Posts Tagged ‘morality’

Sophie’s Choice

June 23, 2010

I neglected to identify that Gauguin example as a instance of what is called “Moral Luck” (and one may find many links from a search on “moral luck.) I shall search and read up on Doris Lessing. I suppose the real tests of our “moral metal” are in situations like “Sophie’s Choice.” The huge Barnes and Noble bookstore by Union Square (4 stories) has an entire shelf of books on ethics ranging all the way from “Ethics for Dummies” to “Ethics 101” to highly specialized dissertations. The one I picked out some years ago and now hold in my hands (I had a gift certificate so I had to make some choice) is “Teach Yourself Ethics” by Mel Thompson ISBN 0-07-147799-3
I do see that “Sophie’s Choice” is listed in the index.
I think I want to re-read this interesting book.

One of those ethics books (perhaps this one, I’m not certain) gave the example of a maniac who takes a kindergarten teacher and her class hostage and orders the teacher to choose and kill one child. The madman promises that if the teach complies then all the rest will be released unharmed BUT if she refuses to choose and kill then the madman swears that he will kill all the children and then commit suicide and leave the teacher to live with the tormented memories of this atrocity. I think I remember what the ethicists counselled as the appropriate action but I shall post now and see what (if anything) others decide and post.

If you look at a huge book store like the 4 story Barns & Noble at Union Square you will find one shelf with 50 books on Ethics ranging from “Ethics for Dummies” and “Teach Yourself Ethics” to more scholarly works. One such book used the following scenario as an example of an ethical dilemma for which there is no clear cut solution: You are the only physician in a small community. An epidemic is on the way. You receive a limited supply of the new vaccine. You do not have enough to vaccinate the entire community. You are faced with the choice of vaccinating all of the school children (and not the elderly) or vaccinating all of the elderly (but not the school children.) The elderly have weakened systems so they are at greater risk of dying from the epidemic. The children are robust and many of them will survive. On the other hand, it is the CHILDREN who will most likely contract the illness and will spread it far and wide. Then there is the side consideration that the elderly have lead full lives and must die in the not distant future whereas the children have all of life before them.

Paltalk wav recording Vladimir Nabokov

May 14, 2010

This is a 1 hour and 20 min. (appx) recording of me discussing a number of topics with a charming young woman from the south of France. There is a gap where I suddenly had to take a telephone call and I had to mute the Paltalk room. The quality of sound though not the best is very understandable and is representative of the quality that you may expect when using Paltalk (which is totally free).

This SoundCloud recording IS downloadable.

Towards the very end of the discussion I make some points about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita mentioning the movie version starring Jeremy Irons.

Judging others

February 16, 2010

My wife is a devout Catholic who refuses to look at anything involving Schwarzenegger or Woody Allen on moral grounds that their personal lives do not measure up to her standards. We know that St. Paul had some mysterious “thorn in his side” which he prayed over. We will never know if it was something as naughty as incest or pederasty. Would we turn away from Shakespeare or Plato if we new something objectionable about their personal lives? Mathematician Alan Turing helped win WWII by cracking the Nazi Enigma encryption machine and yet was driven to commit suicide because of his sexual orientation. Of course, if you have no skeletons hiding in your closet then you can afford the luxury of standing upon high moral ground and judging the rest of the world as having been weighed by you and found wanting. Yet it is obvious from the Nielson ratings where the heart of the American consumer lies with all the murder/torture/rape/sodomy plots and the headlines which sell the scandal sheets and gossip columns. But then Jesus was criticized for socializing with publicans and sinners. It is strange that pride is seen as the source of all other sins, and yet we proudly proclaim our pride on bumper stickers and brand labels.

Human Sexual Orientation

January 26, 2010

This thread in Facebook started with the following request from one of my college friends:

Please put this on your status if you know someone (or are related to someone) who is gay. My wish for 2010 is that people will understand that being gay is not a disease. People who are gay are not looking for a cure but for acceptance. Will you make this your status for at least one hour?

Below are some of my posts to this long thread:

Joanna, it is fine to call me Bill. I am glad you still remember me and think of me by name. Over the years I worked for several people who spoke English as a second language, so “William” seemed less confusing than “Bill” which depends more on precise vowel gradation and can be confused with a restaurant check.

I like the way you express your experience that “sex” between two people depends more upon feelings and the relationship than upon their gender. I very gradually came to realize that truth but it took until I was in my 50s to be fully conscious of that truth and I never found the courage or opportunity to experience it.

Joanna, I cannot begin to explain how deeply I admire your courage and honesty. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s when such admissions were taboo and one felt in danger of ostracism by the mere mention of such topics. You and F. were two of the most shy, discrete, polite students I could possibly imagine. It saddens me that anyone would want you out of their class simply because they did not agree with the “morality” of your relationship. I was told that the majority of students were fornicating during the first month of school. I was asked by one fellow student why I was not sexually active to which I answered that I was studying all the time, terrified that I would flunk out.

The obvious question which has arisen in this thread is “can one become CONVINCED of the immorality of same-sex love and CAN they learn to cure themselves and find happiness in heterosexual love or at least take moral sanctuary in celibacy.

The original statement offered by Charlie for repost said “we are not looking for a CURE but simply for ACCEPTANCE.”

In my mid twenties, I became a novice in a very strict Greek monastery where the goal was to control human sexuality even to the extreme of refraining completely from what is called self-gratification, which I was succeeded in perfectly for my entire stay their of 13 months. I was able to control my body, but my thoughts and fantasies were difficult to control. Monasticism calls this battle “spiritual warfare.” Warfare involved not simply control over sexual thoughts but also envy, anger, jealousy, ambition, gluttony, sloth, and a host of other things. “Confession” was referred to as “telling your thoughts” since what you might consider a sin could possible be a virtue, and what you might consider a virtue might possible be sinful.

I came to know a number of gays and lesbians well enough to ask them personal questions and I always asked AT WHAT age did they begin to realize their sexual orientation. I was age 4 and began to have both thoughts and feelings about women but I had no idea what that was about. I imagined I had discovered some unique secret, and that no one else in the world felt what I felt. I quickly realized that it was forbidden to talk about it. I was age 11 when a boy at the 6th grade lunch table suddenly turned to me and said “you were BORN because your father put HIS THING inside your MOTHER’S THING” (SIC – which means in those exact words rather than mentally ill). I came home in tears and confronted my mother “Someone told me you and daddy did a TERRIBLE THING, is it TRUE?” She was half crying and half laughing and she blurted out “Yes!” So I proceeded with my inquisition “HOW MANY TIMES? Once? Twice?”

Joanna, I did send you a private email with a specific question about college. If you did not receive it, let me know, and I shall resend. If you DID receive it then I presume you would prefer to answer in private. I have more to write, but this is long enough now to be ripe for posting. Later.


I suppose this thread of mine (and Charlie’s) scares many. I am glad (not gay mind you but glad) that two courageous people have stepped forth.

I am related through marriage to one gay man and one bisexual woman. Two years ago, as I walked through an area of Union Square, I encountered some college age men and women who were seeking support for the Human Rights Campaign which is a GLBT (which stands for Gay Lesbian Bi-sexual Trans-gender) organization that lobbies for civil rights equality. One of the key issues is same sex marriage. A renewal letter arrived requesting a donation. My wife is a very devout Catholic who goes to Mass each day and so is against same sex marriage and is pro life rather than pro choice. She generously offered (without my saying anything) to allow me to renew my membership. I pointed out that the minimum would be $10 but she said to make it $35. I carry the card in my wallet.

I believe that as we pass through life we constantly change. Some changes are for better and others are for worse.

I am the proud author of a few quotable wisdoms, one of which is: All men are dogs but some dogs are Lassie. Males are very strongly driven by sexuality from a very early age.

I think one way I can honor my friend Charlie is to post at length in this thread and attempt to say in as tasteful a manner as possible my 56 years of experience with human sexuality (my own and the hundreds of people who have confided things to me over the years.) … to be continued…