"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in
herds, while they recover their senses slowly, and one by one."
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841
Thoughts on Life and Ethics
It seems to me that all sentient beings start out with a desire to live, to retain and
expand life. Because of tragedy, pain, lack of fulfillment or hopelessness
some lose this desire and even cross over the line to desire the cessation
of their "life," but this is clearly the result of evil, and many–most
even–that experience great evil still retain the desire to live.
The dimension of desire
Desire/need in general (and specifically this desire for existence) is one of the more primary things,
along with a fuller range of volition (see below) and intellectual/spiritual
dimensions, that separate homo sapiens from any kind of machine no matter
how complex or programmed. A more extensive range of desire/need,
intellectual/spiritual dimensions and volition also distinguishes human
beings/homo sapiens from the animals, which are considered to be of less
value partially because of this. In other words, desire/need is absolutely
a major part of, and necessary to, human life.
Life versus biological
There is, or should be, a clear distinction made between "life" and biological
functionality. Biological functionality only derives its value from "life,"
and when life is absent, biological functionality loses its value. This is
being said in a different or partial way in the first paragraph above.
We make decisions based on this principle every day. When we use mouthwash in the
morning we destroy many biologically functioning units with impunity. We
poison pests and vermin–wasps, ants, roaches, mice, rats, etc.–with psychological or
emotional impunity. When we sit down to eat a chicken dinner, unless we
are hypocrites or are being insensitive, we are perforce deciding that the
loss of the chicken's biological functionality is not as valuable as the
sustenance of or enhancement to our own lives.
When a homo sapiens demonstrates that he is devoid of the ultimate spiritual elements
that define humans or humaneness, such as love, caring, and compassion,
and simultaneously wreaks or threatens to wreak havoc or evil, we as a
society decide to eliminate (sometimes kill, not to put too fine of a point on it)
that threat or source. It was Bonhoeffer, a noted German theologian
and noted humanitarian and pacifist who, when he finally understood the
extent and ramifications of the evil being promulgated by Hitler, decided to
renounce his conscientious objector/pacifism stance and then became involved
in a plot to kill the dictator.
All of the
above implies that "life" should be defined primarily in terms of spiritual
elements and secondarily in terms of the materialistic. In my mind the
material structure and its functionality are just elements necessary to
life; are the matrix upon which life is imposed. However the fulfillment of
materialistic desire/needs has a lot to do with the sustenance and
enhancement of life, and the bottom line is that there is no life apart from
some material structure or body and satisfaction of its needs. A body is
essentially a vessel for the spiritual and an interface unit to the
materialistic realm. I cannot imagine, nor would I desire, any kind of life
that would not have an interface to the material realm of reality. The physical
or material realm is part of the medium of the
creative process, and I am quite used to it also being a source of pleasure
and enjoyment and quite insistent that it remain contributing to such.
A simple equation-definition for life might be:
Life = Desire x satisfaction x need x Fulfillment x Health x total of
(Purpose + Success + Happiness + Ecstasy + Joy + Love + Freedom, etc.)
where any one of these terms being zero means that life is zero also.
Ethical Context of Life
Before anything specific can be said about ethics, we need to be reminded of the
ethical context in which we live. In a reality where there is no evil,
ethical decisions are made between what is good and what is better. In a
reality where there is evil, most times ethical decisions are made between
the lesser of two evils, where even the right ethical decision can be easily
decried by the simplistic as having evil results.
interest versus selfishness
One very important ethical distinction has to be made between enlightened self
interest versus selfishness. The selfish person is one that doesn't care to
see the greater context or picture, and is not enlightened about how to
share instead of take or compete.
Homo Sapiens versus Human Beings
Do we not need to come to terms with the distinction between a homo sapiens and a
human being? All human beings are homo sapiens but not all homo sapiens are
human beings. The term homo sapiens is a zoological designation for a
certain species of animal (I'm an animal, but not just an animal), whereas
a truly HUMAN being or humane and noble being clearly has some finer
or more sacred dimensions than some mere homo sapiens have. Homo Sapiens are
born, but Human Beings are further nurtured and cultured into being so!
An extreme case is that some homo sapiens
are born with just a minimal brain stem that supports biological
functionality for a while, and apart from a miracle have no potential to
develop into a human being. Other cases are less clear, but the line must be
drawn somewhere. This does not mean that a human being has
license to treat a homo sapiens with contempt or a demeaning manner, because
part of being a human being means that one would treat any other sentient
and conscious entity in the most constructive manner called for. As for
Philosopher Kings, that is another matter!
As far as the
abortion (termination of biological functionality of an embryo or a fetus) moral issue goes,
the "life value" of the form would seem to be related to
the nurture investment made by other humans, and also related to the
ramifications of whatever circumstances exist for that particular
situation. Some socio/familial circumstances are such that most probably
not enough of spiritual nurture investment will be made to engender a
contributing member of society. The mother and hopefully the father up until birth have
certainly made an ongoing and cumulatively greater physical nurture
investment, but there is no clear-cut spiritual nurture investment made
until after birth when the communication capability is more advanced. When the foundation is
laid for them, and inspiration, ideas, purpose, values, etc. begin to be
instilled, and when the finer, higher, more sacred qualities and potentials
begin to be stimulated and awakened and developed is the point when serious
spiritual nurture investment takes place.
In an ideal world there would be no such troubling issue, no dilemma, no line would need
to be drawn in general or in particular cases. When the line IS
drawn by the mother and those that support and perform, and the decision is made to
terminate the life form, they are not necessarily acting coldly, callously,
selfishly, or unethically. In the final analysis should we not favor erring on the side
of freedom of choice by the mother, since even in our modern society, the
mother performs the role of taking on the greatest nurture investment? I
know that abortion is not the preferred way to control population, but this
whole issue does stand in the context of an over-burgeoning population on
the Earth–in my mind a threat to even my own future
well-being as well as the future well-being of my own son.
Abdication of Ethics
Many people would like to duck or avoid taking any role in making life
and death decisions, but that is insipid and cowardly. If these decisions
are not made in the best spirit by intelligent, informed, ethical humans,
the outcome will just be some mindless default most probably not the best.
God is NOT involved in picking up the slack in our ethical courage.
The question was asked, "Does God value some souls
(individuals) above others?" The question deserves a careful answer. First of all in my
thinking, "God" is a corporate entity or agency and consequently its primary interest and
caring would be for the corporate family comprised of the human race. This agency doesn't
relish being in the individual evaluation business although
temporarily forced to be by circumstances. Probably only insofar as one or
a group of individuals were (temporarily) more important to the welfare of
the corporate or potential corporate being would God value and/or protect
them above others.