The 24 hour news cycle is currently devoted to the ‘Italian Titanic’ and especially the fact that the captain of the ship beat the passengers off of the boat. Naturally, the captain is everywhere being referred to as a coward, and every indication is that he really was a coward.
I couldn’t help but think of the quote by CS Lewis in his book The Abolition of Man, where he writes: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Lewis explicitly discusses at length such things as bravery and cowardice, wondering how a society can possibly get young men to march off to war and possibly die while mocking the very things that might motivate them from doing so. I thought of this because it seems to me that this Captain Schettino is acting exactly as his education likely dictated.
What has he been told? It is survival of the fittest. He is just a beast; the prime directive is to survive and reproduce. Fight or flight.
In a discussion about such things with an Objectivist quite a few years back now, I asked him if he did not find it commendable and honorable for a soldier to throw himself on a grenade for his friend. He said the idea was absurd. He would not himself do such a thing and thinks it silly to expect anyone else to do the same. On his view, a person goes to war merely for reasons of self-interest, and by that I think he must mean financial considerations.
This seems to me to also to imply that our candidate pool for potential soldiers would have to be filled with idiots, because it is hard to imagine anyone thinking their lives are worth risking for the relatively low salaries that soldiers typically receive. Since you cannot motivate them by appealing to their honor and love of country, relying on idiocy and a mercenary instinct seems to be all you have got.
That being the case, though, not only could you not blame someone for not throwing themselves on a grenade, you couldn’t really blame them for refusing to fight altogether. Fire them, if you want, but give them a dishonorable discharge and throw them in the brig? That implies a violation against something bigger and grander than what we can expect beasts to conform to.
We could go even further. One pinnacle of human intellect, Jerry Coyne, says that free will is a farce and illusion. All our acts are inevitable and determined by physical processes that long preceded the acts we see today.
As a little taste, consider this little bit by Coyne:
You may feel like you’ve made choices, but in reality your decision to read this piece, and whether to have eggs or pancakes, was determined long before you were aware of it — perhaps even before you woke up today. And your “will” had no part in that decision. So it is with all of our other choices: not one of them results from a free and conscious decision on our part. There is no freedom of choice, no free will.
It is not really my point here to challenge such drivel, but rather to wonder aloud about what can be expected when such drivel permeates society. Clearly, on that basis, no one can be blamed for anything they do, just as Coyne can’t be credited for any insight in his column. Credit must be given to the universe, in much the same manner that we pat the universe on the back for the gravitational constant.
It is only a matter of time before someone acts on these ideas. And what then?
You cannot make someone sterile and then act surprised, when, after encouraging them to be fertile, they are not. You cannot undermine all potential grounds for bravery as a virtue and then ask people to be brave- or be surprised when they are not. You cannot tell people that their every act was destined and dictated at the moment of the Big Bang and then blame them for not behaving in a way that you like. Indeed, even your blame was fore-determined…
And therein is the hilarious irony. Society will stand around in genuine shock when someone behaves as though these ideas are true. Does this give the lie to the whole materialistic scheme?
I would say so.
You may say otherwise. But then, you had to say that, didn’t you?