Equality: Fact or Fiction  

Posted by Plato Greybeard

Fact: every human is born equal to every other human and is therefore deserving of respect, access of opportunity, fair and just treatment under law and a clean and safe environment.
Fiction: every human is entitled to a standard of living equal to every other human as well as the freedom to do as he/she wishes without restraint.

What do we mean by “equality” when we are talking about access to the political process, the acquisition of wealth, the availability of clean air and water, obtainable and affordable health care or even the equality of persons?

Consider the relationship between equality and freedom. The exercise of pure freedom by some would mean restricting the economic or social freedom of others, thereby rendering them unequal. Power, strength and wealth would replace any semblance of equality. Therefore, equality is at risk and seriously compromised in a free society.

Balancing the inherent rights of equal humans with competing desires, motivations and struggles to accomplish will forever remain a source of conflict among individuals attempting to increase their own condition at the expense of others.

Is equality possible, or even desirable? Is it fact or fiction?

What is the mechanism of Offensiveness?  

Posted by Plato Greybeard

      It is impossible to be offended by anyone else, or to offend another person. This seems like a shocking and counterintuitive statement, but when we examine the mechanism of offensiveness, it may become one with which you will agree.

     Without a doubt, there are many things that we find offensive. Some guy was wearing a T-shirt in the grocery store yesterday that I found highly offensive. Whenever I see or hear an advertisement that uses fear in an attempt to get me to buy their product, my blood begins to boil. Would you have found these situations offensive?

     The man in the grocery store was a total stranger, so the likelihood of his intending to offend me was somewhere between zero and zilch. Likewise, while advertisers may strive to appeal to a particular segment of the market, they do not have any particular individual in mind when they put out their message.

     Let's look at the other side of the coin. If someone's face turns red and they begin to grit their teeth after I  have done or said something, it would be a fair assumption that they are feeling offended. So who's responsible for their reaction? Well, if I intended the offense, then I would be guilty as charged. Still, the success of my nefarious adventure was only possible because I touched some vulnerability within them. Far more often of course, we offend others inadvertently, and for this we cannot be held responsible.

     There are a number of possible reactions when we feel offended. We can get huffy and strike back, we can ignore the offender and walk away, we might make a joke of it, or we can realize that the offense was in all likelihood not personal and therefore unworthy of attention at all.

     Perhaps the most valuable reaction to either feeling offended or unintentionally being behind the offense taken by another person is to learn from the experience. What, exactly, is it within me or other person that was triggered? The search would require careful self-examination or the use of good communication skills to determine what went on in the other person's mind. When found, one has the opportunity to consider changing.

     Offensiveness, like anxiety, can be a good thing. I hope the time never comes when we fail to be offended by an insult to human dignity, by examples of outright selfishness and greed or by the deliberate infliction of physical or mental anguish.
     And I certainly hope that no one has found these comments offensive.

What are the Limits of Free Will?  

Posted by Plato Greybeard

     Suppose for a moment that you live in a deterministic universe. In such a world, outside forces and events, starting with the big bang, have predetermined everything that you do, say or think today. You could not be held responsible for any behavior. Whether you cheat on your taxes, lie to your spouse or murder a shopkeeper during a robbery attempt, it would not be your fault because your behavior was predetermined. Morality, as such, would be nonexistent. Determinism gives an individual a rationale for doing what he/she wants to do in the first place.

     The philosophical opposite to determinism is the idea of free will. Under this scenario, humans have the capacity to make decisions and choices as they see fit. This sounds good, but let's look at some of the possible limitations faced by those who wish to exercise free will.

     Those who exercise their free will are responsible for the consequences of their choices, and they will be held accountable. The fact that we cannot excuse our actions is a burden that many would prefer to avoid, thus our free will becomes self-limiting.

     Experience (or the lack thereof) limits our free will. It would be impossible, or at least extremely foolhardy, to attempt to pilot a plane without the requisite training and experience associated with that endeavor. Plato Greybeard cannot speak Polish although he would like to and is perfectly free to do so.

     There are innumerable socio-economic factors that limit free will if we choose to act responsibly or irresponsibly. Eventually our credit cards will be maxed out and the computers behind Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover will bring an end to the exercise of our free will.

     So, which is better? Would you rather have the course of your life plotted out in advance, or would you prefer to take your chances by steering your own course?