[DISCUSS] Humanity vs. Morality: What Really Guides Us

Let me preface this by saying that all of the conclusions I come to in this post are simply philosophical deductions. I will NOT be using dictionary definitions to explain my points, as these deductions are a suggestion that the words which would possibly need defining are not properly defined to begin with, and so the definitions themselves are part of the issue.

Eren the Titan

First, how I came about this little contemplation. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of anime (for those who don’t know, anime is Japanese animation series, usually based on a Japanese manga, or graphic novel series). Over the weekend, my fiance and I decided to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ of a series which has had everyone in the anime world excited over the past few months: Shingeki no Kyojin, or as translated, Attack on Titan. The premise of the story is a boy named Eren (pictured above), his adopted sister Mikasa, and their childhood friend Armin, all working to join and help the Scout Regiment of the military to fight the Titans, a mysterious race of creatures which appeared 100 years ago with the seemingly sole purpose of eating the human race into extinction. About half way into the series, Eren discovers he has the ability to actually transform into a Titan, and becomes a mixed symbol of terror and hope for the human race. A very sophisticated combination of questions about the human condition surface through this aspect of the plot.

The question which I want to emphasize and discuss, however, emerges from Eren’s friend Armin, as Armin and many other soldiers are attempting to protect Armin as he fights an unusually powerful and unique Female Titan. In explaining the significance of Eren’s abilities, and how selfless Eren’s and the commanders of the Scout Regiment actions truly are (despite the sacrifices which must be made in the form of human life while fighting the Titans), Armin has this to say:

People, who can’t throw something important away, can never hope to change anything.

He continues on this thought to explain that there are people in the world, a spare few, who are willing to give up their own sense of humanity for the sake of others’ survival. In the case of the commanders, they must throw away their personal pains over the deaths of so many soldiers, in order to strive ever-forward in the name of victory for the human race in the long-run. In the case of Eren himself, he must eventually come to this same point, where he can throw off his humanity and both physically and mentally embrace his Titan power in order to gain his true goal, the freedom of humanity from under Titan predation.

The question (in the show) which arises from this discussion is: When is it acceptable to lay one’s humanity to the side for the sake of society? And if you were put in that kind of situation, could you as an individual sacrifice your humanity, and accept all the possible consequences which come with that sacrifice, in order to preserve humanity itself?

My question, however, delves a little more deeply into the suggestion of humanity itself. As you’ll recall, I did a little poem series on morality not too long ago, which suggested (in the most basic and primitively poetic of terms) that morality is divided into different situational atmospheres, namely social, spiritual, familial, and personal (with likely more ‘sub-facets’ which I simply could not think of at the time). I concluded that personal morality is the central facet to all the moralities, that it is the inspiration of one individual’s personal perspective on moral conduct which is rallied behind by others, to the point of evolving into one of the collective moralities.

After thinking over Armin’s wise perspective, however, I’d like to look into the idea that it is one’s humanity, not their morality, is what really matters, and that morality is merely an illusion, a human perception of perfection which is not only unattainable, but non-existent.

Essentially, if we look at morality as being personally developed by the individual, what they believe is the perfection of the human element as a just, loving, peaceful creature, we can say that morality in itself is simply a single perception of the world, and not a defined aspect of the universe which establishes actual boundaries. Even if that individual perspective evolves into a more collective facet of morality (lets say social morality, or the law), it is still simply a large of group of individual perspectives which agree on that aspect of moral conduct.

The idea that murder, a human being taking the life of another human being, is morally evil, is a very prominent example. Moralistically, murder is evil. Despite this, however, even a person who perceives murder as morally evil will justify murder in times of war, in times of self-defense, and in situations of capital punishment. This is not seen as a contradiction, but as a exception to the rules of morality, and these exceptions change between individuals and societies. Even in terms of religious morality, where people claim the divine establishment of true morality by God, God’s killing of millions of people through actions such as the flooding of the planet and the killing of the first-born in Egypt, God Himself is an exception to the rule of killing human beings as morally evil.

If we look at murder from a humanistic perspective, however, murder has no justification; murder is unacceptable. A human’s recognition of other human beings as the same species as themselves, and so treating them as equals, is a paramount aspect of what makes us human. This is an aspect of humanity itself, and so justifying murder is to demean what it is to be human; in other words, murder is always inhumane, but not always immoral. In different societies, human sacrifice was deemed not only morally acceptable, but morally necessary, in certain religious customs. That does not make these sacrifices humane.

nothing-written-in-stone-relative-moralityHumanity is concrete; there is something innate and definable about what makes us human as opposed to animals. Now, with the expansion of science, the parameters of humanity can be more clearly defined as time goes on, even in terms of what is humanely right and wrong. Morality, however, can never be clearly defined, as every individual developed within themselves the parameters of what defines the limits of morality.

Now let’s revisit the original questions: When is it acceptable to lay one’s humanity to the side for the sake of society? And if you were put in that kind of situation, could you as an individual sacrifice your humanity, and accept all the possible consequences which come with that sacrifice, in order to preserve humanity itself? This question addresses those times when preconceived morality and true humanity do not align. There are times when people commit inhumane actions for the sake of their own personal morality, or their want to go against the social, familial, or spiritual morality of the world around them. At times, these people unite under the banner of inhumane action, and the conflict which arises spreads out into pure war.

This is where the questions come in, on an individual or collective basis. There are people in the world who are willing to consciously leave behind their humanity, their humanistic attributes of judgment regarding right and wrong, in order to eliminate inhumane threats like those described above. These people recognize the risks of choice, and accept those risks on their shoulders, in order to strive toward the greater goal of eliminating the inhumane threat upon human civilization. These are the generals, willing to make the call which could cost hundreds of soldiers’ lives. These are the police officers who go under cover to infiltrate and catch drug dealers. These are the ordinary people, willing to stand up against the armed robber at the bank who is about to kill a hostage. These people are willing to commit inhumane acts, and accept the consequences of those acts, for the greater good. These are not moral people, they are humane people.

Mind you, this is, again, only a concept of thought that came to me. Take it as you like. It is fresh, and it is still evolving, but I consider it solid enough now to share with you all. I hope it brings you to think a bit about what it means to be moral versus what it means to be human. Cheers.


2 thoughts on “[DISCUSS] Humanity vs. Morality: What Really Guides Us

  1. Very interesting. In a sense, I think morality is a subset of humanity. It takes a humane perspective to develop a moral concept (at least to a point, this is painting with a broad brush, there are many supposed morals I would disagree with). The problem lies where people/cultures would take these concepts to a dogmatic state. Each tribe/religious cult/or individual can have different levels of thought on what it take to be moral. Then these thoughts become doctrines, and these doctrines inevetibly conflict. Take a look at the middle east for a clear example. (there are many more, but I digress)

    I like the notion that humanity is the one thing that connects us all, the thing that gives us empathy for another regardless of race, religious conviction, or sexual orientation. Morality on the other hand is a little harder to pin down, as different people see things from different perspectives.

    The guys/gals that would rise to the level of self sacrifice in that moment of clarity, where they know what they do is the right thing, can be a hero, or criminal of the worst kind. Depends on their perception of morality…and ours.

    The general who makes the choices where men will engage in conflict, has a job to do regardelss of humanity or morality. They have an objective to achieve and while I am sure they must know men will die, they should do their best to make sure they have a gameplan that would limit those losses. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t have the job. I wish we had an alternative to war, but sometimes we have little choice. Other times it’s a bad call from the start. Either way, they hold a position I would not envy.

    In any event I agree with your conclusion. A thoughtful post.

  2. There is certainly a difference between moral and humane, but I think there is a lot of crossover as well. Humane can, and perhaps wrongly so, refer to an action which causes less suffering. Like killing someone instantly over killing them slowly. Euthanasia might be a good example of an action that is both humane and moral.

    I like the Freudian model of our brain, and fMRI data supports many of Freud’s theories with biologic data from brain activity. Freud said our morality is formed in the Superego and this is the part of the brain that mediates between the ego and the id so that our sex drive let’s say doesn’t have us men going up to every woman and grabbing her breasts because the superego does draw boundaries. The superego is all nurture, however it is a natural system in that all normal humans develop a superego. What it becomes however is a result of how we are nurtured. But the superego is not necessarily self-centered and may develop to be very aware of others and society and can lead to a very humanistic morality. Sociopaths however do not have a superego which is why they are unable to think of others, feel compassion towards others and think only of themselves.

    I too use blogging as a way of exploring, and so I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and the reason for the inspiration! I think the only problem I have with what you said, and it may only be because of my misinterpretation is that you seemed to say that an action is other moral or immoral. I guess I’m not sure if it’s all that black and white. Perhaps morality is more a matter of degrees. Let’s say I am raised to believe cheating on tests is wrong, but I have also been raised by parents who accept nothing less than A’s in school. This at some point will put me in a state of conflict if let’s say I have a test in which I don’t know all the answers and fear not getting an A and having my parents be angry or upset with me. My parents might be quite strict and I am quite scared of getting anything less than an A. So cheating seems like the right course of action. Our moral center can often be in conflict and this is pretty natural. A classic example of the moral conflicts we can be in is given by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem. Which action is technically more moral or less moral? Are any of them humane if life is lost? An army general or anybody who justifies killing in certain situations may simply be facing this type of moral dilemma. Is killing or deaths justifiable if it leads to greater prosperity or less loss of life in the future. Choosing to lead an army is not therefore necessary an immoral action, but an action that one feels is more moral than the alternative. I don’t think we shed off our humanity in these situations, but this is part of what it means to be human. To deal with conflict, to weigh the pros and cons and make the best possible decision in what is essentially a no-win scenario. I try to keep learning and adjust what I think is morally right. In thinking about would I be willing to kill, or even lead an army, I think I could be i would have to feel like all other options that didn’t involve killing were explored first, because killing is not something I take lightly.

    Your writing inspires a lot of thought! Thank you!

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