[xmca] Perceptions, Moral Judgements and Dialectics

From: Kellogg (kellogg@snue.ac.kr)
Date: Wed Dec 06 2006 - 16:53:25 PST

I'm not sure threads EVER go to bed, David...what appears to happen is that occasionally disappear underground for a few miles only to well up in a spring somewhere or else they flow into other threads. I am going to try to join this thread to another one that appears to be trickling out (largely, I think, for lack of concrete examples) namely the one on dialectics.

First of all, I want to suggest that, as David suggested, there is a relationship between perceptions and moral judgments, and that it is not dissimilar to the one that Luria noted between visual perception and logic. That is, once we begin to make moral judgements, our perceptions (even of how people do or do not list) become restructured accordingly, and non-morally mediated perception becomes extremely difficult. This is what I meant when I said that perception itself is part of adaptation.

Let me give a specific example. It is not only true that my Hadendowa look more graceful than you or I would carrying our weight in cement. They also tend to look more graceful than you or I tend to look carrying our own weight in our own weight. There is a very low rate of obesity in Sudan, as can be imagined. In contrast, obesity has become such an epidemic problem in the USA that my little brother regularly makes a small fortune by stapling people's stomachs, adding bands around the lower espohagus, and even hooking up their upper stomachs to their upper duodenums.

My little brother looks at obese people and sees a medical condition and not a moral one; his solution, therefore, is physiological. I look at the same people and see a moral condition rather than a medical one; I see his solution as replacing the normal ability of human beings to regulate themselves with a kind of prothesis, transforming them into cyborgs who are actually deprived of moral will (and many of my little brother's patients require a second and even third operation as a result). These (highly profitable) interventions are only necessary because in the USA the abiilty of people to develop self-regulation has been deliberately allowed to wither by the anti-social and pro-individual consumption business culture.

Yet in an important sense we are BOTH wrong: it is neither a medical problem nor a moral one, because BOTH medical and moral solutions are individualistic. Like many moral problems which we have attempted to reduce downwards, to technical, health related problems (e.g. AIDS, smoking, reproductive choice) there is a social dimension which will not go away, and which can in fact only be dealt with on the political level. The culture of obesity was not constructed or even selected individually, but rather deliberately devised and imposed, in a fashion that is literally and not simply hyperbolically totalitarian, by the American ruling class.

(One of the flabbiest moments in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is the ending. After convincing us that global warming is real, genuine, and will transform the entire planet's destiny in a permanent fashion for many lifetimes to come, we are handed a laundry list of pathetic individual choices, most of them having to do with buying Brand X and not Brand Y or, at the very most, voting for Candidate X and not Candidate Y. But Candidate Xs, namely Gore and his boss, were responsible for the legislation that created the SUV explosion.In a planned economy where decisions that transform the nation's destiny in a permanent fashion for many lifetimes to come are subject to rational social will--and even in China--SUVs are simply banned.)
And this is where I join the dialectics discussion. Just as perceptions are restructured by judgements, I think that moral judgments are restructured by political beliefs, which are necessarily at a higher level (quantitative change transformed into a qualitative one). I think where I differ with Sasha (although I must confess that I am extremely partial to his postings, and his ability with the language--comparing "Kellogg" and "Colleague"--never fails to delight me) is that he assumes that the nature of dialectical change remains the same for both zoological activity and human semiotics (and perhaps even, by analogy, for morality and for politics). On some abstract that may be true, but it is not on that level that we solve actual problems.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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