Saturday, July 30, 2011

Society and morality

Having said in my last post that I think our personal "moral code" is learned over time, rather than being something we are born with, I want to use this post to quickly add that the society in which we live ALSO has established a moral code which we must live by, even if that code is different than our personal code.

By "society" I am speaking of the other people who live in this world, country, state, county, city, as an aggregate entity. You can't do EVERYTHING you feel like doing, just because it may fall within the limits of your own personal moral code. You might feel it is morally right to murder someone you don't like or who had done you wrong, but "society" has decreed that murder is one of the "no" items on their master list of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You just have to live with being overruled by higher authority, and submit to that authority. No murdering, even if he takes your parking place right in front of you. Case closed.

Of course, doing murder is a rather extreme example. Most people's morals are not in conflict with a society which decrees there will be no murder done. But what if the society you lived in had other things on their "no" list, such as no abortions allowed, or no gay marriage? Society has "yes" lists, too. What if the majority in your society said you must pray a certain way to a certain alleged deity in a certain church on a certain day? It could happen. It HAS happened.

It is up to each of us to make sure things like that don't happen. We are "society," after all. We must take care not to impose our personal morality code on everyone who lives in our society, even though we believe our code to be right and just and best. True? Not true? Conversely, we must insure we don't go down the path of absolute permissiveness where "anything goes." Exactly what is our responsibility here, with respect to living by our own moral code while at the same time allowing the larger society a little slack to live by their code, too?

John Stuart Mill referred to democracy as the "tyranny of the majority," and so it can be. In a democracy, the majority -- no matter how slim that majority -- can force their will and their morals on ALL of their fellow citizens. That's just the way it works. But is your moral code really superior to mine, just because your beliefs happen to be shared by a majority?

The power of the majority in a democracy, I believe, should be tempered by a degree of tolerance and compassion for those who believe differently than we believe. In the system we have in the United States, whenever we cannot find that tolerance and compassion within ourselves voluntarily, our courts step in and enforce that pesky and often inconvenient "equal protection under the law" provision of our constitution.

That little clause says that a small band of haters can attend military funerals and verbally and obscenely abuse grieving families, because to restrict speech too much, ESPECIALLY IF WE DON'T LIKE WHAT IS BEING SAID, would lead us down a slippery path we don't want to travel down; it would lead to other kinds of speech being more easily restricted. This, even if the majority wanted them silenced.

That little clause overruled an election in which the tyranny of the majority decreed people may not be married in part of a certain state if they were different than other married couples, since they were of the same sex. Equal Protection means you can't treat one group of people differently under the law than you treat another group of people. Checks and balances. Yet many injustices are suffered every day at the hands of people who think their moral codes are superior, and they are in a democratic majority.

People need to develop a set of morals they can live by and not hurt other people in the process. At the same time, no one can argue that society as a whole needs to have rules and needs to be able to enforce those rules. When those rules have to do with "right and wrong" or "good or bad" or "acceptable and not acceptable" then those "rules" are a code of morality, pure and simple.

But how far do we go? How tolerant should we be before "moral decay" sets in and our society begins to disintegrate? How, at the same time, do we guard against being too rigid where all meaningful personal liberty is lost to that society?

What are your thoughts on the reality of democracy being, or capable of becoming, the "tyranny of the majority?" What is the solution to that? How do you make people be tolerant of the beliefs and values and morals of other people when they are in the voting booth? Or should they even think about anything except what they think is best for their society, based on their own morals?

So many questions still, and so few answers yet. Sadly, I'm not even half done here. I know I have raised more questions than I have answered.

Next: "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

Really? Is it that easy?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Morals and morality

Do animals have morals?

I don't think so. The concept of right and wrong or good and bad is a human concept. This is not to say some animals don't analyze; I'm convinced that they do. But they analyze how to steal nuts from other squirrels, not whether it is right or wrong to do so.

I believe your "moral code" -- the list of things you personally think are ok to do or not ok to do -- stem from your personal values, and values are beliefs. What we believe to be true changes over time, as we gain new experiences and are offered new proofs. Working backward, when our beliefs are changed, our values (things we believe in) adjust to acommodate our new beliefs, and thus, too, our personal "moral code" is adjusted as well. This is my own reasoning and it may not coincide with your own reasoning.

When we are young children, we don't really have much of a moral code yet. We are mostly concerned with getting what we want, and if we want a cookie being held by another baby, we don't think twice about taking that cookie. We have no more guilt than the squirrel, I say. Soon we learn that certain things are right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not acceptable. This comes from our parents teaching us and from other babies punching us in the face.

What I am trying to say is that I believe our "morals" are learned over time and not something we are born with. This probably flies in the face of many of your basic religious teachings about a child being born knowing right from wrong in his heart, but I have not really witnessed a small child being anything other than your basic barbarian, morals-wise.

Since we all have different parenting, life experiences, and environmental learning experiences, I believe it is reasonable to say that our value systems (and hence our morals) are different. Some of us believe it is wrong to do this or that thing, and others don't think the same thing is wrong at all.

What we believe to be right and wrong certainly affects our behavior. For example, Baptists don't make love standing up, because they fear someone will walk in and think they are dancing. Dancing is wrong to a Baptist. Maybe Relax Max is different. Maybe he doesn't think dancing is wrong and so he might occasionally slap his tickle uprightly. Or, perhaps, he just doesn't care if people see him or not. It's a judgement call.

In my next posts on this subject, I want to explore things like whether your idea of right and wrong is superior to mine; whether society can tell us what is right and wrong; whether it is possible for you NOT to judge someone else's morals (even if you think you are tolerant or broad-minded); whether a person can have ambiguous morals (he can't); and, most importantly, why a fictional character in a book cannot POSSIBLY have a moral code that isn't based on the author's true belief system.

Please come back. This one will invoke debate.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


What do I want to get out of writing?

I visit a lot of writing blogs, mostly just to read, and that is a common theme. Writers seem to search for meaning.

I have given up questioning long ago. I simply HAVE to write. I HAVE to take pictures. I HAVE to analyze things. Shrug. Let the others wonder why.

Sometimes it seems such a waste, this writing business. Sometimes I bubble over, most times I realize I don't really have anything important to say. But what would life be without writing? What would life be without taking pictures? What would life be without trying to put the puzzle together? The alternative is not really an option. Whatever else I may do, I must continue to write. Somehow (I think) if I write long enough, I will get all the drek pumped out of my brain and the good stuff will be able to come out.

I don't think Dickens had to wait this long, though.

Did the masters also have their doubts? Or did the words just flow from Dickens' quill like a silvery stream, with no effort on his part? I've tried to research what famous authors had to say about why they wrote, but, in truth, most of them didn't know why they wrote, they only knew they had no choice. Lost souls, like me.

George Orwell spoke about motivation, that you had to have some sort of inner passion that you cared about even to write fiction. He said his motivation was oppressive government and the plight of the average serf-citizen. He said he was inspired by the Spanish Civil War and after 1937 said he never wrote anything that wasn't driven by some sort of improvement in the human condition. Social Democracy was Orwell's driving passion. 1984. Animal House. I guess I get it now. This was after he got all the bad poetry out of his system.

I've always liked Ernest Hemingway's terse, pithy style of writing, so I thought maybe he had some terse pithy advice. But he didn't know either. He confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934: "I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket."

Big help.

For every thousand writers, there are a thousand individual reasons why they write. I just like to tell the stories of things.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stringing them up. VoilĂ .

Of the 4 traditional orchestral strings, the violin and the bass are tuned alike, only with the order of the strings reversed: GDAE, low to high on the violin and GDAE, high to low, on the bass. The tonal range of the violin is of the treble clef and that of the bass the... ummmm ... bass clef.

The two instruments in between the violin and the bass are the viola and the (violin)cello. The viola is slightly larger than the violin but still played under the chin; the cello smaller than the bass but also played on the floor, sitting rather than standing.

Violas and cellos are strung up differently than violins/basses, their voices being of the alto and tenor persuasion (so to speak): CGDA (C is low for the viola and high for the cello, so again reversed in order of installation.) No E string here, so don't look for it.

Of course the strings on a violin are not as thick as those of a bass, and they are tuned to different octaves. Well, duh. Same with violii and cellia. I just HAD to say that.

Violins and basses don't really associate socially that much, polls show, and the one thing they most have in common seems to be a desire to poke fun at the sissy clef that violas and cellos use. Unless you've had violin lessons inflicted upon you as a child, you probably won't even recognize a C clef, and maybe not even then since a violin doesn't use it. Well, by god, here it is, though, in all its amusing glory. Hello.
"Hello." (Habitually said by Bill Cosby in his standup comedian days.)

We won't be going over baritone clefs or Heathcliffs, so no need to search. Just sayin'. In fact, we won't be going over any cliffs at ALL until next post.

While it is fairly common during a symphony orchestra performance for the violins to get up and wander about, even up and down the aisles in the audience, sometimes playing requests, it is expected that the violas and cellos remain seated. Conduct for basses varies from orchestra to orchestra and has never been clearly defined. Sufficient to say their behavior is often vile. Basely vile.

I guess that's about all. To say more would require me to think up a point for making this post. Except to say that the picture at the top of this post is a viola and not a cello. Can anyone tell how you can tell from the picture? That reminds me of a story. Sorry. In eighth grade orchestra, one of our cello players - not exactly Rhodes Scholar material - once bet me his gangly arms were long enough to play his cello in the manner of a violin. So I bet my lunch money and held his bow while he skewered his neck clean through.

Ok, that was Socratic irony. Always be prepared from now on since I read that Wikepedia article on Socrates and critical thinking, although I haven't yet connected the two. Give me time.

Double feature coming up next:

1. Johnny Paycheck's grandson says, "Take this flute and shove it."

2. Is it possible for a double-reed player to get its tongue pinched between its reeds? And what if it is and it is not in a situation where it can scream?

3. Bonus! "Other uses for bassoons and bagpipes: no longer only good just for firewood."

All the gory details will be revealed as truthfully as a Rupert Murdock editorial and as unbiased as a Guardian report on Republicans. You won't want not to miss this one.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I see nothing

Actor John Banner died January 28, 1973 at age 63.

I don't know what his big movies were. All I remember him is as Sgt. Schmidt in Hogan's Heroes.

Update: Sgt. Schultz, I mean. I guess I don't remember so well, after all.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Analyzing Balls

Here is an analysis of the various sports that are most popular with different types of workers.

1. Basketball is the sport of choice for urban poor.

2. Bowling is the sport of choice for maintenance employees.

3. Football is the sport of choice for regular line workers.

4. Baseball is the sport of choice for supervisors.

5. Tennis is the sport of choice for middle to upper management.

6. Golf is the sport of choice for top executives and company officers.

Conclusion of analysis:

The higher you go up the corporate ladder the smaller your balls get.

Many thanks to whomever I stole this from originally. Although they stole it too. I need to keep better notes on sources.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Little things mean a lot

My father always used to tell me if I would watch my pennies, then the dollars would take care of themselves. I don’t think I really understood what he meant when he repeated that old adage, but I did start, from a young age, picking up free pennies off the ground as I walked, and still do. I realize now that that is probably not what he meant. Maybe partly, in a "cents."

If you are looking for perfection in a blog, in writing, or anything else that Relax Max has his imprint on, you will be disappointed. I strive mostly to inform, amuse, even share my learnings on occasion, but perfection is something I have given up on long ago.

It strikes me as paradoxical, therefore, (some might say hilarious) that I spend much of my time, both hobby-wise and income-wise, in troubleshooting systems and describing theories for improvement in the way things are now, or in the way things are being done. You can chalk that up to my personality type.

In the process of defining or describing excellence, or in interpreting what the systematic path to success in a thing might be, it is usually necessary to first describe the current state of affairs, point out shortcomings and tell how one thinks the current status quo falls short of excellence. Only then can one put forth a vision for improvement.

Perfection might never be achieved, but one should always strive for excellence to the degree possible. When one person doesn’t take pride in his work in the assemblyline of life, the entire operation is degraded and will fall short of what it could have been. This is true if one is putting nuts on automobile wheel bolts as they pass by; it is true of individual members of a symphony orchestra; and it is true of armies and governments.

My old Air Force basic training sergeant explained this philosophy more succinctly: "Americans don't do half-assed work." Well, they didn't used to, anyway. Would you rise above the crowd? Then don't do half-assed work.

Since I am primarily a big-picture kind of person, it is especially hard for me to make myself pay attention to the dtails in life that form that big-picture, but we simply must try to make each small contribution we make to the larger whole as perfect and excellent as we possibly can. In all things, try to care.


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