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James Dennis

I came to your blog looking for a post I'd noticed on education as a public good (that was not your point, but it was my interest), but with a troubled heart due to the recent events (I assume you mean the ones I'm referring to, namely the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings), and reading this new post of yours made me reflect on my pain a bit, so I was impelled to write down these thoughts in the box.

Slavery, to take the Lincoln example, was evil, and that it was necessary to fight a war to end it was terrible and unfortunate, but I don't think one can regard the suffering of the struggle as divine punishment. The notion of punishment as a response to misdeeds, or even evil, does not belong to any true system of ethical principles. No one "deserves" to have something bad purposefully done to them as a response to their misdeeds, and a divinity would be the last entity to do that. The ethical response to violations of ethical principles is compensation, as well as confession, request for forgiveness to the one who was harmed, and so forth. Religions involve seeing the divinity, the deontic source, as the one who was harmed. These reciprocating acts should go along with recognition of the ethical principle that one should henceforth follow, and that means that one should do one's best to follow it, and to adjust one's previous understanding of what is permissible and obligatory accordingly. This last part, the attempt to gain a full ethical understanding, is very important, a unification of the understanding that subsequently governs actions.

This process has not been fully carried out in the American community after the sin of slavery, and that is one of the conditions that makes possible the continuance of the right wing racist social paranoia that leads some police officers, in the grip of that paranoia, to go into full panic mode in their interactions with black citizens, and instead of protecting them, as they know they ought to do, they shoot and kill them for no good reason. Such people, such a mentality, should be screened out in the employment process, and the reasons for the exclusions should be made explicit and publicized. But the reciprocal process of reconciliation, compensation and unification of understanding has to be carried out by the whole community in the battle for its unified soul. It's not enough to describe the results of and to be intuitively appalled by evil; it's necessary to understand the conditions that make it possible, and to express this analysis explicitly. These problems are solvable. This applies to the case of the holocaust as well; I disagree with Elie Wiesel if he says that we should not try to understand abominations like these. How was it possible for such a horrendous event as the holocaust to occur? What made it possible for people to believe that it was permissible to own and trade another human being? The initial conditions, in the understanding that governs action, that led to the holocaust and slavery are still with us, in the US, in Europe, in Israel. The right wing mentality that I mentioned above, mistaken and misguided in its understanding, could lead yet again to a catastrophe; it remains to be fully comprehended, the logical structure of this persistent, incomplete, pathological, perverse, irrational mentality. I think it must be that people like Wiesel do not understand the idea of a causal explanation of action, including socio-political action, and including mistaken action. But I think such explanations are possible. The "judgements" of the Lord are not heard, are not in words, but those judgments are the implicit possible applications of the divinely guaranteed system of symmetry rules that I referred to as ethical principles.

The divinity's role is not to pass judgments, like a person would do, but to guarantee that the principles, like the axioms and definitions that make mathematical assertions true, are the ones that result in fairness for everybody and unity of a community. It's up to us to apply the principles competently, which we often don't, and in fact we don't fully understand the principles. Our suffering, all of it, is due to our lack of understanding, not because a divinity somehow allowed it or said we deserve it. The very definition of action involves freedom to choose a or not-a, a or b, and we choose one or the other on the basis of a reason. The reason is often based in ignorance. In this sense the suffering of the struggle for both parties is a consequence of our ignorance and incompetence in identifying and finding a way to end the evil without the suffering of violence and war.

Punishment and retribution, especially divine retribution, are ethically illegitimate notions. Reciprocity, symmetry, equality: these are the regulative ideals. (I realize there is a strange mixture of analysis and impassioned response here, but I'm open to any critique of anything I've said above.)

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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