Trans Geek Girl Meets Mundane World

Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

The Continuum of Cruelty

dualfacePay attention: there will be a test.

Picture a line segment, an abstract shape in space. The point at one end of the line is Altruism; the point at the other end is Cruelty.

Altruism, for the purpose of this discussion, is the capacity to take pleasure in making other people happy. Cruelty is the capacity to take pleasure in making other people miserable.

The people who exist at the extreme Altruism end of this spectrum are those who have no meanness in their souls. They are generous to a fault, kind, caring, compassionate. There aren’t many of them in the halls of power or corporate boardrooms. You tend to find them in slums and villages, classrooms and emergency rooms, fire houses and disaster zones, doing everything they can to bring comfort to the lives of people in need.

The people at the other end of the spectrum find no joy in improving the lives of others. Quite the contrary; they feel as if they are winning only when they see others losing. They’re vindictive, vengeful, petty, spiteful, and pleased to torment anybody they perceive as being less able to fight back.

Most of us exist somewhere between the two extremes. We have the capacity to be kind. We have the capacity to be cruel. Which tendency is exercised in a given situation often depends on the kind of examples we see around us. Are we encouraged to stand up for and help other people? Or are we encouraged to see certain groups of people, especially those different from ourselves, as lesser beings whom we can mock, assault, even murder with impunity?

But the environment is only part of the story. The people in the middle of the spectrum have the innate capacity to move themselves towards one pole or the other. If we are born with a predisposition to be generous, we can choose to squelch that tendency to fit in with a meaner cohort. Conversely, if we are born with a tendency to be cruel, we can learn to suppress those tendencies and work towards being more compassionate, patient and helpful. The environment may urge us in one direction or the other, our very nature may push us as well, but whether we succumb to those pressures is very much a matter of free will.

This is the test: to think before any act of deliberate cruelty, and exercise your free will to make another choice. It is a test most of us fail, repeatedly, over the course of a lifetime, but it is a test that we always have more opportunities to take. Life challenges us to learn and grow from our mistakes. Accept the challenge.


High School Memories


20180728_175243 (2)From the Panther Press, May 1980, Volume 28, Issue 8

This is a portion of the last editorial I wrote for my high school paper:

An empty high school is a strange place. If you let your imagination free, you can almost relive the past. Listen: music echoes from the band room, applause drifts from the auditorium, the patter of sneaker-clad feet fills the gym, the library whispers with hushed voices. See with your mind, not your eyes: athletes, actors, musicians, students fill the empty halls, so real that you reach out to grasp them. But you can’t.

They’re memories, and they’re not really there. Even if they look the same as the people around, they’re different; they’ve changed, grown, moved closer or further away. It’s not the same as it was, and it never will be.

Memory is a bittersweet gift, best used in moderation. Don’t dwell in the past, but don’t forsake it. Learn from it, for learning is the essence of life. And above all, don’t be afraid to change. One who has never changed has never really lived.

“Everything Happens For a Reason”

No. It really doesn’t.

It seems like an innocuous statement of comfort, but it has a darker undertone.

“Everything happens for a reason” is an echo of the traditional notion of divine justice. Given an infinitely compassionate and powerful creator, why do bad things happen to good people?

Different theologies and philosophies have come up with different answers, but one of the more pernicious is the idea that divine justice is infallible — that bad things happen to good people because they’re imperfectly good. Some stray act or thought has incurred the wrath, and misfortune is evidence of sin.

While this is a peculiarly medieval way to view the world, it’s one that is also peculiarly persistent. It comes up often in discussions of poverty. If one believes that wealth is granted to the worthy through the invisible hand of the free market, the corollary is that those without wealth are in some way unworthy.

It’s pernicious nonsense. One of the gifts of humanity is the ability to understand cause and effect, but the drawback is an unfortunate tendency to impose causal relationships where none exist (and often invert those that do).

The universe is not that predictable. Our actions and choices can strongly influence the probability of some events, but there is always an element of chance. Often that’s all there is — pure blind chaotic chance, unheeding of the narratives built around it by mere mortals.

Everything happens for a reason? Only if “reason” includes the unpredictable non-patterns of random entropy, a definition so broad as to render the statement meaningless.

In that case, we might as well just murmur “empty platitude” and leave it at that.