Deep South Tragedy: An Analogy For Humanist Ethics

So, recent posts by other bloggers have got me thinking about morality, atheism, intelligence, and God. Generally, people tend to overlook the importance of factoring intelligence into assessments of morality. I think a simple analogy will drive the point home here.

Imagine a single father living with five children. Normally, the children can know the right thing to do at any given time by asking their father, who has more experience and intelligence in life than they do, hence the authority and qualifications for establishing the rules they ought to live by.

The situation is such that on any given day, the children know exactly what they are not to do. After all, dad wrote the rules, so ignorance of the law cannot be an excuse. For example, among other things, dad has decreed that they are not to answer the door for strangers, rough-house indoors, or go in dad's closet. Mind you, the children don't necessarily know why they aren't supposed to do these things, and they actually think dad's being unnecessarily strict. As the children know from previous experiences, it's usually auntie or uncle knocking, indoors is the funnest place to rough-house, and dad's closet the ultimate closer in a game of hide-and-seek. Further, they've all broken each of these rules on isolated occasions before, and no harm has ever befallen anyone because of it. So why is dad such a stiff?

It's smack in the middle of winter, and dad finds himself needing to get some food for the children, and drop off some work to a client – things that only dad can do. Confident that dozens of iterations have sufficiently established the rules, dad grants his kids a little trust and leaves. After all, he'll be no more than thirty minutes, the kids are familiar with both the rules and their obligation to follow them. Further, the oldest is fourteen and the youngest is ten, so it's not like dad's leaving toddlers that require constant supervision.

Ten minutes pass, and dad's children bore easily. Two of the four brothers start to rough-house indoors. The other two jump in. Sister quickly reminds them of the rules. But, the boys wanna play! Recalling something he saw on TV about how voting is the best way to handle disagreement, the eldest brother suggests that without father there to decide, he's the oldest and smartest, and he says they should vote. The brothers like this idea and support their argument by reminding sister that on previous occasions where they have broken the rules, no harm befell anyone.

So — as we might expect — the four brothers all vote for rough housing indoors, and a "no prohibited zones" game of hide-and-seek. They then assert "majority rules" to their sister, and further threaten to tell dad about the time she lied if she doesn't go along with them. As we might imagine, sister casts a rather sheepish vote for rough housing indoors and a "no prohibited zones" game of hide-and-seek. Besides, even sister concedes that "she likes fun, too," so in all honesty part of her vote was genuine (this sort of "might-based psychological blackmailing" is essentially what's been happening to women in male-dominant societies since culture began).

So, what's essentially happened here is that the children have  approved their own behavior according to arbitrary standards of their own self-imposition.

Inspired by their newfound senses of freedom and autonomy, the rough-housing starts to get REALLY rough, such that one brother cuts himself and another breaks dad's model airplane that was sitting on the coffee table, along with one of the coffee table's legs. The other two brothers were playing hide-and-seek with sister, and as you might guess, one of them hides in dad's closet. As it's dark in there, the excited brother hiding in the closet doesn't notice that the odd sensations poking his back are the circuit breakers dad had instructed them not to touch, so when he breaks a switch and the power goes out in the entire house, none of them have the slightest idea how to fix it.

At this point, two of dad's three rules have been broken, and unfavorable stuff is beginning to happen as a result. Now in complete darkness, the children get a bit nervous and scared. Further, they realize they'll be unable to hide the results of their misbehavior, as dad's airplane, the coffee table's leg and the circuit breaker's switch are all broken, not to mention it's dark in the house and one of the brothers is bleeding. How else will they explain those facts aside from a clear concession of breaking the rules?

Beginning to ponder that question themselves, and motivated by the natural human tendency to deny responsibility for wrongdoing, they attempt to reassure themselves that they've done the right thing, despite the undeniable fact that they've broken dad's rules and the consequences have been unfavorable. They even go so far as to imply that dad wasn't clear enough about the rules, despite the fact that he'd decreed them in clear language each of the children understood. Yet still – to the children – they did do the right thing – by voting. After all, the guy in the suit on TV said that voting was the best way, and further, the children had broken them before with no harm befalling anyone. More, the vote was unanimous, so how could they have gone wrong?

In the isolated world of their own house, these incompetent children functioned as the epitome of a morally free democracy. Sure – they voted, they all agreed that some fun should be had, and they all helped one another achieve their goals. But note that not a single iota of that made their decision right.

It's now been almost a half an hour. The children are growing increasingly uneasy.  The younger brothers blame the eldest for the idea of voting. Sister blames all the brothers for coercing her vote, even though she uttered "yes" with her own lips. A knock comes at the door in the midst of all their fussing and fighting. A man's seemingly-concerned voice follows the knock, stating that he'd seen the power outage and was wondering if everything was okay. Then the youngest brother – anxious and mentally distressed over everything else that happened – simply reacts and opens the door without thinking. Big mistake. After all, this is a black family in the deep south we're talking about, so it would make sense to us that there's some crazed KKK member at their door with a torch, merely posing as a beneficiary of good will in order to achieve nefarious ends. Needless to say, tragedy ensues.

Now, I imagine that in accord with the natural human tendency to deny culpability for wrongdoing, many might simply blame dad for this tragedy because he left otherwise responsible and informed children to themselves for a half an hour. Yet, no human being can deny that at some point, human beings have to take responsibility for their own actions, so though blaming dad may be in accord with our tendency to deny wrongdoing, it's just not a cogent defense that would absolve the children.

Why did tradegy ensue in this deep south house?

Quite simply, the children lacked sufficient intelligence to accurately foresee the results of breaking dad's rules. They didn't realize unchecked rough-housing could irreparably damage the furniture, or dad's art projects. They didn't realize breaking the switch off the circuit breaker would plunge the whole house into darkness they couldn't illuminate without dad's help. They didn't realize the person at the door was an imposter who really sought to harm them. The fact that they self-approved their own actions could not have prevented these tragedies in any way.

Similarly, why has tragedy ensued on this planet?

Quite simply, we lack sufficient intelligence to accurately foresee the results of our own actions. As history unequivocally testifies, we didn't realize that a mere two centuries of industrial "progress" would serve to irreparably damage our delicate environment to the point our very existence hangs in the balance. We didn't realize that the techno-trinkets we've come to love for the convenience they provide our species came at the expense of Golden Toads and Baiji Dolphins. We didn't realize that the flashy and profitable fur coats we've come to love for the status they imbibe our species came at the expense of Sea Minks and Newfoundland Martens. We didn't realize that the deification of capitalism entailed man's subjugation to money and through greed provides a foundation for every corrupt practice on this planet. We didn't realize that closed-minded intolerance of those who think differently would lead to war and killing that would only increase with technology. Those of us who reach anxiously to the spirit world for answers don't realize that not every instance of consciousness is what it claims to be. And – as with the mini-democracy in the deep south house – the fact that we self-approved our own actions could not have prevented these tragedies any way.

Very clearly, then, democracy and majority consensus are terrible criteria for establishing right and wrong, because any behavior can be self-approved.

Yet, sufficient experience and intelligence is an infallible criteria for establishing right and wrong. As the deep south father had sufficient experience and intelligence to establish beneficial moral guidelines for his children, to me, the only logical answer to the question of who's best qualified to make moral proclamations for our species is He Who has the most experience and intelligence.

Of course, I don't expect any of this to persuade humanists or atheists that a maximally intelligent Creator is worthy of their worship. I imagine they'll just blame God for not making us smarter, or believe the first "extraterrestrials" who get here.

14 Comments

  1. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    You should have entitled it:
    “Listen to Dad: How to keep your karma from running over the dogma.”

  2. Gideon says:

    Infidels can thank God for Him being a convenient whipping post for them to blame all of society’s evils upon. The last ones they’d blame would be themselves, because, they are descended from the mighty monkey, and they are only PRO-gressing, not RE-gressing… becoming better with every subsequent generation!
    Yeah, take a look all around this ‘magnificent’ world that came about by the flimsiest of chances… isn’t it just grand? Amazing what man’s ingenuity has spawned! We have succeeded as in no other time to where we can now kill each other off in big bleeding batches, and be awestruck by the ‘love’ that man fosters, especially around this time of year, when the commercialized orgy erroneously dubbed “Christmas” shows just how far we’ve advanced!
    Isn’t it just amazing what two horny pond scum protozoa and a bolt of lightning can do… with the help, of course, of a few trillion years?
    (By the way… that figure can be lengthened or shortened, depending on what is most convenient for the ‘scientists’, to fit the criterion for the latest anthropological ‘finds’… the ones that aren’t hoaxes, that is.)

  3. bcproduct says:

    This is very good cl.

  4. P says:

    I loved this analogy..I think in general we are all quick to either justify our wrong doings or try to escape as quickly as possible before anyone can hold us accountable.
    Children seem to show their feelings a little more honestly, since they know there will be no escaping the wrath of their parents. I think this could be made into a great children’s book, considering the lesson to be learned.

  5. Steve Bowen says:

    Yeah! I’ll defo be avoiding the shrimp cocktail from now on.

  6. Tommykey says:

    Of course, I don’t expect any of this to persuade humanists or atheists that a maximally intelligent Creator is worthy of their worship.
    That assumes that if there is a “maximally intelligent Creator” that it needs to be constantly told how great it is by the human inhabitants of a tiny speck of a planet in one of billions of galaxies in the universe.
    It always amuses me that theists contend that qualities that are considered negative for us, such as jealousy, constantly seeking attention and praise, and so forth, suddenly become virtues when allegedly manifested by their god. People can’t be jealous, but god can be, because, well he’s god.
    The way I look at it, if there is some creator entity, it is of course obviously very intelligent and powerful. Presumably it is also wise and mature and doesn’t care if some sentient being worships it or not, sort of like a wealthy person who anonymously donates a fortune to a charity because the donor doesn’t want to have all kinds of praise heaped on him or her. The god of the Bible is more like that boy in that Twilight Zone episode who declares “You’re a bad, bad man, and I don’t like you anymore!” before using his powers to punish the object of his ire and consigning that person to the corn field.
    I imagine they’ll just blame God for not making us smarter
    Dumb comment, as I wouldn’t venture to blame an entity whose existence I doubt for not making me smarter.
    or believe the first “extraterrestrials” who get here.
    No. However, if we were to make contact with an alien civilization and quiz each other about the religious beliefs on our respective planets, it would be interesting to see how alike and how different they would be.
    On the other hand, if aliens from another world revealed themselves to us and informed us they had been studying our planet for some ten thousand of our years (including video records) and that they had no record of a world wide flood, I suspect that a good many Biblical literalists would refuse to believe them and accuse them of being agents of Satan sent to trick us.
    Lastly, I leave my 6 and 8 year old kids alone on a number of occasions to pick up a few groceries or my mom’s medications from nearby stores. I tell them to behave themselves, not to fight, and I will be right back. Every time I come back, about 15 minutes later, they are both sitting quietly, watching tv or playing Nintendo DS or whatever, just as I had left them.

  7. Tommykey says:

    Infidels can thank God for Him being a convenient whipping post for them to blame all of society’s evils upon. The last ones they’d blame would be themselves, because, they are descended from the mighty monkey, and they are only PRO-gressing, not RE-gressing… becoming better with every subsequent generation!
    Another sweeping, idiotic brush tarring by Gideon. I don’t blame “God” for our problems, because I don’t believe that such an entity exists.
    The first person I always blame in my mistakes is myself. The worst wounds in my life have been self-inflicted. I don’t blame my travails on an indifferent god or demons trying to tempt me to engage in immoral behavior.
    I will be the first to admit that some atheists ignorantly blame all of the world’s problems on religion. What I observe as being more accurate is that some religious believers see their religious belief as giving them sanction to meddle in the lives of others without consent, ranging from the relatively innocuous Jehovahs Witnesses who knock on our doors uninvited to the person who blows up a barber shop in Basra, Iraq because the barber gives his male customers western style hair cuts.
    Society’s ills stem from people making bad choices that harm themselves and others. An only child who grows up to be a homeless alcholic or drug addict not only damages himself, he harms his parents not only for the emotional trauma he has inflicted on them, but for the more practical reason that he is incapable of helping to take care of them when they become elderly and infirm. Multiply that one person times millions of men and women, and you have great harm inflicted on the society at large.

  8. cl says:

    bcproduct & P,
    Welcome, and thanks for the good words.
    Tommykey,
    Well, I’m tempted to keep quiet, because last time I participated in conversation with you, you just stopped answering the questions, but why not. First off,

    I leave my 6 and 8 year old kids alone on a number of occasions

    Be happy; you apparently have well-behaved kids. Not everybody has worked to enjoy that privilege.
    Then,

    The first person I always blame in my mistakes is myself. The worst wounds in my life have been self-inflicted.

    Likewise here, and if I might open myself up to more accusations of “flattery,” I think that’s why you stand out from other atheists and skeptics so much.

    It always amuses me that theists contend that qualities that are considered negative for us, such as jealousy, constantly seeking attention and praise, and so forth, suddenly become virtues when allegedly manifested by their god. People can’t be jealous, but god can be, because, well he’s god.

    Your estimation of what worship entails seems short-sighted to me, as in, focused only the aspects that seems to challenge your own sense of autonomy. The reason certain things are okay for God (i.e., capital punishment) are precisely related to the “maximally intelligent” aspect of God’s being. Tell me, what separates the hero from the murder suspect? Your answer effectively addresses your concerns here.

    The god of the Bible is more like that boy in that Twilight Zone episode who declares “You’re a bad, bad man, and I don’t like you anymore!” before using his powers to punish the object of his ire and consigning that person to the corn field.

    I would expect any Catholic deconvert to have such a “mad and insecure parent” God-concept. There’s not much I can do to change your opinions, even though I don’t share them, at least not the same way you do. The God of the Bible – as I read the Bible – appears more like what you described: a God that certainly wants human beings to choose righteousness, but will not hesitate to allow those who choose to be their own god to experience the inevitable results of their choice.

    Dumb comment,

    Are there a variety that can talk?

    ..if aliens from another world revealed themselves to us and informed us they had been studying our planet for some ten thousand of our years (including video records) and that they had no record of a world wide flood,

    Now that’s interesting; how would you react to that?

    I will be the first to admit that some atheists ignorantly blame all of the world’s problems on religion.

    If you keep that in mind everytime you parse a comment of Gideon’s that contains the word infidels, I think you’ll be just fine, and I apologize for not prefixing “most” to my closing comment. It is of course true that not all atheists and humanists act as Gideon describes; I’ve tired of belaboring the point. Although, I will say that you seem to have overlooked the undeniably true parts of Gideon’s comment, in favor of the “easy win.”

    ..some religious believers see their religious belief as giving them sanction to meddle in the lives of others without consent,

    Unfortunately, that is accurate. Fortunately, I’m not in that subset of believers.

    Society’s ills stem from people making bad choices that harm themselves and others.

    Yes; that’s exactly correct, and exactly what the Bible and many other spiritual traditions have been trying to tell us for thousands and thousands of years.

    An only child who grows up to be a homeless alcoholic or drug addict not only damages himself, he harms his parents not only for the emotional trauma he has inflicted on them, but for the more practical reason that he is incapable of helping to take care of them when they become elderly and infirm. Multiply that one person times millions of men and women, and you have great harm inflicted on the society at large.

    Again, correct. Now, imagine two people side-by-side. One’s accepted that he’s just a mess of chemicals that gets its feelings hurt and is going to terminate upon death, the other’s accepted the idea that God created him and that his body is God’s temple. Who has more incentive to avoid the peril you’ve just described?
    BTW, did you ever see this post? The Ghost is a great writer.

  9. Tommykey says:

    Well, I’m tempted to keep quiet, because last time I participated in conversation with you, you just stopped answering the questions, but why not.
    Sorry, sometimes I get caught up in so many threads, I can’t remember to reply to everyone.
    Now, imagine two people side-by-side. One’s accepted that he’s just a mess of chemicals that gets its feelings hurt and is going to terminate upon death, the other’s accepted the idea that God created him and that his body is God’s temple. Who has more incentive to avoid the peril you’ve just described?
    False choice. Though I’m an atheist, I don’t see myself as “just” a mess of chemicals. And yet somehow I’ve managed to avoid drug and alcohol dependency, while my two divorced older brothers did not and who basically only got married in the first place because they got their girlfriends pregnant. It’s precisely because this limited lifespan is all I can be certain I have that gives me added incentive not to waste it. If a person feels that a belief in Christ or Allah helps them to get off drugs, I certainly have no problem with that. But I don’t need them telling me I better get right with god and get “saved” like they did when I don’t have the problems that got them into their dilemma in the first place.
    Apologies if I don’t address most of your previous comments, as I am at work and checked in real quick. Perhaps tonight I will have time for a more in-depth response.

  10. cl says:

    Sorry, sometimes I get caught up in so many threads, I can’t remember to reply to everyone.

    It happens to the best of us. Mine wasn’t an accusation as much as an explanation for my hesitancy.

    Though I’m an atheist, I don’t see myself as “just” a mess of chemicals.

    It doesn’t matter what you “see” yourself as. If there is no spirit or nothing beyond what we currently understand as MEST, you are a mess of chemicals. A really, really intricate mess of course, but a mess of neurobiological phenomena indeed.

    ..yet somehow I’ve managed to avoid drug and alcohol dependency,

    That is no surprise to me. You come across as a legit guy and you’ll never hear me claim religion as a cure for anything. My *actual* opinion on organized religion is pretty much the same as your average atheist’s. Neither have I said the fact that we reduce to a mess of chemically-based, neurobiological phenomena under certain interpretations of naturalism means every naturalist will become drug or alcohol dependent. I’m simply saying, the belief that we all “just croak” in the end leads many (especially certain young people) to a nihilistic sort of “nothing matters” worldview. I see it in the streets all the time.

    It’s precisely because this limited lifespan is all I can be certain I have that gives me added incentive not to waste it.

    That just means you’re a person who values the life you have, and I’m certainly cool with that. The people I’m alluding to are those who don’t value life – and mind you – history is full of believers who didn’t value their own life or the lives of others. My statement about incentive doesn’t apply in all cases. Nihilism appeals equally to religious people, only under the guise of piety.

    I don’t need them telling me I better get right with god and get “saved” like they did when I don’t have the problems that got them into their dilemma in the first place.

    That you thankfully avoided the snares of drug and alcohol dependency doesn’t make you any more righteous than them in God’s eyes. Granted we need a non-religious definition first, but we’re all sinners in one way or another; even atheists should be able concede that.

  11. Gideon says:

    “Another sweeping, idiotic brush tarring by Gideon.”
    Thanks, and I hope you’re really offended. Now, as for my “sweeping brush-tarring”, you should probably know that my use of the term “infidel” is reserved for the cocky, swaggering, know-it-all twits that ASSUME their beliefs upon ALL THE REST OF US. I disagree with you and cl on this issue that only Christians or religious folk are pushy. The last time I checked, you can’t get any other opinion on origins other than the Darwinist version in high school, and, if you watch any given science program by some of the PUSHIER infidels, i.e. David Suzuki, Richard Dawkins, etc, you won’t get through it without some derogatory remark made about religion.
    So, let’s be honest, Tommykey, your heroes aren’t exactly Emily Post on their (your) faith and traditions, are they?
    I’m constantly having humanist tripe RAMMED down my throat, every time I go online or turn on the TV. But, I guess that’s fair in your mind, right?
    Guess what? I don’t give a flying fuck what you believe, son! I’m certainly not going to try and convince you of anything you don’t want to believe, either. In fact, I never chose a sales profession, simply due to the fact that I HATE selling ANY thing! I simply tell what I know, as I see it, and, if that bothers you, then it’s YOU that has the problem, NOT ME!
    There are many pushy religious-types out there, to be sure. They are easily offset by an equally pushy establishment bent upon proselytizing the masses into their pseudo-religious, commercial/pagan construct of society, so quit your barking!
    Also, don’t try and ‘brush-tar’ God with human traits and characteristics. His “jealousy” and “anger” are not that which characterizes human emotion. His love for humanity is why you and I aren’t dust, right now. You don’t have clue #1 as to what it cost Christ to mediate in our behalf, so why not shut up now, and at least appear intelligent?
    Time will prove which of us is right, only you’re the one that has the most to lose.
    Actually, I have nothing to lose!

  12. cl says:

    I disagree with you and cl on this issue that only Christians or religious folk are pushy.

    Gideon – c’mon now. Don’t be puttin’ words in my mouth; I didn’t once say or imply “only Christians or religious folk are pushy.” You should know that I think a very large subset of atheists are pushy. In fact, we seem to agree on who many of them are, so save all that.
    As for the “brush-tarring” thing, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re getting at when you use the blanket term infidels.

    I’m constantly having humanist tripe RAMMED down my throat, every time I go online or turn on the TV. But, I guess that’s fair in your mind, right?

    If you’re talking to me, no, that’s not fair, and there we can agree. I think the humanist tripe that passes for “science” (as distinct from actual science) can be just as misleading as religiously-tainted tripe. Somebody should write a book on the contamination of science journalism, one that addresses oversights from both humanist and religious perspectives.
    As a little background history, Gideon, my high school biology teacher implied to us that the Miller experiment was proof life could start all on it’s own. I knew then that the Miller experiment proved no such thing, as I know now.

  13. Gideon says:

    cl, I guess when you’ve done battle with infidels as long as I have, I view anything that even remotely concedes they have a valid point as encouraging their bad behavior or thinking. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. We live in a world that seems to thrive on concessions; there are some things that cannot be conceded, in my view. In my mind, Tommykey said nothing that warranted a concession by you or anyone. However, my intention wasn’t to “brush-tar” (his term) you by association, or for responding to his “dumb” comment, so I’ll clear that up right here and now.
    When I think of all of the examples of people I’ve known that have had to live around infidel friends, workmates, spouses, etc, that had to keep silent about their faith – while the others were free to spout off their meaningless infidel garbage – out of accusations that they were somehow “pushing” their beliefs and lifestyle, makes my blood boil, especially when I read that shit Tommykey just wrote. These self-righteous bastards must think THEY have the monopoly on free speech!
    It’s really an infidel’s world that we live in. They get all the breaks. Christians are always pandering to these fools, out of fear of offending them. LOL! Not me! They don’t like what I say, fuck ’em! Life’s a two-way street, and you have to take as well as give. They don’t want to hear about the gospel? Great! Guess what? I don’t want to hear about the latest Darwinism-inspired bullshit, either! Think they can manage that, though?
    Not likely.
    Not fucking likely!

  14. One thing that I notice in this analogy is that the Dad never seems to take any time to explain *why* they shouldn’t break his rules and neither does God.

    I suppose you could say that the children are too stupid to understand, but I don’t think that’s true. This is anecdotal, but I know kids in about the age 6 – 10 range who respond well to restrictions when they’re told why the restriction exists.

    And remember this is an all-powerful God we’re talking about — surely he has a way of being convincing rather than a “Obey me or else” approach. God, if he existed, could easily have told us the best form of government or the dangers of pollution.

    I agree (you may even consider this a concession) that a maximally intelligent creator is worthy of worship. But the key thing here is that this worship didn’t get us anywhere in the past — we had to learn all of these things about government and pollution by ourselves; God certainly wasn’t much help. Past worshippers even made it sound like God’s infinite wisdom advocated divine right monarchies, inquisitions, and banning of books!

    — Peter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *