An Ethics Final

  1. The notion that morality is merely a matter of opinion is profoundly false and trivially true. This notion is profoundly false because it suggests that there is no right or wrong answer to moral questions, there is only “the answer that is right for you, and the answer that is right for me.” In this class, we took great pains to arrive at the realization that no matter what various answers any two people might arrive at, 2+2 will still equal 4. Regardless people’s opinions on any matter, right, wrong, or indifferent, moral questions have a definite answer that is unchanging and not affected by how people feel about it. The trivial truth about this notion is that any stance that we are to take on any subject will ultimately be an opinion, regardless how true or false we might be. All we have are opinions, so our thoughts on morality will necessarily be a matter of opinion. That does not mean that our opinions are not subject to being right or wrong, it simply means that they are opinions, and even as such, no one is right to hold the wrong opinion.

  2. Plato claims that one never knowingly and deliberately does what one judges to be the morally inferior alternative. I believe that Plato was correct in this assessment. In my own experience, I can say that there are a great number of things in my life that I have done of which I am not very proud, but I don’t think that I have ever done anything that I sincerely believed at the time to be wrong. There are things that I have done (stealing my mother’s vehicle to take joy-rides well before I even saw a driver’s license on the distant horizon, stealing all varieties of random and relatively worthless merchandise from shops in the mall and discount shopping centers) knowing very well that a lot of people would consider it wrong or that I might be punished for being caught, but even then I managed to justify my actions such that I felt comfortable with my own choices. Since that time, I have matured slightly, but the things that I do wrong now I still believe are right. I believe that any time that we are presented with a moral question about our own behavior, we will work to do one of two things: evaluate the situation realistically and arrive at an informed decision as to what is right to do, or decide what we want to do and then manufacture reasons that our choice is justified. I have a firm belief in the human ability to believe in whatever we need to believe in so that we can do what we want to do, but I also believe that if a person is honest enough about the reality of a situation, they will do the right thing. People can be mistaken in their values, including overemphasizing the value of doing what they want (“that is my right“) relative to other factors in making a moral decision, but they cannot escape from the need to believe that they are justified in doing what they do.

  3. I disagree with the idea that there are no moral truths because of some sort of difference between facts and values. Wherever values exist they can be described as being factual, and so if something must be factual in order to be “truth,” then values can be true.

  4. Camille Paglia believes that the two sexes are at war with each other, that men seek to dominate women through aggression and that women seek to dominate men with sexuality. She seems to argue that women who choose to use their sexuality in their dealings with men should not be surprised if men respond with aggression, especially if those women do not want to engage in sexual activity after displaying their sexuality. She maintains that women who engage in games with the opposite sex should be held accountable for the part they played should they be forced to engage in sexual relations against their will. She claims that the men who force these women to engage in sexual relations are not right in doing so, but they are not alone in the responsibility for what happens. I think that her analysis of the situation is accurate: for anyone to forcibly engage in sexual relations with another is wrong, yet it is reckless and irresponsible to flaunt sexuality in the company of persons of questionable moral character and an unquestionable desire to fornicate, particularly if one desires not to fornicate.

  5. The idea that, because people differ in their beliefs and judgments regarding morality and because people are “not likely” to change their beliefs and judgments, there cannot be a universal moral code that applies to all people is absurd. The existence or lack of existence of a universal moral code is in no way dependant upon the beliefs of people. If a universal moral code exists, then there are a lot of people who are wrong in the their moral beliefs and judgments. If no code exists, and what a person believes and what they value dictates their morality, then all of these people could be correct in their moral judgments even if they differ. A universal moral code cannot be proven impossible simply because people differ in their beliefs and judgments, because they can differ in those regardless of whether or not the moral code exists.

  6. It is possible that we act on principle and remain consequentialists. True principles have their basis in reason, and when the reason (consequences, ill motives) is removed, then the principles no longer apply to the given situation. Those who maintain their belief in principles that might seem to be of no consequence in particular situations do so only when they believe that there are, in fact, consequences at stake. A decision to face the Dalton gang, for example, would have as one of its consequences a man who goes to his grave having died for what he believed in, while the consequences had he not faced the gang would’ve been a man who lived on with the suspicion in his heart that he was a coward who refused to stand up to the bullies simply because he feared harm. If the only consequences that we are allowed to recognize are material and physical instances of harm or well-being, then a decision to stand up to the Dalton gang would be a decision that completely disregarded all possible consequences. If we are allowed to admit, though, that the harm done to character in the instance of refusing to stand for what is right (i.e. it is not right for the Dalton gang to be allowed free reign over the people of Dodge City) is greater than the harm done when one loses his life performing his duty. Clearly, a man who decides to face the gang would rather die a man of character than live as a coward, both are very real consequences that have been weighed against each other. If the consequences that apply to character are not real, though, then this man has acted simply as a matter of principle with no care for the (real) consequences. I reject the notion that the only consequences that are real are those that affect the physical and material well-being of those persons involved, and therefore I cannot believe in such notions as “harmless wrongdoing” or “principled behavior.” The consequences at stake in both “harmless” wrongdoing and principled behavior are not those that affect the physical and material well-being of those involved, but rather the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being (well-being of character) of those involved.

  7. When moral disagreements occur, they can occur between stupid and inept people as well as capable and qualified people. A moral disagreement can occur when two people disagree about something and do not possess the wherewithal to prove each other wrong or prove their own arguments right. Their disagreement is in no way dependant upon whether or not they understand why they disagree or are able to formulate arguments supporting their belief.

  8. William K. Frankena said, “To say that a developed moral agent must make up his or her own mind as to what is right…is not to say that one can make a course of action right by merely deciding on it.” The first portion of this statement seems to
    build on Plato’s notion that a moral agent will not knowingly act in a way that he or she determines to be morally inferior. Moral agents are subject to gain information about moral judgments from outside of themselves, often including the opinions others and society at large. Regardless the factors that affect that moral agent’s personal belief or judgment, the moral agent’s own belief and judgment will ultimately determine how that agent will act. This is the first portion of Frankena’s statement—a developed moral agent must make up his or her own mind as to what is right—in order for that moral agent to choose a course of action that he or she believes to be right. The second portion of his statement allows for the fact that developed moral agents are fallible in their moral judgments. Developed moral agents will necessarily believe that the course of action they choose is right, but this does not mean that they will choose the right course of action. Developed moral agents are capable of being mistaken, and so in spite of the fact that they might sincerely believe that they choose the proper course of action, they are capable of choosing the wrong one.

  9. Joseph Raz’s assertion that “morality judges the interest of all impartially” still permits the possibility that, in doing what is morally right, one’s self-interest is also served. It does not follow from his assertions that it can never be in one’s self-interest to be moral, simply because there can be instances in which the service of one’s self-interest coincides with what is morally right.

  10. Though it can be said that, “by increasing a pain-riddled patient’s morphine in order to shorten the patient’s life,” a person has taken steps that both produce desirable results (the alleviation of the patient’s pain) and display morally wrong intent (the intent to kill the patient). The presence of ill motives and intent to do harm is more morally significant than the benefit to the patient of pain relief as the patient dies. The agent cannot be described as having done the “right” thing for the wrong reasons, as the wrong reasons make the action wrong.

  11. Suttle’s position on duty to die and its implications on others is basically that it is morally permissible for some other people to do what will bring about or expedites a duty-bound person’s death when the duty-bound person fails to fulfill that duty. I agree that, when a person is morally obligated to do something and cannot or will not do it, then others have a moral right, and perhaps sometimes an obligation, to step in and assist the duty-bound person in fulfilling that duty.

  12. The Moral Domain is said to be composed of “any thought, judgment, or action that either advances, sustains, or retards the well-being of the agent and/or others.” Any thoughts, actions, or judgments that do not advance, sustain, or retard the well-being of the agent and/or others falls outside of the Moral Domain. If “harmless wrongdoings” are to be understood as actions that do not advance, sustain, or retard the well-being of the agent and/or others, they would necessarily fall outside of the Moral Domain, and are therefore neither right nor wrong, and should therefore be considered “harmless doings.” If they must be included in the Moral Domain, though, perhaps it should be recognized that, if they are in fact “wrongdoings,” then they do, in fact, retard the well-being of the agent and/or others. In the instance of voyeurism, for example, a person who violates the privacy of another does very real harm to his/her own well-being.

  13. The most significant change in my thinking due to this course has been my understanding of moral relativism. At times in my past I have sincerely believed that moral judgments for me can differ from others’ moral judgments for themselves without either sets of moral judgments being wrong. As a result of this course, I realize that when disagreements about the world in general occur, at least one of the persons involved in the disagreement must be wrong.

    I found all of the topics we discussed in this class equally interesting. All of the topics were based on ethics, which I find to be very interesting.

    This course would be much improved if only I had attended class more in the latter portion of the semester, and if we had spent less time waiting for some of the more stubborn or ignorant persons in the class to grasp the concepts we discussed so that we could move on to discuss the topics in greater depth.

  14. I think that the most common misunderstanding of ethics would probably have to be that of moral relativism. People often rightly subscribe to the notion that it is mean and/or irresponsible to dismiss the practices of other cultures as wrong simply because they are different when we do not fully understand them, but people mistakenly take this further to believe that we cannot understand or make morally sound judgments of other cultures or even other people within our own culture. Moral relativism seems to prevent a lot of progress and advancement in the world today because so many people are so careful about passing judgment on the actions or beliefs of others. In a more critical world, perhaps we would be free of many of the stupid and ignorant ideas that still remain because no one wants to tell people how things really are.

Pornography and Censorship

Many people wake up each morning and feel hungry. The urge to eat breakfast is a common one, and people throughout the country have a variety of ways to respond to that urge. Some throw pop-tarts in the toaster and slam a glass of orange juice, some fry eggs and bacon and have a few slices of toast with butter, and some put it off until lunch, deciding that it’s more important to get through their busy morning than deal with the desire for sustenance. Similarly, many people throughout the world occasionally feel frisky. By that, I mean they yearn to sow their wild oats. By that, I mean that they long for sexual gratification. And so they, too, go about their ways of satisfying their hunger, some by planning a romantic evening with their significant other that would likely be concluded with mutual gratification, some spend sometimes by themselves with pictures of a suggestive or explicit sexual nature, and finally some attend to other business, allowing their friskiness to pass without gratification. Should laws play a role in how people decide which course they will take, or shouldn’t they? And if laws should be in place, to what extent should they restrict pornography? Of the three main sources that I have researched, two argue that laws should not restrict pornography while one argues that commercial pornography ought to be outlawed completely.

Both of the papers written in opposition to legal restrictions placed on pornography can be found at “libertus.net,” a website about “censorship and freedom of expression.” Kath Albury has written an article that deals primarily with an argument against legislation that discriminates against “a sexual minority.” These laws restrict all but non-violent erotica and are known as “NVE.” According to Albury, human sexuality might be imagined as a sort of target, with a bull’s eye consisting of what she calls the “charmed circle.” Sexuality within this circle “can be heterosexual, gay or lesbian, as long as it’s performed by committed, monogamous couples. As long as it’s Non Violent and Erotic” (1). Albury argues that to restrict legal pornography to that which falls inside the charmed circle is to discriminate, as not all peoples’ tastes can be accommodated by that selection. “By making certain kinds of sex ‘unrepresentable,’ the Australian government is dis-enfranchising a sexual minority who are not breaking any laws” (id). Patricia Peterson, on the other hand, argues, “no pornography should be outlawed provided that fully consenting adult actors are employed in its production” (3). The basis of her argument is that all persons who willfully involve themselves in the production of pornography have every right to do with their own bodies as they please, so long as they do not impinge upon anyone else’s ability to do the same. She claims that pornography does not incite or promote in its audience “negative attitudes towards women.” On the contrary, in fact, she claims that persons with “appropriate attitudes towards women” patronize certain soft pornographic publications (id). Both of these papers argue against legislation that would censor pornography with the primary reason being that the people involved are doing what they want to do without hurting others, or at least without hurting anyone who does not willfully volunteer to be hurt.

Paul Mero argues that commercial pornography ought to be illegal. One of the most important aspects of his argument is that the issue at hand should have nothing to do with censorship, but rather should involve the legal issues inherent in the exchange of sex for money. Mero claims “there is no substantive social or commercial difference between the sale of sex for money and the sale of a picture of sex for money. In both cases sex is sold for money” (2). Prostitution is illegal in our society as a result of the fact that in our society, “we legally subordinate personal sexual desires to public virtue” (id). To make commercial pornography illegal would not prevent people from dealing with their sexual desires in their own way, rather it would simply remove sexual gratification from the open public and let it remain a personal issue for those parties concerned. “Money drives the sex industry and its legion of attorneys, not the evils of censorship or the beauty of the naked form” (id). The industry that produces pornography has nothing to do with providing its audience with much-needed gratification; it has to do with separating the audience from their money in the most effective manner possible, regardless the cost of the dignity of the persons involved or of the general decency of the commercial market (id). Mero does not advocate in this article legislation against pornography, but rather legislation against pornography as commercial enterprise. People are free to resolve their sexual desires as they please, but sex should not be sold in a society that values human dignity or public decency over money.

With these three sources, we are able to see what an intricate and complex controversy pornography is in terms of legislation. We must take into account so many various issues, such as people’s desires, preferences, and rights, as well as societal values and the need to define and determine harmfulness in a reasonable and realistic manner. Just as the person who wakes up hungry must determine how he/she will deal with his/her hunger, a person who longs for sexual gratification must determine how he/she will go about finding just that. We must ask ourselves a number of questions when determining whether or not pornography should be a legal commercial enterprise. If persons willingly subject themselves to undignified treatment, is that what they deserve? If they deserve that, should we take advantage of the opportunity to entertain ourselves with it? And do we really value the ideas of decency and discretion when it comes to the public domain, or are those values subordinate to the value of the dollar? The fact of the matter is that the commercial pornography industry, for the love of money, sacrifices the dignity of those who lack the self-respect or even the wherewithal to refrain from involving themselves with it. What good reason could we have for buying sex when we can achieve gratification ourselves painlessly in the comfort of our own homes without spending one red cent?

Black Holes and the End of Time

I can remember that, as a child, I had a great interest in the cosmos. I was fascinated with ideas about what might be out there, and I read books and articles about the universe and its wonders. Ever since then, my desire to know more about the nature of reality has done much to shape my thoughts and actions. Until I enrolled in Astronomy 102 for this fall semester, however, I’d not done much at all to gain any deeper understanding of the cosmos since I’d been just a child. Studying the universe in this class has provided me with a reawakened interest in the cosmos, but I’ve found myself a bit disillusioned by what I’ve learned thus far. The most significant source of frustration for me in my search for an understanding of the universe has been a book that I began to read a few weeks into this semester, The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking. Ideas in this book from the uncertainty principle to singularities and brane worlds seem to be at once contradictory and counterintuitive. If you please, Mr. Hawking, allow me to retort.

Hawking begins this book with a chapter describing the theory of relativity and its history, including much about Albert Einstein and his life. I’ve always considered Einstein one of my personal heroes, and I’m able to agree with much of what Hawking states in this first chapter. My first quarrels with Hawking’s ideas, however, began as I read this chapter. Hawking claims that time comes to an end in black holes because gravity forces matter in a black hole to form a singularity, a body with no size and infinite mass. His claim is that time stands still because it becomes impossible to predict the behavior of matter once it has been “trapped” by a black hole. My first complaint is that it seems incredibly self-centered to believe that because we cannot know what happens to matter in a black hole, the information about that matter is lost to the universe. The idea of a singularity is awfully far-fetched, as it seems obvious that for a thing to have any mass at all, it must have some size, however small it may be. In the past, it was believed that the atom was the smallest unit of matter, then atomic particles, and now quarks. It seems to me that it would be entirely possible that there is, in fact, a small, indivisible unit of matter that forms the body of a black hole, and the phenomenon of black holes would be explained by the gravity that results from the infinitely dense and small configuration of these units (whether they be quarks or some smaller units).

Beyond the supposition that we might have some definitive answer to the question of what the basic building block of the universe is, I think that it is absurd to say that because we cannot predict what might become of matter in a black hole, time for that matter ceases to exist. The ideas that come from the general theory of relativity with regard to time as a universal phenomenon versus time for “any freely moving observer” seems to be shortsighted. The speed at which certain processes occur changes based on the circumstances surrounding their occurrence, resulting in experiences that would seem to indicate differing rates in the passage of time. The idea of universal time seems to be rather easily discarded by Hawking and many others based simply on the fact that certain things happen at different rates due to the effects of gravity, etc. Time has forever been a relative system of quantification, a means of comparing the duration of one process’s occurrence to another’s, but the inherent problems is that there is no process in the universe that occurs at a constant rate with the exception, possibly, of light travel. Our most accurate means of measuring the passage of time, however, are still based on processes whose rates of occurrence still are not perfectly constant, such as atomic decay and quartz movement. The fact that time under varying circumstances is experienced differently, whether by human consciousness or by atomic decay, says nothing to the fact that, throughout the universe, time is constant in that all things must pass through a consecutive order of events, regardless of the number of events that might occur for any other thing in the universe.

A related argument is that of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. This principle suggests that the more accurately one can predict the position of a particle, the less accurately one can predict its speed, or vice versa. Einstein was reported to have said, in answer to this idea, that “God does not play dice.” Hawking, among others, argues that God must, in fact, play dice, as particles obviously cannot have a specific speed and position. It is also suggested that, because it cannot be known what path a particle may take from one position to another, it is reasonable to assume that particles will travel through all possible paths from one position to another. This assertion results in all sorts of absurd ideas including those of imaginary time and multiple histories that make sense if one believes that particles don’t behave well. Simply because the speed and position of a given particle cannot be known with certainty does not mean that the given particle does not have a definite speed and position. I am in complete agreement with Einstein on this issue; I do not believe that God plays dice. Reality is not dependent on whether or not math can predict something; reality is dependent only on itself. A particle’s existence alone is enough to prove that it will have a position and speed relative to the rest of the universe, regardless of whether or not that position and/or speed can ever be known within that universe. Mathematics provides tools for understanding the universe, but, just as in every other situation, flawed equations will produce flawed results. The universe will occur as it will, and simply because we cannot know exactly how it has occurred does not mean that it occurred in every possible way.

Having written all of that, it occurs to me that this paper lacks structure. I don’t really know that I’ve followed any specific line of thought, but rather I’ve simply vented all of my discontent at having read Hawking’s book. That in mind, I must say that I have learned much from this process. I have learned a great deal about what modern theories state about the universe and reality, and I have learned that those modern theories do not seem to be able to provide me with the types of answers for which I am looking. I am a philosopher, and these men are scientists and mathematicians. I am not concerned with quantitative aspects of truth; I am concerned with the qualitative principles that describe those quantitative aspects. Learning more about what is known and believed has led me to a deeper understanding of what I know and believe for myself, which is important enough for me, even if it is not in agreement with what modern thinkers believe. Studying in this astronomy class has allowed me an opportunity to know at least one thing with some certainty: I shall not pursue an understanding of the universe or reality through the medium of science any more than I shall look to science to tell me what my favorite color is.

Positive Attitudes

Acceptance
Gratitude’s answer to misery’s regret is acceptance. When I truly choose to be grateful, I must also choose to be grateful for the past. If I am grateful for the past, I can effectively accept the past. Complete acceptance will include acceptance of the way that I’ve felt, the way that I’ve acted, and that which I have said. When I choose to be grateful, I can accept the things the way that I have been treated and viewed by other people in my life. When I accept the past, I look at everything that has happened and take solace in the belief that, regardless of what has happened, I can be at peace. In order to truly be at peace with the past, I must accept it. True acceptance of the past will allow me to feel a genuine sense of love for the present.

Love
If I am grateful for the state of the present, I will love the present. Gratitude is the only real reason that I can have for loving the present, and I cannot love the present if I am not grateful for it. My perception of the present when I am grateful will be characterized by a belief that everything about my current situation is as it should be. The anger of misery would have me believe that people, including myself, should be better, that my current situation will not allow me to be happy. When I am grateful, though, I love people because I know that they are much better than I know. When I see people do what I think is wrong, I believe that they are still good. I am grateful for myself because I believe that I am good. When I have done something that pains my conscience, I know that, because I am good, I can do better. I realize in my gratitude that to truly love unconditionally means to believe that, regardless of the wrong that I think is being done, everything truly is as it should be. The gratitude of love in the present will allow me to look to the future with faith.

Faith
Faith is the belief that all that is to come will be good. Understanding that the primary distinction between good and bad is my attitude, gratitude allows me to know that there is nothing that can come that can justify misery. When I accept the past and have love in the present, I begin to believe that there is nothing that life can present me with which I cannot find peace, so long as I choose to do so. The choice to be grateful has allowed me to accept the past, and acceptance of the past allows my present actions to be acts of love. These acts of love make it much easier to choose gratitude more consistently, making more solid my love for life and faith that life will not only continue to be bearable, but will also be enjoyable and pleasant. I fall into a habit of saying that life has become better or worse, but it has truly not done either. Though change is constant, life does not become better or worse, it simply becomes different. My perspective of life, my attitude, can become better or worse, but when I let myself believe that the difference of life causes this change in attitude, I set myself up to return to being miserable. If I am to remain grateful, I must remember that life does not become better or worse, but rather my attitude about the changes that life brings will affect my belief about the goodness of life. With gratitude, I can continue to believe that life is good.

Addiction

Addiction is a word that has become quite personally meaningful to me in the last few years. The very idea of addiction, in fact, has been more influential on my life than anything else. Before I was introduced to the idea of recovery, I considered addiction to simply be something that happens to people who have had chronic and extensive exposure to powerful mind and mood altering substances. I’ve come to believe, in my recovery, that addiction has nothing to do with any sort of substance use or abuse, but rather it has to do with a person’s very approach to life itself. Some substances are thought to be more or less physically or psychologically addictive than others, but addiction, as I see it, does not deal with either of these. Anyone can become physically dependent on such a substance and break that dependence relatively easily. Addiction, though, is different. Physical and psychological dependence on substances is simply an effect of addiction, not a cause of addiction. In other words, it takes an addict to become addicted. Prior to the use and abuse of substances, I was an addict. My approach to life was such that it was not possible for me to be satisfied with life. There is a facet of my personality that seeks misery and is quite skilled at finding it. When I found drugs, they became a refuge for me from that misery. There were times that I used drugs and found a bit of escape from that misery that haunted me. The drugs’ ability to help me escape the misery quickly faded, though, and became, just as everything else, but another way for me to find that misery. When I was introduced to a recovery fellowship and the twelve steps, though, I was promised freedom from active addiction. I first took that to mean that I would simply not have to use drugs anymore. I thought that using drugs was “active addiction” and that abstinence from drug use was the goal of recovery. As I progressed in recovery, though, and continued to find misery in other ways, I began to learn a very important lesson. I began to learn that “active addiction” is when I continue to focus on and create misery in my life. Abstinence was only the beginning, as it has become impossible for me to use drugs without releasing my addiction, or that part of me that will tell me that I ought to be miserable. Abstinence from drugs is no guarantee of that freedom that I was promised. That freedom begins to come into my life when I realize that I have no reason to be miserable, and that I never have had or will have a reason. In my recovery, I learn to remove some of the excuses that I might use to be miserable and replace them with excuses to be grateful. The fact of the matter is that to feel either way is not dependent on the outside issues. I need no reason to be grateful and I have no reason to be miserable, I simply choose to be one of the two. Because I have a strong tendency to choose misery, I must practice vigilance in my recovery and do what it takes to avoid those things that might make a choice of misery easier than it must be. As I grow in my recovery, though, I develop an even stronger tendency to choose gratitude. A true relapse occurs at the very moment that I choose misery over gratitude. When I’ve chosen misery long enough, it can become an excuse to act in despair by using drugs or doing worse. As I choose gratitude more consistently, I become more secure in my recovery and in the idea that I do not have to use drugs. So it is that addiction is not chemical dependency, but rather it is simply a tendency to choose misery, and recovery is not abstinence, but rather it is a process of learning how to choose gratitude more consistently. This is what I believe, today, and what has worked for me, so far.

Apathy

With all of the election events happening (congratulations, by the way, to those lucky candidates selected to have another student government activity to list on their resume), I’ve been considering what my stance should be politically. Am I a liberal with conservative moral tendencies, or am I a conservative corrupted by the perversion of a progressive society? The election committee is still out on that one, but from this angle, it really seems that I’m just a college student worried about how I’m going to come up with $1.56 for a gallon of gas or how I plan to get myself out of bed for my 9:00 a.m. classes. I suppose that my cynicism has moved me to apathy in recent years, as I can’t quite figure out why the same people who would take our guns would have us kill our babies, or why those who would prevent us from putting an end to an unwanted pregnancy would have us leave our guns around so that the children can kill each other and themselves. It reminds me of people who tell me that we should be able to do anything with our bodies, such as discard them when we are tired of the suffering that is life, but are appalled by the idea that some women choose to sell the eggs their bodies produce. Or people who call for the treatment of all with dignity and respect, but stop short of those who might want to better their lives by migrating to our country to benefit from the prospering economy. Or people who verbally abuse those with different values, in the name of “peace,” and wage ideological wars on those who view the world differently. A slogan comes to mind: “Think globally, act locally.” Lately, I have maybe been taking that a little too much to heart. I have narrowed my field of exerted energy to no further than three feet around myself at any given time. I have the benefit (or handicap) of judging myself by intentions and others by their actions. Voting may be a form of empowerment, but I am likely to have a lot more control over the world around me if I focus my energy on my own attitude and actions. I identify well with a song written in the seventies that refrains: “I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I leave it up to you.” I live in a time of not knowing what to want or how to get it. I will grow and learn, and I will discover those things. I may not remain apathetic forever, but I don’t think that I’ll reach the point by November where I’m comfortable saying that I have any idea of how things should be done. Maybe I will know, by then, how I plan to get that $1.56. Of course, the gas prices will have gone up.

The Origins of Coffee Consumption

Each night, before I go to bed, I go through a certain routine. This usually involves changing into my pajamas and washing my face. More importantly, though, I go through the process of preparing my coffeemaker for the next morning. I carefully measure ten small scoops of beans into my grinder, where I grind it for ten to twelve seconds. I then put the ground coffee into a filter and place the filter into the basket on my coffee maker. After doing that, I take a coffee pot full of water and pour the water into the coffee maker. The point of this little ritual is to make it that much easier to wake up in the morning. If I had to do all of that in the morning, I would surely not wake up. When I do this, I simply wake up and flip a switch to have a freshly brewed pot of coffee in just a matter of minutes.

Doing all of this, and drinking my coffee in the morning, I don’t stop to think about what coffee really is. I mean, it’s just a cup of coffee, right? Well, after doing some research on the history of coffee and different types of coffee available, I learned that coffee is a lot more than just a “cup of Joe.”

Drinking coffee is a relatively new phenomenon, in the grand scheme of things. Coffee plants are believed to have first grown in Northern Arabia around 675 AD. The beans from this plant were rarely cultivated until the late fifteenth or sixteenth century. According to some folklore, a goat was the first to discover the effects of coffee. Kaldi the shepherd was out walking his goat, and he noticed that, after the goat ate the cherries from a coffee plant, the goat grew excited and hyperactive. Kaldi, probably bored with the shepherd’s life, decided to try some of the beans, too. A monk chanced upon the scene and decided that the cherries of the coffee plant were the “fruit of the devil”. It wasn’t long, though, before the monks learned to make drinks from the coffee plants that helped them to stay awake for their prayers. While some Christians were concerned that the drinks were the devil’s concoction, Pope Vincent III thought that he ought to try the drink before he banished it. After trying the drink, the pope blessed it, because he felt that the infidels shouldn’t be alone in enjoyment of such a wonderful drink. This story may be of questionable origin. The bottom line, though, is that by the early eighteenth century, the drinking of coffee had become much more popular. In 1714, the first successful transplant of coffee took place when the French relocated a plant into the West Indies. From that one plant, there are now hundreds of successful Latin American coffee plantations. Coffee beans are now a major commodity in the modern world. From Colombia alone, 12 million 154 pound bags of coffee are shipped annually.

There are two main types of coffee beans that are used for drinking purposes. The first type is Coffea arabica. Known simply as “arabica”, these beans are the more exclusive form. They are limited to the best growing conditions, such as high altitudes and tropical climates. The other type of bean used for drinking is Coffea canephora. Known as “robusta”, this type of coffee is more prevalent, as it can grow in more adverse conditions than arabica. The robusta is the type of bean used in typical canned, ground coffee. Arabica is the type of coffee that any restaurant worth its weight in beans will tout as their brew.

There are a wide variety of drinks now available based on coffee. The basis of most of these drinks is espresso, a concentrated form of coffee. Some of the drinks that can be made with espresso include the latte, an espresso combined with steamed milk; the mocha, an espresso combined with steamed milk and chocolate; the cappuccino, combining foamed and steamed milk with espresso; and an americano, which combines a shot of espresso with steamed water.

As you can see, coffee holds a distinct legacy in our society. There is much more to coffee than just “regular or decaf” and “cream and sugar.” Coffee is an integral part of our society today, and for that, I am grateful.

Civil Disobedience

During the nineteenth century, much revolution and reform took place, particularly in the methods of government. In America, a fresh republic was in the process of weathering through its first century. Perhaps the most progressive form of government in place at the time, this democratic republic distributed governmental power and influence more equally than any government in western culture had done thus far. In spite of that fact, the American government at that point was still lacking, according to many who lived during that time. Henry David Thoreau, for example, felt that there were still improvements to be made. Being a rugged individualist, he longed for more individual liberties than were permitted by that method of government. As evidenced by his essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, Thoreau believes that there is a higher law than the laws of humanity that presides over life, and that it is the responsibility of the individual to interpret and abide by that higher law, meaning that the government is to be but a resource for the individual.

Thoreau does not approve of the American style of democratic government. He does not believe that it is in the best interest of justice to let one group of people, the majorities in this case, decide for all the meaning of justice. A true majority is attained between a person and God, Thoreau maintains, “I think that it is enough if they have God on their side” (ODCD paragraph 5). Basically, Thoreau does not like the idea that too often the truth will not be found in the majority opinion. Worse than that, though, is that the minority must submit to the majority rule regardless of the truth or face government sanction as a result of the failure to do so. “Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter [the laws]” before they violate unjust laws (ODCD paragraph 1). Our government, in its inability to be consistently just, often subjects the governed to unjust laws thereby forcing them to make a choice between disobeying God and disobeying their government. The government, though, operates under the impression that it is the ultimate authority. “a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offence never contemplated,” Thoreau observes of the American government (ODCD paragraph 2). He believes, contrary to the government, that truth and justice lies not with the majority but rather with themselves. “To be strictly just, [the government] must have the sanction and consent of the governed,” (ODCD paragraph 8). Thoreau’s government did not have that. He goes on to explain that government might someday reach that point where “the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its power and authority are derived,” (ODCD paragraph 8). At that point, and not before, we will have a “free and enlightened State”.

Thoreau is unhappy with the American government. This government allows for the legalization of injustice and the outlaw of justice, should that be the will of the majority. If the government recognized the ability of the individual to understand justice on his or her own, then we could really be free. If only we were all justice-oriented.

Greek Life

I was quite surprised last Friday to learn that Bradley University holds classes on Labor Day. Prior to my arrival at Bradley this year, I planned my trip home for the Labor Day weekend, including the arrival back to Peoria on Monday, 6 September, as opposed to Sunday, 5 September. Much to my dismay, I learned from one of my instructors that we would be meeting again on Monday as class was dismissed last Friday. I considered the possibilities for a few hours and decided that the show would have to go on without this student. It turned out to be quite the entertaining weekend, however, and I’m pleased to say that I did not miss a day of classes for nothing.

Saturday night, I joined a friend from the U of I for dinner. She is a freshman there, and we’ve only just begun to become acquainted with each other. So we talked over dinner and compared notes about university life, and she then took me to her dorm to show me around. I didn’t find the U of I dorms to be extremely different than the dorms here at Bradley, at least not what I saw of them. It was a good learning experience. After visiting her dorms, I took her to a greasy-spoon diner in the area where I planned to introduce her to some other friends of mine. I was delighted to learn that one of the guys to whom I planned to introduce her, a sophomore who studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, already knew her. They went to the same middle school. The three of us, along with others, proceeded to talk over coffee into the early morning hours. We covered many interesting subjects, but one of the most interesting happened to be the topic of Greek life. The student from Kalamazoo, like myself, is not an advocate of the Greek system. The UI frosh, however, is a newly pledged sorority girl. She told me which sorority she joined, but I do not remember now; it’s all Greek to me.

When the topic turned to Greek life, my lady friend immediately took the defensive end of the conversation. This is something that just caught my attention, actually. As I think about it, though, I realize that this seems to be a rather common stance of Greeks when speaking of their fraternities and sororities. One idea that comes to mind is the old postulation that “to proclaim one’s innocence before being accused is a sure sign of guilt.” Justifying one’s own actions before receiving rebuke in any form is a telltale sign of a healthy conscience, in my opinion. Of course, opinions are like…uh, noses. Anyway. So I think that the basic outcome of our discussion with this young lady was our applauding her for doing what she wanted to do. One point that she brought up was the notion that so many non-Greeks pass judgment on Greeks for being arrogant and haughty, when really the non-Greeks who do this are actually the guilty parties. As my RA advised the students on my floor to not say, “No frat is better than any frat.” This seems to be the consensus of a majority of non-Greeks on campus, myself included. I think that the Greek system promotes elitism and division of the student body, but Greek life is here to stay and I’m quite sure that nothing that I can do or say will change that. I wouldn’t want to change it, as a matter of fact. Those who participate in the Greek system seem to enjoy it. A desire to take that away from them would stem from jealousy. Different people have different tastes, and just because Greek life satisfies them and not myself is no reason to want to see an end to it.

So to all the new Greeks among the freshman class, congratulations! I hope you enjoy the Greek life. To all of those who are not participating in the Greek system, congratulations! Do what you enjoy, and don’t blame the Greeks for enjoying something that you don’t. If we concentrate on our similarities rather than our differences, we’ll have a much more productive four years together, in my opinion. Of course, opinions are like…noses.

Hate

I have been living on the Bradley University campus for just under a week now. Up until this evening, I have been satisfied with the overall experience. I can smoke in my dorm room, I have decent access to food, and the classes are not too far away. The weekend life was something about which I was quite apprehensive. This was probably due to the fact that I have not met a lot of people yet. I do not drink, do not smoke dope, and am not a participant in the Greek system. It wasn’t a big deal, though. I was sure that I would find something to do. It was tonight, though, about which I should have been apprehensive. A friend of the family from the Quad Cities came to deliver a refrigerator to me and catch up on old times. When he first arrived, we met at the One World Coffee Shop and had dinner. We then ventured over to campus to bring the new additions to my dorm room. After accomplishing this task, we were heading back to the coffee shop to enjoy dessert when he decided that he needed to roll a cigarette. We stopped in the hallway, and as he rolled his cigarette a crowd began to form. People on my floor were stopping to view the amazing site: a 38 year-old man in a college dorm at nine-thirty on a Saturday evening, rolling his own cigarette. Some mentioned that they first thought he was a police officer of some sort, others asked if he was my dad. I introduced him as a friend. He knows a bit about religion and philosophy, so he soon became involved in conversation with some of the guys. This truly amazed me, because while he neither had a decent figure nor any beer, he managed to attract a crowd of college guys. After chatting for a bit, we headed to the coffee shop and enjoyed dessert, as planned. One of the guys with whom we had been conversing had left us with an open-ended invitation to join him in his room when we returned. When we finished at the coffee shop, we returned to campus with the intent of taking up that invitation. When we first got back to my floor, though, we stopped at my room to see that someone had scrawled a note for me with my dry-erase marker. The first thing that I noticed was the fact that, rather than writing the note on the dry-erase board, the author wrote the message on my door. As I keyed the door, I read the message: “Keep the child molester off our floor.” While I was quite aware that our school offered work-study programs, I had not considered that the position of security guard might be available to students. Another misconception that I had about work-study was that one had to apply for a job of that type. This baffled me for roughly three-tenths of a second. Suddenly I realized that this was not a job opportunity, but rather a coded message of sorts. Apparently someone on my floor was trying to tell me that adult males are not welcome here. I still do not recall seeing this policy written in the “Student Life Handbook” anywhere, but I suppose that the people who wrote that handbook must have accidentally omitted it somehow or another. Needless to say, my friend left campus shortly after we found that message.

All joking aside, this incident left me shocked and appalled. I attend a school where people of all various cultures and lifestyles peacefully coexist in pursuit of a higher education. Still, I bring a visitor to my room, and such shameless hatred and unfounded judgment are the greetings with which he is received. I suppose there is a learning experience in this situation, however, because I have never been able to quite sympathize with those who are subject to such treatment. I could never fully understand why African-American people that I have known have taken such offense to racism. I could never fully understand why women took such offense to sexism. I could never fully understand why homo- and bisexuals took such offense to homophobia. Reading the message written so tactfully on my bedroom door was quite enlightening. I do not think that this experience has shown me the true pain that these other people must feel when they experience the offshoots of others’ hatred for them. All of my life I have been a rather fortunate individual. I was born a heterosexual male in a family that happened to be of Caucasian descent. My family never had a whole lot of money, but we had enough on which to live and eat, and even enough to sometimes have fun. I received the blessing of a certain level of intelligence. Before today, I was never so unfortunate to have experienced hatred based on who I was. Now I have had just a small glimpse at the feelings of my fellow human beings who have been subject to hate of such caliber. While any hate is downright intolerable, hate of this variety is truly disgusting. I suppose that the only suggestion that I can make is that anyone who has not already seen it go out and rent “American History X”. Perhaps after seeing this movie, people will give a little more consideration to the feelings of others when venting their hatred. Oh, well. It’s probably just a pipe dream. So long as there is diversity, there will be hate.