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.
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.
Humanity 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.