Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Monday, August 15, 2005

judging motives

I found this article on, about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping children (my bolds):

I don't believe there is any absolute way that any specific action can be judged selfish or selfless. The very same action could be completely selfless in one person, completely selfish in another. What it boils down to is not whether you're doing something for yourself or not, but why are you are doing it. Are you doing it for yourself at the expense of another, or are you doing it for yourself for the benefit of another?

If I do something for myself before I take care of my children, and it is because I care more about myself, my needs, my desires--then that is selfish. If by taking care of myself first and keeping them waiting only I gain, then it is wrong. However, if I am doing something for myself first so that ultimately I will be able to help my children, and they will benefit, then it is not only not selfish, perhaps it is essential, both for their health and my own.

Now we can take this analogy even a little further. Because, after all, the oxygen we need to survive is not just the physical oxygen. Each person has his or her own individual needs in terms of the space, time and circumstances required to feel healthy. No one can judge that for someone else. And a person must first fill his needs before he can help another. Notice that I said, "needs" and not "wants." We are talking about what is essential--what is required to live and be healthy. These are not luxuries, these are necessities, though my necessities may vary greatly from yours. The important thing is that we both figure out what it is we need to ensure that we acquire it.

That's why I came to Texas and got married despite not being able to bring my children. I do not expect those who choose to judge to stop regarding my motives as selfish, but I do wish they would read articles like this one and understand that it is impossible to read other people's minds and know their motivations.

Of course, our attempts to understand the motives of terrorists are also doomed. None of them are going to admit, "It's because I am a spoilt angry brat with a pointless life largely of my own devising and the only act of ego I can manage is to get on the big stage of jihad." Or just, "because I can." What counts is their actions, not their inner worlds. Terrorism will be defeated when the balance of power shifts far enough from terrorist-supporting political groups towards peaceful ones. For this reason, Saddam was exactly the right first target.

The concept of judging motive as well as actions was introduced into the legal system by the ancient Greeks, and is still with us today. The best example is that killing someone in a drink-driving accident is not considered as reprehensible as murder planned in advance. Is this morally right? I don't actually think it is. Why can we not simply judge people for their actions?

The Greeks were trying to solve the problem of having to execute someone for murder because they walked past a rock that started a landslide that killed someone at the bottom of the hill. My hunch is that they confused moral motive with the knowledge inside a person's head, and/or their logical sphere of influence at the time. I might come back to this later. Maybe some of you (if are any of you still reading- are you?) know more about the establishment of modern western legal systems than I do. I just picked up a few vague notions in passing while studying Aeschylus years and years ago.


At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Maria said...

Nice blog! I've never seen it before, is it new? Who are you? You're not the Alice who comments on my website, are you? (she doesn't live in Texas..).

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Alice said...

No, I'm a different Alice, there are two of us! I'm the one in Texas. I've been blogging for quite a while, how did you find me?

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Maria said...

In my statcounter. I saw that you had been on my website, so I came :)

At 4:53 PM, Blogger staghounds said...

Every time I fly and they show the oxygen demonstration, I can't hel but add the line,

"And if you are travelling with more than one child, decide now which one you like best".


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