We are afraid of losing consciousness, afraid of becoming completely disabled and utterly dependent on others because when we consider the consequences of those possible lives we are considering the consequences largely of our own amorality, moral ignorance. Our vulnerability in those moments stems as much from the danger of our own moral ignorance as those possible lives.
We are all going to die. We are all going to become disabled and dependent. We are all at stages of our lives completely dependent on others. We are, throughout our entire lives, dependent on others.
- Technology and Industrial-Production
- Sewage Treatment and Civil Service
We now live in a world in which we are born with those things already set in order. And so we don’t really think of them too often. They’re just there. They’ve always been there. And so we don’t think of ourselves as thus dependent. But we are. Totally. We would not individually be able to survive on our own without the cooperation we have in our society. And yet we still are not very moral or very wise. Like the ignorance we have of our dependencies, we are ignorant of our moral nature. Until, that is, we depend not on commonplace things like medicine and the police and governments, as citizens requiring those services at a distance, largely, but rather on the moral character of others.
When we consider being stricken with severe disability, with dementia or a lack of consciousness, we fear the consequences of those things. But we don’t know the consequences of those things; at least most of us don’t. What we know we know by proxy, and by perceptually and socially salient information. And largely those consequences are of our lack of moral understanding. Or the understanding that most people really don’t know why it matters to be good. This is especially true of those who suffer for long periods of time with chronic medical conditions, or are else vulnerable in some other way – a member of some minority group.
WE feel this natural sense of vulnerability, this evolutionary drive for self-preservation by these mechanisms of survival – fear, worry, doubt, mistrust. We often talk of ourselves as somehow civilized by how different we are from nature, from the past, from savagery. But morally we are no different. We are in the west merely more comfortable. We have provisional goodness. But the moment something like severe disability happens, those stores dry up quickly. We all fear the same thing. And in that way, most of us create that thing which we fear – or else it exists because of our moral misunderstanding, ignorance and foolishness.
I often hear this said: kill me if I ever become a vegetable. Or, even worse, ‘I’d rather die than be retarded’. As stated above, the consequences of those states are social exclusion, a lack of an availability of resources such as money, comfort, housing, food, luxury, leisure. A lack of support and friendship, companionship. Those are symptoms of larger problems. Not symptoms of those diseases or disease states. The savage in us comes out when we feel vulnerable like this. But we don’t need to feel vulnerable. We’re all going to end up disabled, stupid vegetables – most of us anyway. We don’t need to feel vulnerable. Some of us know what we’re afraid of, some of us (most) don’t – misappropriating the consequences of those types of lives. Those lives have, amongst other things, the utility of teaching us moral lessons, important, essential moral lessons. Morality cures us of our suffering. How grand, how great, how awesomely special then are those lives that teach us how to be good? They’re the most precious, not the least. They’re the least because we’re ignorant, because we’re foolish and because we fear that secret that we’re all not very good, that we’re all ignorant and foolish – most of us, at least. And thus by ignoring those people, those lives, to maintain well-being (of which morality offers the most support and nurture) we create all over again the very thing we’re afraid of.
Not creating it is the difficulty. What if you’re the only one choosing to help? It will take the majority to make a change. Like it takes a majority to cooperate to establish military, police, governments and health-care systems, sewage treatment, civil engineering and labour forces. We can do it. And we will and must.
We must always remember that those lives we fear most deserve the most we can possibly offer. Because not only do they have the secrets to moral understanding, but because they are so vulnerable and dependent. And like the one person pondering in indecision his choice to step away and assume ignorance rather than help, it takes a majority effort to ensure that we’re all safe. A society in which the most vulnerable and dependent are the most properly cared for, cherished and supported, is a society in which all members can feel free, safe, loved and can grow into their own expectations and potential.