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Of Carbon and Silicon
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
And now, a moment of philosophy

I was recently involved in a significant home-improvement project, during which time I allowed my mind to wander. Such a mind-numbing task as trimming the fringe on a new bit of carpeting rather requires one to do something to stop one's mind shrivelling up. So, I thought about my recent philosophy final (one which contributed to an overall final mark of B-plus, I might add). One of the things my professor said at the outset of the course was that, by the end of class, we would be able to formulate a supportive or contradictory response to the following statement: "You cannot force your values on someone else." As I sat on the floor, no doubt failing to exercise proper safety procedure for handling a carpet knife, I realised that I had weaselled my way around that statement. It was one of five essay options for the final, but of the three that I chose, responding to the statement was not amongst them. I discovered, much to my dismay, that the reason I passed it over was that I didn't know how to respond to it. I hadn't learnt what the professor said I would. However, I did come away with enough knowledge to figure out where I went wrong.

So, respond to this statement: "You cannot force your values onto someone else." Since this is too difficult to do at the moment, I shall start by thinking of all the times American values have been forced onto other cultures.

The Christian immigrants to America found the natives to be barbaric and unenlightened. Whilst the natives rightly saw the Europeans as invaders and dealt with them as such, the Europeans decided to control them by treating them as animals and rounding them up into reservations (after pushing them back further and further towards the west coast until they could be pushed no further, that is) or capturing them and "domesticating" them by teaching them Christianity.

The Puritans had strict rules regarding leisure... mainly, anything not work-related was against God's will, unless it was on the Sabbath -- in which case, anything that was work-related was against God's will. A person in a Puritan state could be jailed or even executed for disobeying the rules. For instance, playing cards or throwing dice was considered witchcraft, for which the proper sentence was death. Reading any material other than the Bible was considered blasphemy, for which the miscreant could be put to death or not, depending on the circumstances.

Of course, both of these relate to religious morals, which is a totally different branch of philosophy. However, there really are only two kinds of morals, when you get right down to it... religion and government. You can choose to follow the word of God or the laws of Man. No middle ground exists. If you want to live as a part of society, you must follow one or the other. Some might argue that the family unit also has a moral code, but it is not substantially different from religion or government. Say that a mother and father are both devout Catholics. They will raise their children to be Catholic. However, the son reads Sartre one day, decides that religion is a farce and he wants no further part of it. The only direction he can go from there is to follow the government.

Ah... but I've talked myself into something of a paradox. This all assumes that there is a true distinction between church and state. In many cases, this has proven false... or, at least, these two moral paths have been eerily similar. Perhaps the son who reads Sartre is in fact the son of a Muslim (Sartre's ideals may be forbidden in Islam, but human nature is to seek out that which is forbidden). If he attempts to denounce Islam, chances are that he will be killed. This is because of the radical theocracy which has been in play, particularly in the Middle East, since before Sun-Tzu's time. The church controls the state in a theocracy.
But, let's change this theoretical family back into Catholics. No matter how much Protestants want to contest this observation, all Christian denominations are offshoots of Catholicism. Furthermore, since America was founded on the basis of religious freedom, it would not be a stretch to say that America, itself, is built on religion. Somewhat similar to King Henry VIII hammering religion into the framework of England when he founded the Anglican church (just so he could get a divorce, I might add), religion is a base part of America. It would also not be a stretch to say that the framers of the Constitution were all Christians. As such, they were guided by their own religious morals when they wrote the document, itself. Therefore, it is necessary that the church and the state in America are not altogether separate, with the very basis of American government rooted in Christianity. Furthermore, in modern-day elections, much of the popular vote can be won by appealing to certain religions. Say that I, Spiny McSpleen, run for United States President. There are certain blog entries here that my campaign advisors would insist that I delete if I want to win the religious vote. However, my opponent has already found the entry I made on 32 Octember 20X6, saying that religion is stupid. It doesn't matter what I say about any other issue -- abortion, foreign policy, economics -- I've already lost the religious vote.
So, I've rambled a bit. The point is that church and state are not separate in the United States. Not at all, not a bit. It's only when the child of a Wiccan is taught about Moses in history class that the state wants to distance itself from the church. So, in America, anyway, religious values and government values are likely to coincide more frequently than a Sartrean should like.

I believe, before I went off on that tirade, I was trying to come up with a somewhat more un-religious example of America forcing its values on another culture. Right now, as I type, there is a war going on where the United States amongst others are attempting to bring democracy to the Middle East. A popular question in my old American Government class at high school was, "what right does America have to waltz into a third-world country and ram democracy down their throats?" The answer is: they have no right.

In a sense, I've responded to the question. "What right do I have to waltz into your life and ram my values down your throat?" The answer is: I have no right. To force one's own values on someone else is immoral. Linking back to our theoretical Catholic family, they can suggest a set of values to their children, but they cannot and should not force them to adhere to it for their entire lives. Like the United States trying to force-feed democracy to a warlike theocracy that's been infighting for centuries, it is unjust, immoral, and wrong.

Posted by theniftyperson at 2:54 AM CDT

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