Summer is over once again. I always get very depressed this time of the year. It's getting cool already and I'm already having dreams of hot weather once again. It will now be about sweaters and jackets. It does give me the opportunity for fall weather clothes. Not looking forward to a long cold winter at all. But if I done it before, I can do it again.
The ten year anniversary of September 11th is upon us. I knew I had to write a blog about my past reflections on the event. I was deeply touched by the events of that day and it had a huge effect on my viewpoints. The following is description on what I did that day and my life ....
At the end of the summer of 2001, I had enrolled in classes at LaGuardia Community college not far from where I live. I was 19 years old and was in search for some direction. I was also unemployed, virtually broke, and of course living with my mother. At LaGuardia, I was going to pursue a liberal arts curriculum, in hopes that somewhere along the line I would find a subject that I could make into my career.
My first day of college was September 10th. I remember I had grown my hair out long to look like the old school rock stars that I admired. I get to class and see that there is a friend from high school sitting in the back, and I sit next to him and we talk. We are shocked to hear from the professor, that the curriculum will be about hip hop music. After class we take a subway to forest hills to buy the textbook for the class, The Vibe History of Hip Hop, and talk about our lives since graduating high school the year before.
The next day of class is September 11th. I walk to the 52nd street train stop of the number 7 line. The station is angled just so that the World Trade Center is directly down the tracks. I can see that the north tower is up in smoke and I assume it is a fire. I remember seeing an old Asian lady point at the towers saying "oh my god". I didn't really even think about it that much and assumed that it was probably a fire. I take the train and get to class. I remember hearing from the professor say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, but class continued as normal.
I can't remember if class dismissed early, but shortly thereafter, I remember my friend and I going to get our college ID cards in the basement. While on line, I remember hearing a woman who worked at the college screaming and running down the hall. We get a glimpse of the TV in one of the offices and it says that both World Trade Center Towers have collapsed. I am completely shocked at this moment and everyone is now talking about it. I get my ID card and my picture is taken at a moment just after the towers collapsed. I still have this ID card.
After we get our IDs the college is full of people talking about the news. The subways and buses are all not running and so we are forced to walk home. Gazing towards the location of the World Trade Center, we can see the wall of dust that are the remnants of the towers, being pushed towards the south east towards Brooklyn.
I get home and I turn on the TV and watch it for the rest of the day. My mom who has just woken up is shockingly unimpressed by the terrorist attacked and by the end of the day she is actually tired of all the new coverage. That's my mom for you.
The news did its job of dramatizing the events of that day. America was forever changed, but New York City was changed even more. It was here that the most dramatic and deadliest outcome of that day unfolded. My fellow classmates and I had developed a sort of bond because of the tragic events.
Now 10 years later I can reflect back on that day. The rebuilding is underway, after a long delay. I have to say that I am quite impressed with the new World Trade Center design. I hate to say it but, I actually like the new design better than the twin towers. I felt the twin towers were actually simplistically bland. They were icons of the boxy international style that was so popular after World War II. The new towers are sleek, glass emeralds. Post modern complexions, yet relatively simple at the same time. I am particularly excited about Tower 2, with its 4 diamonds slicing the building diagonally. I cannot wait until it's all finished.
It's true. I haven't wrote a decent blog in months. Too much has been on my plate to even sit down for an hour or so and write on a topic I am passionate for. I work way too many hours, and I am forced to spend a lot of time concentrating on work related issues that I have no real passion for. That being said, it doesn't mean that I haven't been engaging in intellectual discussions of which my true passion lies.
I have a saying that an intellectual conversation is the only conversation worth having. I often steer the going topic at hand towards one of my many passions in social situations. That is of course, religion, politics, philosophy, science, history, and a few other noteworthy side passions I have like architecture, music and art.
Lately, I have found that the morality debate is one of the most interesting debates to be engaged in. I recently watched a panel of philosophers speak about morality without god, at an event hosted by the Center for Free Inquiry, of which I am a part of. All four of the panelists agreed for the most part that there is no such thing as a universal morality, or moral truth. I have been struggling internally with the notion that there is no universal moral. I believe that there has to be some, at least one, although I am not completely committed to the idea.
A universal moral is one in which there are no exceptions, that is true regardless of the culture, location or time in which it takes place. Take for example of the idea of human rights, quite radical for its time. Is it a universal moral that all human beings are entitled to a basic set of rights that cannot be abridged by any other human beings or acting authority, and if so violated, would be wrong regardless of the time, culture or circumstances? Or is the concept of human rights, along with every other moral position, simply just relative to whomever says it?
We all know that total moral relativity results in some problems. A society can for example, develop a moral code in which to live by, dependent on their collective circumstance, and turn it into their culture. It will then be wrong to do "A" in this society, but right to do "B". And children growing up in this society will be inculcated accordingly on what is right and what is wrong. Now, when someone from another society, where they learned that doing A is right enters this culture, the newcomer will have to learn to adjust their behavior or face consequences. They may still believe that doing A is morally right, but their new society had deemed this wrong and set up rules to prevent it.
This is usually where religious folks come in and say that if there is a god who has the ultimate decision on whether A is right or wrong, and that this transcends and one particular society. Psychologist Steven Pinker eloquently said that if god were to believe that a particular moral is wrong, then he (or she) must have sufficient reasons for believing it. Even if god suddenly changed his mind on the moral, the moral's original truth would then still hold to be true. And if you were to believe that god would never change his moral position, we can then appeal to the reason and skip the middleman (god) altogether. This effectively eliminates god as the moral authority giver. Dr. Pinker was actually reiterating an argument from Plato given over 2 thousand years ago, that he and I consider a knock down argument against divine command theory.
So, with god out of the way, we are left with conscious forms of life, namely human beings, but not only. It is because we consider ourselves capable of the having the most conscious awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, that we mainly consider moral implications dealing with human beings to be the most important. Morality then, must depend on its effects on conscious creatures. Two rocks smashing into each other cannot, by itself be morally right or wrong. Neither rock is aware that it is being pulverized or that it is even a rock to begin with. If a rock were to be thrown by a person and hit a woman in the stomach, now we can begin to consider possible moral implications. We can begin a discussion over whether it was morally wrong or right. Would we consider the moral implications even greater if that woman happened to be 9 months pregnant at the time?
I recently read Sam Harris' book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. In it he makes the argument that science can indeed be used to determine morality. He imagines a landscape with peaks and valleys that pertain to moral highs and depths. In his book, what is morally good is what maximizes the well being of conscious creatures. So cooperation is morally greater than fighting, and sharing or morally greater than selfishness because they will result in greater conditions.
Dr. Harris appeals to a basic moral code, that is innate in human beings that I as well as many others recognize. I do believe that there is a basic innate moral code that our species carries. Yes, I believe it is the product of socio-biological evolution. And I also think had a different course of biological evolution taken place, perhaps a very different set of innate morals were to have developed. This does not, in my opinion, cancel out any idea there there cannot be moral truths. It does say that perhaps those moral truths could be different, given an alternative operation of conscious life. For example, if we were a species that normally gave birth to a dozen off spring, but we were not designed biologically to ensure that all offspring would survive to adulthood, then maybe it would be moral to allow some or even the majority of the offspring to die while investing in a few of the most healthy ones. This is common in many species of birds. The moral implications here would follow a very different set of criterion then if we were a species that normally gave birth to a single offspring. We may now cringe at the idea of allowing human babies to wantonly die off, given our current moral considerations of human life. But if it was normal for women to give birth to more babies than they could ever realistically raise to adulthood, we may consider this different.
So, the question is still at large: Are there universal morals? Do they exist? Or is all morality subjective on at least some terms? I like to believe that there are at least two universal morals. One, that it is wrong to kill for no reason, and two, that slavery is wrong. It is hard to defend a universal moral with out an objective truth to it. God as I mentioned does not suffice, since he would be just another opinion on the matter. And the reasons for god saying that it is wrong or right must be grounded in some truth beyond even him, (if you decided that if god changed his mind and made a different decision on the moral, it would not change whether it is morally right or wrong.
A moral absolute must then be addressed scientifically, and philosophically. We must consider its practical biological effects, scientific affects and its affects in principle. Perhaps no human generation will ever solve this dilemma and it will always plague us. I am in no way claiming to have solved one of society's greatest questions. I am merely asking questions to which there are no easy answers. I wouldn't be closed off to the idea that there are no universal morals, and I do not think that it would necessarily weaken the position of morality in absence of god. It is a topic that needs more discussion and research.
Perhaps, one of man-kind's greatest endeavors was to ask in the first place.
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.