Where Does Morality Reside?

This is a short paper I wrote for an ethics class.

Humans are born into a difficult situation.  We all want live happy, fulfilled, joyful lives, with depth and richness in our experiences, but we all know that life often does not go the way we would like it to.  This is because human life is like navigating a giant hallway of doors, where each door leads to a different outcome, some good and some bad.  Once you enter a particular door, you have to deal with whatever is in that room and then once again, choose another door.  Our personal journey consists of the experiences we encounter in each of these doors; the problem is that we do not know what we will encounter in each doorway.

Each human wants to feel alive, to be loved, accepted, appreciated, to have a chance to exercise his unique talents and abilities, to find friendship, and many other things like this.  A person’s chance of succeeding really depends on the environment they’re placed in.  Regardless, we are all fractured, incomplete beings, hoping to find some sort of satiation to all the different longings which our very nature stirs within us.  We find ourselves in this sea of time, forced to open these doors and experience whatever lies in each room.

To deal with this situation, humans have devised a wide myriad of strategies for navigating this maze of life.  Few people create their own strategy from scratch.  Most folks sort of absorb a life strategy from the world around them and go with it, but others are a bit more thoughtful and carefully choose a strategy which they hope will lead them to the best possible life.  For example, some will subordinate themselves to a value system, such a religion.  This religion will have a series of commandments and rules, which adherents believe originate from a divine source, and if a devout soul will follow them to the letter, they hope they will live the best possible life they could have lived on Earth.  Others will search for adventure, sort of charging through life’s hallways with bravado, reveling in the entire process.  Yet another popular strategy for westerners is to try to figure their own personal nature and then try to navigate their way to environments which best accommodate this nature.  These people are always trying to find out who they “really” are.  In the east, a common strategy is to try to ignore these inner longings, calming them through something like meditation.   They see the mind like a muddy pool of water; if they can meditate and calm their inner thoughts and desires, the water will clear and they can be at peace. The possible strategies are endless and life is very complicated.

Morality is just a particular strategy humans have devised for dealing with life.  A lot of it consists of rules of thumb, passed down generation to generation, leaving behind successful life strategies people have found by trial and error.  When people talk about duty, honor, good and evil, wisdom, prudence, judgment, and other things like this, it is all life strategies.  These systems will tell a “wise” man how to deal with a particular situation, how a person of integrity handles another situation, and so on.  All of these systems of thought are like books lying in the door filled hallways.  The problem is, there are so many books, so many ideas, and so many varying circumstances that you can never be fully prepared for what any door may hold.  There is a lot of guessing and crossing fingers and there are no full proof strategies.  Some are obviously better than others, but as we all know, good things happen to bad people and awful things happen to the best people.

Life is not fair or just, it just is.  Morality does not reside anywhere in particular, it’s just an approach to life us sentient human beings use to navigate through the hallways of life.  Morality is really a symptom of our fractured, incomplete existence.  If we knew the end from the beginning, morality wouldn’t need to exist, but for now, people are condemned to be free.

Why I Often Consider Ending This Blog

We live in a strange age.  When I first started writing this blog, I wanted to have a chronicle of all my thoughts over time, good and bad.  I wanted people to see me as I really am, not as some fake personality.  I wanted to be understood.  I wanted to connect to like minded people, find others who may resonate with my thoughts, and maybe even share worthwhile ideas on significant topics.  I wanted to have a trail which people could follow, that if they were interested enough, they could read through all my posts and understand who I am, why I think the way I do, and how I got to where I am today.

With each passing day, I find myself ever more terrified to leave this blog up.  I encourage you all to watch this TED talk, and after watching it, I think you’ll understand why I feel this way.

You’ll hear about a woman who made an offhand joke to some of her coworkers on Twitter.  It was retweeted and retweeted until eventually she became the internet’s next target of ridicule.  She was completely destroyed.  Her career was demolished.  He life was thrown into disarray.  She became suicidal, couldn’t sleep, and still hasn’t recovered.

I’ve been going to university now for a long time, studying Physics.  I’ll very soon have a PhD in Physics and who knows, I may end up a professor someplace.  This blog has been up for so long, and I’m sure it contains all sorts of things which people could dig up and use against me.  My life and career aspirations could be totally destroyed.  And for what?  So a few people can read my thoughts on things?

All it would take is a single angry student over a bad grade, a single student sitting in a class, offended by some offhand comment I make, wanting to get me fired.  It could be some random person stumbling across my blog, literally looking for someone to destroy.  The better my career and position, the more at risk I am.

Jon Ronson makes an interesting point in his talk.  He says, “We’re creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is going back to being voiceless.”  He’s exactly right.  There are faceless mobs of people on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, and their greatest joy in life is to destroy other people’s lives.  Ronson actually interviewed these folks who retweeted the woman’s tweets and he asked them how they felt as they retweeted the woman’s joke, destroying her life.  They said it felt, “delicious.”

They’re not going to look into your life and who you are.  They’re not going to try to get to know you or understand you.  They’re not going to care what happens to you or whether or not you deserve the onslaught of hate and everything else which takes place.  To them, destroying your life is just a simple manner of retweeting a tweet, which they got from somebody else, which they got from somebody else, all while they sit on their tablet on the couch during a commercial break from their favorite television show.  As they decimate your life and career, they’ll feel this small sense of self-satisfaction, like they’re making the world a better place in their own small way.  They’re doing their part.

Let’s say I go to MIT, became a great physicist and am featured in a science documentary about the universe or something.  The second I become someone these social justice warriors feel has a “voice”, who they feel has “power” in some way, they’re going to dig through this blog and mine out something I’ve said and completely destroy my life.  It’ll be retweeted, and retweeted, and I can see it now, “MIT Physicist said so and so…”  Everyone will act appalled, insulted, and will all be out for blood.  Then everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve striven for over the past decade, it will be wiped out in an instant.

There is no justice to the social justice movement.  They don’t think in terms of real justice or offer any method to acquire forgiveness.  They won’t care if it’s an old view I grew out of ages ago, or whether I’m willing to change my mind and reconsider.  I’m an open-minded individual, and if you give me a good argument, and point out the flaws in my thinking, I’ll probably change my mind; it happens to me all the time these days.  But these social warriors won’t be satisfied.  They’re a strange, chaotic power, the very opposite of every principle of democracy.

I’ve seen them destroy Nobel prize winning scientists, leaving them without jobs, getting them kicked out of their labs, all for saying a tiny joke which they thought was slightly sexist.  They will get you fired for wearing a t-shirt they don’t like.  If you criticize religion, you’re racist, and they go after you with everything they’ve got.  Even if you hold conservative political views, which I often do in many areas, they hate you.  There’s no room for dissent.  No room for a different point of view.  They talk about safe spaces all while making the internet a firestorm of hate and vitriol, a place closed off from discussion and sharing ideas, destroying anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or shares ideas they don’t like or agree with.

With all this in mind, I don’t know what to do.  I worry that there are archival websites out there which have every post I’ve ever written saved in them, so the damage is probably already done.  I may already be screwed.

Scholarship And Awards

Just the other day I had a younger student ask me if I’d look at his research paper.  Convinced he was onto something big, he wanted to run his ideas by someone he respects and trusts.  I told him I would meet him Saturday (yesterday), and he brought his research paper.  He was working on a mathematical research paper related to pressure in gases and came across an equation which he felt was particularly significant, and he wanted me to help him relate it to other areas of statistical mechanics.

I’m not really writing this to discuss his ideas or what I thought of them.  What really stuck out to me was this intense desire in him to win an award.  As we sat in the library, he went on and on about great physicists like Dirac, Feynman, and others, and the stories behind how they won the Nobel Prize or the Fields Medal for their work.  That seemed to be his dream.  He wants to win a big prize, be famous, respected, accepted, admired.  It made me think of this video.

He specifically told me, “If this paper is as big as I think it is, we can publish this together and get into any university.”  I sort of nodded my head and listened, not really saying much.

I’m very fascinated with physics and am always trying to learn more about the universe.  But honestly, I don’t care about awards, prestigious schools, fame, recognition, or any of that.  I’m actually the opposite.  I wouldn’t want the attention that goes along with all of that.  As time goes on, most of the best lectures from the top universities are being posted online on Youtube, so I have access to all of it nowadays anyways.  I can buy the books and teach myself.

Like Mike Tyson in the video above, I care about my family, my friends, and the people I love.  I want them to have happy lives, to experience good things, and for us all to share a good life, together.

All of this reminds me of one of the classes I’m in this semester.  Being near graduation, I’ve taken all my main classes, but I have stupid classes I’ve been putting off left.  They really depress me even having to discuss them, but we’ll make this quick.  One of them is an English course.  The professor, a younger woman, went on and on during a lecture, telling us all how we’re all future scholars, and we have to learn how to write like scholars, publish papers, and learn about that world.  Entire class lectures have been dedicated to the citation system, finding the most influential papers, and when we decide to to publish a paper on our own, we’re to look at the current conversation going on and hop in.

I had no interest in it whatsoever.  I don’t want to jump into the current conversation just because other people find it interesting or worthwhile.  It comes down to whether or not I find it worthwhile and interesting.  I could care less about what others are doing.  What’s the point of advancing in some field you’re not even interested in?  Just so you can be “successful”?

I just thought, well, I have little to no interest in publishing papers, and definitely not like this.  If I find out something worthwhile in something I’m interested in, sure, I don’t mind sharing it.  I’ll post it on this site here, I’ll post it on other free internet sites, or other scientists can print it in some journal if they want.  But I don’t care about this academic world all that much.  Publish or perish.  Make sure to publish lots and lots of papers so you can say, “I’ve published hundreds of papers in my field.  I’m an expert!”  Well, good for you.  Sounds like a lot of busywork if you ask me.  I wonder how many people read most of these papers that are being cranked out?

As for me, I just want to better understand the universe and my place in it.  Physics is one of my ways of going about that.  That’s it.  If other people work on the same problems that interest me, great, but otherwise, I don’t see a point to it.

People always seem to be chasing things that mean nothing.  To me, I’m happy to receive an award with others if it’s a celebration of of all our hard work together, a way of remembering our journey together, but if it’s an award for just me, it’s ok, I’ll pass.  I didn’t attend my high school graduation.  I won’t be attending my college graduation.  Most every award I’ve ever won, I’ve turned down.  I’d probably turn down the Nobel Prize if I were to win it, though I worry that’d draw even more attention to me, so I don’t know what I’d do.  I’m just not interested in that stuff anymore.  As Mike Tyson said, “It’s garbage.”