One of the great games on Facebook is for those meme things to be posted demonstrating inconsistencies in the logic of one side or the other. They can be quite powerful even if grossly reductive about complex issues. For example there is one I saw the other day that was very striking, featuring two panels of a typical lib (whatever that is) in one saying, “If you ban abortion, abortion will just happen illegally;” while in the other panel is uttered, “If we ban guns, gun violence will cease.”
Apart from the reductive nature of such things is the fact that in the end they are a form of ridicule, not argument. They are dismissive of the other side while not contributing constructively to the conversation. I am not sure they are helpful. But one of them that has been circulating in the last few days has got me thinking about the effect such inconsistency can have.
It concerns what happened in Stockton, CA when students walked out to protest gun violence. What happened? Well, violence:
Students at Stagg, Edison, Chavez, Lincoln and Village Oak high schools were walking along streets, creating traffic problems in the area as streets were blocked off.
Stockton police said some students threw rocks and damaged both police and citizen vehicles.
Five arrests were made, including charges of battery on an officer, resisting arrest, taking an officer’s baton and vandalizing vehicles, including patrol vehicles, Stockton police said.
The meme thing I saw was making the point such behavior illustrates that violence is a morality problem, not a gun problem, but it made me ask about how violence in pursuit of non-violence could come about. Of course, this incident was likely about some miscreants taking advantage of the situation, but as a hypothetical the question is fascinating.
The movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a masterpiece of a film. It is considered impenetrable by most people, as it was for me until I have watched it a dozen times and read some commentary on it, but I do not think that changes the masterful nature of the film. Part of its lack of penetrability lies in its lack of exposition, as its tells its story almost entirely visually. This requires the viewer to watch the film far more closely than most people watch a movie – hence my dozens of viewings. However, the lack of exposition also is part of what makes it masterful film making. The special effects (bear in mind the film was made in the 1960’s well before digital technology) are flawless and stunning. They still hold up today. The film’s futuristic vision of computing technology is absolutely prescient.
Finally, there is the fact that the film explores multiple deep and complex themes. In many cases themes most people don’t think about enough to recognize. But the theme that drives the action of the film during the long journey to Jupiter is what happens to a completely logical thing, in this case the HAL 9000 artificially intelligent computer, when it is given inconsistent instructions. The answer is that the computer turns into a murderer, killing crew members, and forcing the sole survivor to disable HAL at grave personal risk.
The parallels between HAL and the Stockton students should be obvious. The Stockton students are not the perfectly logical thing HAL was, but they are still going to have issues when things do not line up reasonably. The point that those parallels make is that morality is more than simply an arbitrary and negotiable set of behavioral rules. Morality must be consistent both in its internal logic and in its application. If it is not then aberrant behavior like violent protests for non-violence and murdering computers are inevitable.
In a democracy, this also illustrates where religion and government are quite separate. Religion defines morality, grants it its internal consistency and insures through the ages its consistent enforcement. Government is entirely negotiable, and therefore arbitrary, (even in a totalitarian state the law is negotiated among the chosen few) and as people point out so often the application of the law often rests on influence.
I understand opposition to certain religious specifics of one or the other of a specific religion, but when we seek to abolish religion generally what we are really giving up is consistency in morality. The absence of religion creates a moral cognitive dissonance that results in things like murderous computers and violent protests for non-violence.
Morality does not grow on trees; nor is it common. It is a rare and valuable thing. Morality must be established and maintained; it must be nurtured and taught; it must be encouraged and enforced. Religion does that, not government. Contemplating a world without religion, despite John Lennon’s pretty song, I imagine an ugly world.