Often, I think, we fail to make a basic distinction between our more basic values and our more transitory opinions. Values are formed early in life, and usually remain fairly constant. While formed early, values may not be considered or articulated until later, if ever. Opinions evolve. If you have the same opinions as five years ago, and still hold the same ones five years hence, you are dead from the ears up!
My values had to be formed, and articulated, by the time I was 19. I was almost expelled from university for supporting the application of a Black student for admission. I was in a room with the Dean of my College, the Minister of by Church, the Judge of the County Supreme Court all telling me I was wrong. I knew I was right. (Probably the beginning of my pigheadedness.
Let me attempt to state those values:
The ultimate value is the self aware human personality. That which damages it is evil; that which helps it is good.
Human personalities are to be respected and their rights protected regardless of colour, religion, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation.
Human personalities develop best in an atmosphere of intellectual artistic, economic, and political freedom. They require a society which guarantees their basic material needs.
The philosopher who has most influenced me is J.S. Mill, particularly his "On Liberty".
While human personality is the supreme good, that personality exists in a society, and that society exists in a natural world. Humankind is part of the interwoven web of existence. Humankind should not wantonly cause unnecessary pain to any living creature, or wantonly destroy any species or part of nature.
My opinions, on the other hand, evolve and change, often as the result of discussions. In discussions, I will often take the side opposite of the one held by the person with whom I am having the discussion in order to draw out his or her opinions. ("I agree" all the times makes for a very boring discussion!)
These are my current opinions on a variety of topics based on the values I have outlined above:
Based on the last value stated above, while I am not a vegetarian, I respect those who are. Where possible, I prefer to eat lower down the food chain: fish rather than fowl, fowl rather than red meat. The lower down the food chain you eat, the less of the world's resources you are using. To produce enough red meat to feed one person, enough grain to feed a village is used.
Based on the value of human personality, I oppose capital punishment. There may be no life beyond this one, and we do not have the right to end a self aware human being. To oppose murder by murdering is, I think, simply wrong.
I support euthanasia where all hope of the recovery of awareness is gone, or where it is desired because of incurable extreme pain, physical or mental.
I support the right of a woman over her own body, including abortion, until the foetus has reached a certain stage of development. I am not now prepared to say what that stage is, but research seems to be showing that a foetus begins hearing and being influenced earlier than we once thought.
I favour the repeal of all drug laws, and the treatment of drug addiction as a medical problem. This is not an advocacy of drug use, whether it be nicotine, some form of cannabis, or the hard drugs. It is a judgement of what might be the most effective way of reducing drug addiction, and reducing the harm done of society by drug addition. Half, I think it is now, of all prisoners are there because of drug offences. Over half of muggings, house break-ins, and store hold-ups are to support expensive drug habits, habits which are expensive because of the laws against them. Over half the ill effects of drugs, and most of their ill effects on society, would be solved by legalizing them. We seemed to have learned nothing from prohibition.
Prison sentences should be reserved for crimes which damage other people. Where possible, alternate punishments should be given. (I strongly support the move to punishments agreed upon by native people's sentencing circles; there is much we could learn from native tradition in this regard.) The western penal system has failed. Prisons are universities training criminals.
To give you an example of how opinions may evolve based on the same values: when I was in the Southern Civil Rights Movement, the strongest fear and argument against integration was the white's dread of interracial marriage. My opinion at that time was that there is a degree of closeness which made marriage unwise (siblings, first cousins, for example) and a degree of distance which made marriage unwise (white/black for example). I used this argument to say that siblings could not marry, but they were not segregated nor considered socially inferior.
I was wrong. While I can see an advantage in some portion of each race remaining as an unmixed genetic pool, I now see great advantages in interracial marriage, and am quite happy to perform them. Not only do they help break down barriers between races, but they produce extraordinarily beautiful individuals, and convey the benefit of what biologists call hybrid vigour.
I used to oppose living together before marriage. Experience has shown me that it has many advantages. I used to oppose same sex relationships. I now see them as natural and good.
The values a listed at the top have changed little since I was young. (I remember spending a delightful evening in Moscow trading J.S. Mill quotes back and forth with a Russian diplomat I had met in a lineup for a fancy Moscow restaurant. A party functionary had been moved ahead of. I mumbled "all people are equal but..." and he responded "some people are more equal than others".) To often when some one reads Mill for the first time, he responds like a young person whom took to a Shakespeare play for the first time, who said it was fine but had all those tired old quotes it in. Shakespeare and J.S. Mill were firsts; their words have entered our civilization. J.S. Mill, by the way, was strongly influenced by his wife; this was before women could publicly express their own opinions.)
J.S. Mill's argument as to why there should be no censorship of ideas has never been improved upon:
Basically it is this: for all you know, the idea you are suppressing may be true. Or, if partially false, it may have an element of truth which will be beneficial. And even it is totally false, the truth will be strengthened by combating it.
I would find it difficult to be in a close relationship with a person whose basic values differed markedly from those stated at the outset. I would expect any independent person to have his or her own opinions which differ from mine at any given time, but to be open to a rational and unemotional discussion of them. And I would expect my, and that person's, opinions to grow and evolve over time.
Frequently I find that a person's emotional attachment to opinions is in inverse relationship to their intellectual underpinnings for them.
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Last modified: Sunday, 04-Sep-2022 22:17:49 PDT