While reading The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, I was struck by a question. What is the methodology through which a society or individual determines what is “normal” or “moral”? Despite the controversies over Styron’s novel, his portrayal of slavery in all its detailed horror was exemplary. How did (and does) humanity justify the forced labor of another individual? How did this become “accepted”? Why is it that many are so opposed to the progression of human rights of any kind? We always have an ongoing struggle for a particular segment of society. In that sense my questions involve elements of power, an objective morality, and equality, among other issues.
For me it comes down to the psychological need to play god…to be “right”. With my thoughts currently influenced by readings of Jung, it would then produce an enantiodromia or a conflict of opposites. An attempt to define morality in a specific way has the real danger of producing what you’re trying to avoid. I had addressed this topic in previous reviews of Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. Subjectivity is reality. Objectivity is subjective. Ultimately everything is filtered through your own mind before you can “comprehend” it. Considering this, the collective morality of a society is whatever is agreeable SUBJECTIVELY to the majority of its citizens or those in power, whatever the case may be.
The question of “normality”, then, takes on the form of groupthink. Just as passages from The Bible (supposedly a source of “objective” truth) justified slavery up until the 19th century in America, so today does it justify the denial of rights to homosexuals and the oppression of women. How then is this objectivity? Doesn’t it amount to interpretation? Isn’t the mind (or group mind) the ultimate arbiter? Doesn’t the decision then become “THE” moral code once enough people agree upon it? That moral code then becomes tradition. The longer it is in place, the more authority the code attains. We see this with constant political justifications of morality through the invocation of the U.S. Constitution (a document that was DESIGNED to be amended by our subjective minded founders). Simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done” is not a justification for morality…to my subjective mind.
I once believed in the concept of the “moral law”. This is the idea that there is (supposedly somewhere out “there”) an ideal of right and wrong that everyone intuitively knows. However, as is obvious in the case of slavery, this moral law is subject to modification over the years. Therefore we are back once again to subjectivity. Even the concept of love becomes subjectively interpreted as to how it LOOKS in practice. Still, love remains the strongest concept that I can cling to.
It is with age that these questions have hit me. I can see clearly how I view things much differently from even a year ago, before my accident, and especially the last two, not to mention 10 years. My own subjectivity of time, place, genetics, etc… are all a part of me. In a very real sense, this produces a bit of chaos in my mind. I start to realize what is meant by the more you know the less you know. Or the more experience you gain, the less you know.
My goal is not to confuse with these thoughts, but to expand thinking. The best we can do is to examine these questions and consider, (with all of who we are and have been as humanity), the best way to progress forward. It is only experience that can guide us, but at the same time, we can’t use experience as a crutch. Moving forward always requires a discarding of elements of the past. Getting past the fear of asking questions has been the key to my own journey. I hope you are experiencing your own independence of mind, because it is only through your mind that “reality” exists. Your thoughts are something that no one has the right to control.