Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sam Harris stacks the Moral Deck

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 Life
You 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 Life
You 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. 

1 comment:

naturalspacerc said...

Harris, a new-atheist with faith on occidental post-modern democracy and biotechnology science to promise global happiness throught an universal goverment that runs over a common rational & secular policies to strangle all kind of religiosity. It means a political and industrial transnational alliance to catch public attention throught mass media education that harvest consensus (like "Harris' project reason"). What to do with all those people without access to high education and healthcare, living in suburbs, poor countrysides or outside the occidental borders? They are only count as consummers of miracle pills of nirvana happiness (Harris' experience on ecstasy and budhism)... or as soldiers to send to submit the barbarians.

Researcher Harris' ethic justified bio-industrial "well-being" consciousness. This kind of philosophy seems to be more a science fiction novel. But unfortunatly, it's part of our currently reality. We are living now alike inside.

Nevertheless, new-atheism has findings : we can be destroyed by well-intention believers (christians or muslims) placed on powerfull roles while God's silent is always there. David knew it, a state's man and soldier, when he as writer said in psalm 42 "My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, Where is your God?." Your two women comparison, the bad & good life, living during civil war, make me think about the "prayer of an unknown confederate soldier" (an anonymous people). It could be possible that he was also a leaf blown by the win of powerfull industrial conflicts ... but his letter has touched and consolated more people than any filantropic action of "good life people." Inspired writers will not change the world but .......

"Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier"
aka : The Creed for the Disabled"

Author Unknown, (Confederate States Army)
(Attributed to a battle weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.