Friday, April 3, 2009

End of year two

"Recursive morality" is a concept I've been thinking about for so long, I don't really remember what made me think of it in the first place.

I say "think of it" like I'm the sole author, but I'm not saying it's an entirely new concept. If you're working in a "young" or even "young-ish" field, computer programming or space station design, the chances of you coming up with a revolutionary idea are pretty good.

Morality is something humans have been thinking about for a pretty long time, actually, so it's somewhat more difficult to break fresh ground.

With the disclaimer aside, I'll explain what it's all about.

Most moral doctrines justify themselves with one of two ideas:

1. Because God says so - This casts God into what Brennan Manning calls an "eternal, small-minded bookkeeper." Just an entity making a tally of what we do right or wrong, scoring us as we go along. Not only does this perspective smack head-first into all my personal, spiritual experience, it also does nothing to explain why "good" is good, and why "bad" is bad. The moral concepts might as well be arbitrary, just a set of rules by which we play.

2. Because it's what you would want - This empathetic or "golden rule" is a fine idea, but it only works if you take it as self-evident. But "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is only an approach to morality, it doesn't explain why this is better than being out for yourself.

My "recursive morality," on the other hand, offers not only an approach to moral ideas, but an inherent justification for why some things are "right" and others are "wrong."

To sum it up as best I can:

"Happiness" is not only a matter of creating a certain state, but also of being receptive to that state. When you honestly earn the money to buy something you want, you've not only acquired the thing, but given it added value by working for it. When you steal money to buy something (or just stolen the item) you've cheapened it in your own heart, thus robbing it of the full enjoyment.

But more importantly, in both cases you've changed a little about yourself. The action of theft has caused you to do harm to someone else. In order to do that harm, you had conclude on some deeper level that either 1. You hate the people you've hurt or 2. You don't care about the people you've hurt.

You are, by your own moral action, a different person.

And that's what "recursive morality" is really about. You, as an individual, have authorship over who you are. Your subconscious may guide you without your notice, but you are also constantly at work on it. When you cause harm in the world around you, you're telling YOURSELF that you're the kind of person who acts without love or concern. When you help someone in need, when you pick up litter and throw it away, when you fold your clothes in the morning*, you are telling yourself that you are a considerate, loving person.

And only one of those two people, recursive morality argues, is CAPABLE of being happy. At the same meal, one person enjoys every bite, while the other complains, thinks about all the things that would be better, and suspects that he's going to get stuck with the bill.

Perhaps then there is no real judgment in death. Heavens gates are not barred, but rather some souls refuse to enter, incapable of receiving it's treasures.

*Maybe that's where I started thinking about it. This quote perplexed me for a long time:

"a spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That's spirituality. Getting a warm, oozy feeling about God is an emotional thing-there is nothing wrong with it-I think there is nothing more practical than real spirituality." -Rich Mullins

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