Who is responsible for poverty? Whose fault is disease? All but the most skeptical of people agree that there is unpleasantness in the world whose persistent endurance is beyond the wicked capacity of any one person, but instead is the result of simple things that we understand but cannot control. Searching for the answers to these questions quickly reduces your humanitarian contemplation to rehashes of the physical properties of matter. At their essence, there is no cause for sickness and death beyond antagonistic configurations of elementary blocks and flaws in our quaternary information storage system1. Consequently, we have to introduce abstract entities before we can really plunge into these philosophical problems: humans, their affiliations, and their relationships among one another. Whom do we blame for heartbreak? Whose sin is mass deception? And whose is envy? To understand a human being, you need sympathize with them, enough to learn their afflictions, but not excessively, lest you neglect their crimes. In light of classical mechanics’s support of determinism, it is so tempting to relieve an other of all responsibility for their mistakes and believe that wickedness is a naturally incorrigible part of our constitution2. If there is no man’s malice behind afflictions, then why cannot the same be said for crimes? Can hostility, depravity, and callousness really be attributed to a violent rearing? A series of stressful weeks? A reciprocation of a cruel world’s scorn?
The answer is incontrovertibly, no. It is unconditionally and unequivocally, no. Whether you consult science or tale, it is indisputable that human beings, to the extent that the constituents of an individual can be aggregated and thought of as a single entity, have the power to change and redefine the future regardless of preexisting conditions3. Additionally, it is truly from those who exercise their free will, or an analogous equivalent thereof, to oppose their afflictions, that we do and should derive our ethical inspiration, for it is easy to act on impulse and do what ostensibly feels right, but difficult to actually identify our own imperfections and act on what really is right.
Recall some of the biggest of your life’s changes, especially those which impacted not only your life, but equally, those of your friends and your community. I’ve learned in the past few weeks that shifting ground reveals rifts through which the tragedy of one’s afflictions shines most viciously. Friends become estranged. Humans err and misunderstand. The susceptible turn to cheap and comforting lies, or else lapse toward depression. We are taught not to judge one another; that is, to forgive each others’ vices and to never lose sight of the afflictions, both those we know of and those which are concealed, that lead us into our crimes, to “remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the same advantages that you’ve had” as Fitzgerald put it. But it is equally important to remember that we are always capable of rejecting the burden of our afflictions and that we should always try harder to live as stronger human beings, to be better to each other and, most importantly, to ourselves. It is all we can do as pathetic flecks of dust in an world that was never made to be fair.
- See the SMBC comic on the deterministic nature of DNA and its similarity to machines. ↩︎
- Yet, it is so difficult to relieve the fault in ourselves. Those who can, and brazenly do so, are marked pretentious. Those who cannot have low self-esteem. It is no wonder most of us have confidence problems. ↩︎
- The more you learn of the social sciences, the more your experiences accumulate, the more you will believe that human states cannot always be predicted and defined. ↩︎