returning to writing // a few ethical notes on questions of intentions, sacrifice

I’ve had a rough few weeks, and haven’t felt too comfortable expressing myself through my usual channels. Among other pressing issues, through an extremely invasive bout of eavesdropping, a member of my family found the cranky twitter account and took offense to things that I’ve said. This being the very same family member who has successfully stifled my voice and creative work in the past and helped shape me into the socially-anxious man I am today. So naturally, I’ve been very hesitant to write/tweet in the past weeks, or… I’ve been more deliberate in what I say. 

The point of the matter is, I am returning to writing. My lack of posts from the last couple weeks has not been from lack of ideas or inspiration, but a deep pit of depression and second-guessing myself. Iron Frau has pushed me to get back to it, so I will. I’m returning to writing unapologetically. 

*pulled from a productive day of sketching out a few notes, feedback encouraged*

Ethics can neither be reduced to the question of intentions nor consequences – or rather – intentions must be attentive to the consequences of actions in order to to see that they match the intended consequences of the actor. It doesn’t mean enough that a person meant the best of intentions despite having another effect in the world. One’s actions must be adaptive to fit any trouble between intentions and consequences. Best intentions too often go awry and harm others.

In the case of unfortunate consequences towards others that cannot be undone or rectified, a dialogue must happen between the actor and the wronged. While this may not be enough for the wronged parties, it is necessary that the actor looks directly into the harm caused despite even the best intentions. Only in looking at the scope of harm can one truly move on and develop a better ethics going forward. The lesson learned, even if it does not rectify the original situation of harm towards another, will ensure that the harm is not repeated again. 

However, the ethical actor’s investigation of harm that was caused cannot be a project of guilt. Guilt as it stands only further entrenches naive intentions. In guilt, one is further embroiled in a sense of paradoxical righteousness. – “I am doing this good deed for you for the harm I have caused/the sins of my predecessors” – “I apologize and carry good acts forward to make up for who I was in the past” – These are not purely moral propositions, but rather are transactions in order to clear a debt. These are payments off of a loan and while the consequences may match those of the right thing to do, this mentality begets a false humility and false piety. These are not good intentions, but the intentions of relieving oneself before the other.

Sacrifice and Love, Debt – Measuring action based upon that which one has sacrificed is a corrupt measurement system of one’s moral worth. Yes, one sacrifices much in love – but love cannot be measured in terms of sacrifice. One does not have the right in saying that one’s beloved is ungrateful for all that one has sacrificed ‘in love’. This is a bad faith account of love. The stakes to which one gives for love should be irrelevant to the measurement of love. One’s attempts to quantify that which has been given makes the sacrifice not for the sake of love, but for the sake of a transaction. – ” I am owed gratitude for what I have given you. I cannot believe that you are so ungrateful for all that I have sacrificed to you through the years.” – This is not the statement of real love/heartbreak, but of someone who feels cheated out of an investment.

This sort of ideal of reciprocal sacrifice/transaction seems to come to western society through Christianity, especially through the often-cited John 3:16. – How do we know that God loves us? – Because he sacrificed his only son to death and hellfire for us. The sacrifice of Christ is the ultimate form of love for western culture, yes, but the way in which we interpret it leads to a cruel limitation of love as a transaction/debt. The emphasis on John 3:16 in our culture (particularly American culture) gives our understanding of love a dark feeling of debt. It is touted as a reason to submit all to the Christian God. God gave us his only son; this gift must be recognized. That is the demand of John 3:16. This is a gift with conditions, we must be thankful for the time and sacrifice given within it. Whether asked for or not, the gift is given and demands gratitude. 

But this is perverse. – Such an emphasis on God’s sacrifice as the worth of his love to human being carries forward to offspring owing their parents indefinitely. The patronizing becomes the ultimate lover who deserves esteem and control over the patronized. Whether asked for it or not, the sacrifice itself outweighs its consequences or intentions. This is the perversity as it becomes the model of love as an economic transaction.

A sacrifice/gift is unasked for and by that fact it should have no pressing control over its recipient. But, the social stigma is that it does irrevocably have a purchase over the autonomy of the recipient.

If one measures life by only what one has sacrificed and what one has gained by these sacrifices, then this person is living resentfully and bitterly, unsure of actual love or human connection beyond the question of debt. The true, brutal fact is that no one can ever leverage what they “deserve”. -Or- more importantly no one deserves their lot in life. Many things are lucky privileges or unlucky downfalls that are outside of control. There is no earning anything in life, only moral luck. But of course – with all sacrifice one feels that one ought to be entitled to something better than that which was given up. This is petty and plays into the myth of ‘sustainable growth’.

Much of this boils down to the question of debt. What do we owe for our existence and genesis? What are we owed in our actions? These are the problems of ethics. The claim that there should be an incentive for ethical behavior is missing the point of ethics. One should not expect a direct incentive for doing the right thing, for that twists the intentions into vain and petty intentions. But the problem is that most of humanity needs incentives – they need this brutal petty mentality of being owed for their efforts – that inheritances are somehow earned through waiting and arriving at the right time.

One’s existential circumstances are undeserved. What one does with one’s circumstances is what matters. One’s interactions with others is what matters. One must be attentive to the realm of others to be ethical – not attuned to the possible incentives and rewards for doing well. 


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