Talk proposed for the workshop Being With: Intersubjectivity and Its Commitments.
Moral Strategies for Moral Quagmires
What should we do in situations where, no matter what we do, we will inevitably do wrong? Such moral quagmires are characteristic of immoral circumstances, notably war and genocide, and likewise life in totalitarian regimes. As our world grows increasingly interconnected, we find ourselves in a moral mess, a highly dubious rationalization of financial bubbles, environmental disregard, political manipulation and technological distancing.
We have the Ten Commandments. But that is not enough! The commandments are intentionally vague. They let us know when our earthly selves have driven off the moral road. But they don't tell us why we're here, where to go, and how to stay on the road.
We have the Sermon on the Mount. Its six antitheses teach us to turn our mind upon our doubts with counterquestions: How does it seem to me? What else should I be doing? Would it make any difference? What do I have control over? Am I able to consider the question? Is this the way things should be? But these questions just perfect us as individuals. They do not address the imperfect institutions that we find ourselves supporting.
We need a set of moral strategies by which we might do our best so that others might right our wrongs. We need a morality of the heart which has us empathize with others even as we hurt them, even as they hurt us. We need to take responsibility for the systems that we rely on even as they become more complex, convenient, callous and dangerous.
We need to understand how our systems function like a "memory" to extend our conscious minds (by languages and rules) and our unconscious minds (by that physical and social reality that we find ourselves in). We need to clarify our expectations to make sense of our emotional responses by which we live knowing (happy, sad, surprised, excited, frightened, disgusted) and not knowing (in suspense, at peace). We need to be able to favor "not knowing" (the ambiguous truths of the heart) over "knowing" (the unambiguous truths of the world).
Suppose, for example, that I encounter a homeless person. I tell myself, A) My help could make things worse! but also, B) If somebody needs help, then I should help them! How can I know, which is the truth of the heart? There are four tests:
(The truth of the heart is B and the truth of the world is A.)
We need a morality where we help each other function knowing the fewest and deepest truths.