Thursday, April 16, 2015

Moral Phenomena

I came across it, just a link to a story, part of the endless fountain of distract-o-media that some random algorithm creates Just For Me.

It was a random thing, a small but intensely painful tragedy, a bit of local news that fluttered briefly to the subsurface of the collective consciousness before floating down again into the dark realm of the forgotten.

It involved an Arizona mom of twin toddlers, walking them on a path on the side of a drainage culvert.  They were in their jogging stroller.

And a wasp or a bee started pestering them.  Just buzzing about, as stinging insects do.  The mom swatted at it, and it got angry, and she swatted more.  In that process, she let go of the stroller for just a moment.  And the stroller, being on an incline and being a jogging stroller, rolled down the sidewalk, then off it.  She raced after it, but could not catch her children.  The stroller tumbled into the culvert, filled with fast flowing water, and though she threw herself in after it, and desperately tried to wrestle it to the bank, the current tore the stroller from her grasp.

Both of her little ones drowned, still strapped into their stroller.  It was tragic, and heartbreaking, and absurd.  Here, a simple cascade of events, a moment of distraction...almost laughable, in how trivial and familiar and human it was...and utterly devastating.


We want to ascribe purpose to such things, to weave them into some plan or intent.  We want to feel that there's a reason behind them, some larger justification.  But I just can't believe it is so.  We are small, and we break easily, and we all die.  Two deaths every second of every day, or so the statistics about human dying go.  Some are expected, others tragic and untimely.  Every one, the momentous end to a story.  Every one, just a droplet diffused in the endless tide of our dying.

But are such tragic things imbued with purpose?

Meaning: are they part of some great moral narrative?

One the one hand, you can say, no, no they're not.  My ol' buddy Nietzsche certainly would.  "There are no moral phenomena," he'd say.  "Only moral interpretation of phenomena."  For those moments of mortal fragility, I'd agree.  There is no moral imperative demanding the deaths of those little twins, or the deaths of that pastor-couple who just happened to be driving under a bridge at the exact instant that part of our crumbling infrastructure crumbled.

The Tower of Siloam falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, say I, willfully mashing up my scripture.

But then there are those phenomena that only occur because sentience chooses them.  Actions taken from my moral purpose are non-random, and directly serve a moral end.  When I choose to do X because my faith demands it of me, that is a moral phenomena.  That act has ontological impacts, meaning, it's a real thing, dude.

Like comforting the bereaved.  That's real.  Like an embrace, or a kind word, or showing respect to a human being used to being mistreated.  Like a warm meal, given to an empty stomach.

Or words of forgiveness, delivered from a place where a curse might be expected.