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Preference and Culture

By Punkerslut

Image by Havok
Image: "Kalisti 79" by Havok

Start Date: Sunday, May 25, 2003
Finish Date: Saturday, June 14, 2003

"If we can depend upon any principle, which we learn from philosophy, this, I think, may be considered as certain and undoubted, that there is nothing, in itself, valuable or despicable, desirable or hateful, beautiful or deformed; but that these attributes arise from the particular constitution and fabric of human sentiment and affection. What seems the most delicious food to one animal, appears loathsome to another: What affects the feeling of one with delight, produces uneasiness in another. This is confessedly the case with regard to all the bodily senses: But if we examine the matter more accurately, we shall find, that the same observation holds even where the mind concurs with the body, and mingles its sentiment with the exterior appetite."
          --David Hume, 1758
          "Essays, Moral, Literary, Politic," Section: "The Sceptic"


     In our present society, there are few educated individuals who will make the argument that a person's preference is either moral or immoral. This belief has become so deeply embedded in the philosophies of certain people, that the term "preference" or "preferential" is now almost synonymous with "amoral." For instance, if someone were to state that Homosexuality were immoral or unethical, one could respond, "Homosexuality is a preference, just like Heterosexuality. Neither is inherently good or bad, as they are decisions that do not cause tragedies or atrocities." Yet, this is an example of the modern sexual attitude responding to other cultural superstitions. Another example would be someone claiming that strawberries are immoral to eat, and another may respond, "If a person's diet includes strawberries or bananas, or apples, or any fruit, it is only a question of preference, and certainly does not enter the realm of ethics." And by preference, I mean that it is something that a person finds appeal to. It is thus believed that a person is not good or bad if he finds more beauty in the stars than he does in the sunrise, that a person is neither of rich or poor character if his heart is warmed most when among friends and least when among strangers -- a person is not good or bad for the food that they find to taste the best, because that is their preference. That is the subject of this piece of writing.

A Foundation For Right And Wrong

     It is not difficult to discern from the introduction that I used the least controversial topics when saying that preference is amoral. There are some moral philosophers who will go to the extent to say that every action is amoral, and simply a matter of preference. Then, there are those theologians and moralists who argue what qualifies as preference, and what qualifies as an act of immorality. For instance, in the Introduction, I gave an example of an act of preference by citing Homosexuality. Even today, in our very prejudiced times, it would seem that the population will not agree that this is almost wholly preference. There are moralists who will claim that Homosexuality is an abomination, an act of indecency and wholly immoral. Similarly, though it may be a bit of amusement, I would not be entirely shocked to find a philosopher who believed it was immoral to prefer the taste of an orange over the taste of an apple. I believe, though, as far as my moral philosophy supports, that a person's preference to Homosexuality or Heterosexuality is equaled to a person's preference to the taste of oranges or the taste of apples. My essential philosophy in matters of ethics can be found in numerous of my pieces. Simply put: I believe that an action which causes suffering is immoral. Just one look upon this sentence alone is enough to raise one hundred doubts, and for each one, one thousand questions accompanied by hypothetical scenarios. It is not my intent to prove this thesis in this paper, though I have intentions to fully elaborate upon it with evidence and answering arguments in a longer piece. The purpose of this essay is simply to understand the concept of Preference and the concept of Culture, as they relate to morality and Freethought.

Culture -- A Preference

     Among those of us who may be referred to as the Underground -- the various assortment of squatters, "people versus corporation" shoplifters, urban guerrillas, protesters, activists, reformist writers, political and social dissidents -- the culture seems radically different than that of modern society. The Communists, for instance, differ greatly from the mainstream, in that we do not believe in the bourgeoisie right to property (or, in other words, the idea that one man may become rich by the labor of another). Animal Rights activists differ in that they believe in the right of all conscious beings on the right to life. All of these subsects of the Underground differ from the mainstream in their political agenda, as do those who work for drug policy reform, those who work against foreign sweat shops, Civil Rights activists, among others. These are the obvious differences that constitute these groups in their own particular ways. Yet, still, there are cultural differences, sometimes leading from their ideology and sometimes not -- or, a particular individual of this subsect adopted a cultural attribute, and it soon followed suit with others of that group. For instance, Communists are notorious for using the word "comrade" in addressing each other, but it was first used in the late 19th century as an alternative to "Sir," "Mister," "Madam," "Misses," or "Miss," in that a person was recognized not as a male or female, but as a person. It cannot be denied that these Communists were Feminists, believing that a person's gender does not determine the content of their heart. But believing this was not enough, so the distinction in titles between males and females (an arbitrary distinction) was entirely removed from the culture of the Communists.

     The example that I draw from the Communists is perhaps the best. However, today it is almost uniform for a Communist to refer to another Communist as "comrade." The culture of Animal Rights activists, though, may differ from group to group, or even from individual to individual. I have talked with friends about using a word that would simply indicate a conscious being, because that is the only object of our belief in justice. Scientifically, using the words "animal," or "creature," would be inaccurate, as jelly fish show little signs of consciousness, yet they fill the prerequisite of being an animal. These are only examples of culture, though. Ultimately, the culture of the members of these Underground groups varies drastically from the main stream, but only in varying degrees from one another. The essential premise is this... Culture is something to enrich our lives, allowing us everyday to become more aware of art, creativity, and ingenuousness, but culture is not a substitute or alternative to a code of ethics; it is only a result of the rise of an independent civilization.

     Centuries of repression of the sex act -- of the most natural instinct of any organism -- has led all Freethinkers to hold different opinions on this matter, every one regarded by the society as a heresy. Those who conformed to the rules of society, at the first sight of a gentle touch of another's face or belly, this has led to immediate revolution. Intimacy, written with the whisper of affection in the ear of a lover, has been reviled, held as the ultimate sin. The people believed these lies, and they committed a most unjust betrayal to their children by repeating the prejudices. The brilliance of compassion has never shined so bright, as when two friends are enjoy the pleasure of love with each other. In regard to sex, I have met a great deal of varied opinions. I remember once conversating with a friend, telling him of how I longed to be with a lover, stating, "I enjoy the affection and intimacy of it, and the orgasm or pleasure of it is not really an end to physical love for me." My friend responded that I held such an opinion, because I was a good person. Yet, at hearing these words, I found myself greatly perplexed. A person is not made good or bad by how they personally decide to treat sex. I met one Vegetarian female who never wanted to have sex, because it simply didn't interest her, but she certainly must have had consideration for others, because she refused to eat meat. I have known certain males who preferred a quick engagement of sex, simply to orgasm -- but when they proposed sex to another, they never tried to hide what they wanted or what they were aiming at. They have been, also, charitable individuals, friends of humanity. I have known, on the other hand, individuals who I would come to regard as unworthy of the air they breath, and yet some were more predisposed to careless sex than violence, and others weren't. Simply put, it was a preference. The song, "Mind Sex," by the artist Dead Prez -- an Anarcho-Socialist, rap group -- despises the attitude about sex that it is something to go after, without regard to any sense of decency or fairness. I agree with this attitude by Dead Prez, and when I saw people acting in a reckless manner trying to obtain sex, without any regard towards the hurt feelings of others, I despised them as well. The attitude of not lying to others, inherent in this song by Dead Prez, is an equally justified culture as that of those of us who enjoy affection more than pleasure, or those who enjoy pleasure more than affection, or those who find that the whole sex act is too cumbersome to be considered any benefit to themselves. A person can hold any of these preferences (cultures, if I may be so liberal), and it is how honest, just, and fair their dealings are with others that determines whether they are good or bad -- as far as their culture of sex, it is as much a question of morality as is the question of the taste of an apple over an orange.

     When we come to the question of drugs, there are certain sights and images that immediately come to mind. We think of the countless of thousands filling our jails. We look behind the bars that man has made for his own kind, stare into the dark, and we see ourselves: imprisoned in a society that looks at happiness as addiction, that sees freedom as a virulent plague, that looks upon every scientist as a pawn to tyranny. As we approach the question of drugs, before any argument is raised, we are taunted by the unrelenting moans of suffering of those who have been imprisoned, those who had never done wrong to anyone. There is not one Freethinker who can honestly condemn a drug user. However, even among psychonauts -- whose primary goal in life is to experiment with as many substances as possible -- there is a certain apprehension of certain drugs and their users. Allow me first to examine those groups with a least liberal opinion of drugs. To those who believe in sort some of social, economic, or political reform, who still hold a more conservative creed of drug use, will inevitably hold myths. For instance, they may believe that drug use is unhealthy, that it destroys mental ability, that all drug use eventually leads to a person becoming a junkie. When a person comes into their presence and wishes to aid them in their reform, and makes their habit known, they typically will be regarded as a second-class person, if not outrightly rejected. Among psychonauts, there is a near deathly fear of heroin and crack, the harder drugs. Most are stemming from the movie Trainspotting. Though I have met a great deal of heroin and ex-heroin addicts, I found that they hardly resembled junkies: they were kind and charitable, paying for food and alcohol (as well as drugs) for their friends, and they always paid back their debts. I have heard more stories of a person neglecting their entire life so they could worship a drug when it was not heroin. But regardless, call it a vice or an interest, drug use is simply preference, and a person is more likely to be heralded as virtuous if they enjoy building model airplanes as opposed to shooting up. Inevitably, a man who attends to his duty of compassion for his fellow human beings -- regardless of whether he uses heroin or psychedelics -- is a matter of character and not of culture.

     Among all Freethinkers, there is a certain appreciation of art and science. These fields of creativity have expanded the understanding of mankind in all realms. We no longer look to the natural world, full of questions. The last day that we saw it rain and wondered why it rains has come and gone. The last day that we looked for a human expression of emotions, of feelings, of sadness and joy, the last day that we looked for human expression and could not find it -- this day, also, has come and gone. Freethinkers, then, look to poetry, painting, drawing, and literature, as an expression of mankind. The painter not only paints for his audience, but he does so to appease his soul. The same can be said of the poet or the author. It is not just a means of conveying an idea, but also the means of telling the story of your spirit. With all the virtues and merits of art, and the consequence of its appreciation, all underground thinkers and Freethinkers (I use these two terms synonymously) will find a certain inclination towards it. Similarly, as though ignoring a great absurdity, those who do not read books, or appreciate art, or enjoy music, will sometimes be treated with a secondly manner. Perhaps, to a certain extent, this prejudice may be justified. A man who does not worry himself with books (be it literature, science, or poetry), or does not concern himself with what others think, this person will tend to be in a much more degraded state, intellectually, than a man who is interested in what others say. But regardless, if a man does not find poetry to give him inspiration, he is only slightly different than a man who finds only Shakespeare's poetry to be inspiring. The only difference is that while the second man has ignored every poet but one, the first man has gone one step further and has ignored simply every poet. If a person were to take no time to appreciate the art that painters have draped the earth in, or to not hesitate for a moment to hear the beauty of music's sweet melody, I would not call them of a lesser grade of person, any more than I would consider someone of a lesser grade if they enjoyed a different type of music or art. The profound disdain that a Freethinker gives to a person uncultured is unjust in its assertion, because every person ought to seek the culture and preference that gives them the most happiness.

     The only purpose of culture is this: to enrich the happiness and the understanding of the cultured person. When a culture fails to do this, then there is no reason to continue practicing it, as it is a deterrent of the only intrinsic good. Though it may be difficult for a person to strip themselves of the ideology and creeds that they have believed for a great deal of time, to remove beliefs that they logically know to be flawed, it may occur sometimes only under time and duress. Yet, the ultimate purpose of it is productive of happiness: personal development. There are some attributes that Freethinkers will find among each other, unabridged. The trait that causes a person to strive for goodness, to commit an action only so that it increases the happiness of the men around him, to be just and fair in all decisions -- this trait can be found among all reformers and Freethinkers.


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