In the interests of multimedia textual enhancement, I will begin this week’s post with a short video clip from the 1993 film Gettysburg, which is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.
Every time I watch this scene, it feels a bit like I am watching a discussion between my ego and my superego. On one hand, we have Col. Chamberlain, an idealist who believes in a Divinely-implanted equality. On the other hand, we have Buster Kilrain, the pragmatist, who contends that no “magnificent equality” exists between men/women, that the notion of basic human goodness is simply an ideal not grounded in practical reality. Love for your fellow man/woman is clearly not an inherent, universal truth when you stop and pay attention to humanity in action. “Where have you seen this Divine spark in operation? Where have you noted this magnificent equality?” he asks. In his mind, we are left with a dichotomy between what the human condition is and what we would like it to be?
But it’s Buster’s final comment that I really want to point to here: “There’s only one aristocracy, and that is right here (as he points to his temple).” What does he actually mean by this? Truth is mind-dependent? Such an interpretation would make sense in this context, I think, as the philosophical mind-dependent versus mind-independent truth debate seems to fit into this dichotomy. Also, it seems safe to infer from the context here that we are talking about moral truths, specifically. Is morality something that is inherent in us all? Is it the substance of a metaphysical reality that exists independent of cognitive thinking? Or is morality a construct of the human mind? Some social scientists, such as Karl Mannheim, have suggested that the mind’s power over our morality is the source of our free will.
I gathered from Burke’s “Rhetoric of ‘Address’ (to the Individual Soul)”, especially from pages 37– 39, that each individual is constantly moving through an internal, “moralizing process” within himself/herself, and this process occurs as part of one’s “socialization” in the realm of external experiences. (I am looking specifically at the first full paragraph on page 39.) The process works like this: We gather information from the external world, and then wash that data through our inner consciousness for processing. It’s in this processing stage that the “I” and the “me” debate one another, using rhetoric, of course. At the conclusion of such debate, what comes back out, through various forms of communication, is our own, individual brand of moral reasoning.
If we embody Buster Kilrain’s pragmatist perspective for a moment and look around, I don’t think it’s difficult to see evidence of our innermost moral struggles. All around us there are politically-relative “moral” debates taking place – abortion, capital punishment, war, drugs, sex. In these we find debates over what constitutes morally-sound judgement. Some believe the act of killing in the context of war is moral if it’s in the name of saving lives. Some believe that sex is only moral inside of a marriage, while others believe sex is moral as long as it involves two consenting adults. Are certain drugs illegal because they are immoral, or are they immoral because they are illegal? Is personal drugs use moral in the context of one’s rightful control over his/her own body?
In the end, all I know is what goes on in my own mind. I know that I’ve been my own audience on many, many occasions, and I can honestly say that my own thoughts are rhetorical … which is kind of a scary thought, in my opinion.
Are morals constructs of the mind … that gain validity with social acceptance? Thus, is morality rhetorically constructed intersubjectively? Is morality fundamentally rhetorical?
Maybe Eddie Vedder has the answer: