolate bars in the afternoon. Which flavor, size and caramel or non-caramel of starbucks coffee I'm going to get this morning. And the agony (Oh the agony) of deciding which fancy restaurant to have dinner at tonight. (3asalla la yghayer 3alaina ni3ma, o yzedna ba3ad)

We don't face critical decisions like not knowing what you'll be eating tomorrow and whether or not to split your lunch with another writhing-hungry person sitting on the opposite side of erraseef.

Well, who's more relevant? us? or the hungry people? obviously us because its us. but also obviously we are a very obscure minority in the world. The vast majority of people do NOT share our careless bored existence. But to care about them we'd have to do that awful thing called Empathy :P

So, next post in this series will be about the first and highest of the moral rules:

The Golden Rule.
Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

Til then, enjoy :)


Amethyst said...

I'm going to read the essay, then I'll read the post 3shan I read it unbiased;p

Big Pearls said...

Hmmmm we are blessed ilhamdillah...allah la yeqayer 3alaina.

falantan said...

amethyst: cool, tell me what you think after.

big pearls: il7emdella alf. I just meant to say that sometimes it feels like all this decadence we're in preoccupies us from doing worthy things. some of us atleast.

N. said...

el7emdellah 3al ne3ma, first. Then we can discuss the issues here. This reminds me a lot of my ethics course I took in college. There were a lot of questions about ethics and right and wrong, and what the best answer would be.

Lets say for example you have a cop, a doctor, a mother, a child, and a teenager all stuck in a place where is no access to food or shelter. After looking around, they find an apple. They are all hungry, so who gets to eat the apple, or do they share it among themselves? Maybe the dr deserves it more because he can take care of people, maybe the child to perserve him. Maybe the mother who is the only one qualified to take care of the child.

Then again, who is right and who is wrong. Sure, it is very situational and very relative indeed. We do think of the "US" before the "THEM" it is only natural, however, who gets to make the decision of who gets what? That's something to think about.