Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adjacent Possibilities and A New Ethics

The novel that has been getting far and away most of my efforts at revision is (working title) Adjacent Possibilities. It is a story of two people who learn to trust and accept one another. They have friends who help them in this process. They face threats and find ways to conquer fears. They go hiking a lot. And there are cats.

The two main characters are professional philosophers. Between them and me, there are, oh horrors, ideas in the book (trust me -- I am keeping them as low-impact as possible -- ideas don't sell).

The title reflects one of the dominant themes of the book. Life holds more than we can see, but not what is out of reason.

We can imagine gods, faeries, demons, aliens; but they are not provable. They are not rational possibilities, not adjacent to reality. One can argue: if I can see them to believe in them, they *might* be real. But that is not rational, only wishful.

I can see myself as a published author. It may not happen, but there is a clear chain of events that are in the real world that could lead to this new reality. It is adjacent to my current reality, and therefore possible.

Corollary to this, if we are presented with proof of something, even if we thought it outside reality, even if we don't want to believe it, we have to accept it or forfeit our rational integrity. Climate shift falls into this category.

The relationships between the characters in this novel are of adjacent possibilities. New ways of thinking and seeing alter what is possible in their lives. 

Another theme of the book is ethics. What is right and wrong, and why. In their philosophic research, my characters ponder this question.

And this has been troubling me as well. I cannot accept that there is an absolute morality. To do so would put many actions that are obviously necessary, perhaps even virtuous as evil. A simple example: do not kill. If someone tries to kill me, and in defending myself I inadvertently cause the death of my assailant, am I immoral?


The history of humanity shows that times and conditions alter what we accept as moral behavior. But I am equally troubled by relativistic morality. We cannot say that everything is flexible. We need some sort of guidelines.

The solution seems to me to be that we establish ethics within our culture. This allows us to live together as a community. But, if it becomes clear that an accepted ethical belief is causing harm to members of our society, then we need to moderate our ethics.

This is exactly what happens when we accept that gays and women are just as human as the men who have traditionally dominated our culture. In the past, morality meant abiding by rules of behavior that kept these people in charge, and kept society within limits of which they approved.

Greater education has allowed us to realize that more people than those few deserve respect. Society has to reshape itself to accept people and behaviors that hurt no one as ethical and equal, even though they lessen the absolute control of the dominant group.

That the dominant group resists is inevitable. They don't want to lose their control. That many of the people they've rendered unable to think for themselves also resist is, unfortunately, inevitable. But those who break free, who learn to recognize human equality unhindered by past cultural shibboleths -- these are the creators of the morality of the future. Humans, whatever their age, their skin color, their gender, their sexual preferences; all humans deserve the freedom to choose their life. Repressive, archaic morality must not be used as a weapon against them, as long as they do not hurt or hinder others from equal freedoms.

To demand adherence to a moral code derived from an unprovable and irrational entity is a blatant attempt to deny full humanity to everyone in the society.

We have an adjacent possibility. Humans can accept that we create ethical codes to provide a framework in which we can live as communities. We can accept that there will be minor differences, but we can agree that, as long as no one is hurt by the actions of others, everyone should have the freedom to choose their own life, without harassment or repercussions.

We must never treat any other human as less important, less real than ourselves. Politicians who cut benefits to the needy in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy should be recognized as immoral. Anyone who would rob, or rape, or harass others on an individual, institutional, or national scale should be equally abhorred. Laws, necessary to maintain societies, should reflect these values.

This is a morality that protects all and harms no one. This is possible.

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