Sam Harris has written a new book, The Moral Landscape. Having read it in the last few day, I come away with respect for Harris, not in his logic, but in his rhetoric. Take his examples of a Bad Life and a Good Life. Quote for his life:
The Bad LifeYou are a young widow who has lived her entire life in the midst of civil war. Today, your seven-year-old daughter was raped and dismembered before your eyes. Worse still, the perpetrator was your fourteen-year-old son, who was goaded to this evil at the point of a machete by a press gang of drug-addled soldiers. You are now running barefoot through the jungle with killers in pursuit. While this is the worst day of your life, it is not entirely out of character with the other days
of your life: since the moment you were born, your world has been a theater of cruelty and violence. You have never learned to read, taken a hot shower, or traveled beyond the green hell of the jungle. Even the luckiest people you have known have experienced little more than an occasional respite from chronic hunger, fear, apathy, and confusion. Unfortunately, you’ve been very unlucky, even by these bleak standards. Your life has been one long emergency, and now it is nearly over.
The Good LifeYou are married to the most loving, intelligent, and charismatic person you have ever met. Both of you have careers that are intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding. For decades, your wealth and social connections have allowed you to devote yourself to activities that bring you immense personal satisfaction. One of your greatest sources of happiness has been to find creative ways to help people who have not had your good fortune in life. In fact, you have just won a billion-dollar grant to benefit children in the developing world. If asked, you would say that you could not imagine how your time on earth could be better spent. Due to a combination of good genes and optimal circumstances, you and your closest friends and family will live very long, healthy lives, untouched by crime, sudden bereavements, and ther misfortunes.
Talk about stacking the deck. There are several questions. What if the Good Life of the second helps keep the Bad Life of the first in place. The green jungle hell is kept a hell because of the natural resources of the jungle, say oil, are easier to exploit in chaos of the civil war. The oil companies who keep fanning the flame of the civil war are the same that fuel the comfort and wealth of the Good Life? The same oil wealth that allows the Good Life in the second cause the misery of the Bad Life. The billion dollar grant, some of which comes from the same oil company, of the second helps with temporary services for the first, but it does nothing more to keep in the woman of the Bad Life in servitude. In fact, most of the money has been appropreated by the same people who kidnap the 14 year old and turned him into rapist and murder in the first place. The woman of the first example does have another connected to the woman of second example. The Bad Life woman has a distant relative who is paid under the table to look after the children of one of Good Life woman's friends. And though the relative has to work long hours with no benefits and is always at the beck and call of her boss, a spoiled trust funder who really does care for children, the relative counts herself lucky not living in the green hell, caused in large part by the Good Life in which she lives at the fringes of.
Would the woman in the second example even be aware of her relationship to the first? Can there be a Good Life on the back of oppression? Would the second really be a moral peak, as Sam Harris really wants it to be?
Unfortunately, my little addendum to Sam Harris's example is closer to the truth than his little stacked account.