Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The wrong Mr. Spock

Old Star Trek fans will remember the episode "Mirror Mirror," in which some members of the Enterprise crew end up switched with their evil counterparts in a parallel universe. Mr. Spock is one of the switched characters. His counterpart is just as smart as the Mr. Spock we all know and (sort of) love, but this Alternate Spock uses his intellectual gifts in an amoral way to achieve wicked ends. Naturally, in the end, the real Kirk suggests to the evil Spock that the system of assassination and intrigue in his world is illogical.

Well, yes and no. Far be it from me to disparage logic. God is the source of all truth and reason, and true reason will lead us to God. However, there is such a thing as being merely consistent while starting with bad premises. If, in that case, one regards it as a virtue of logic (a false kind of logic) to refuse to admit any reductio ad absurdam, to be consistent with the premises one started with to the bitter end, then one will be in one sense logical (i.e., consistent with one's original premises) but not therefore rational in the broader sense of conforming to true reason. For true reason can never contradict true goodness. But logic, very narrowly conceived, can be one tool in a toolkit, as used by fallen man, that leads one away from true goodness. In that case, one can become the wrong Mr. Spock.

Now, I'm going to launch out here into the realm of speculation, being sure to offend as many different types of people as possible in the process: There are certain corners of the blogosphere (if you haven't encountered them, count yourself lucky) in which misogyny lives on, partly as a reaction to feminism. One will sometimes see conjectures in these corners, or in (as it were) corners adjacent to them, to the effect that perhaps men are naturally more virtuous than women because men are more logical. If one has ever tried to discuss the humanity of the unborn child with a ditzy, hysterical, pro-abortion woman who refuses to stick to the point, one will have some understanding of where such a conjecture might come from. Those conversations can get really wearisome really fast.

I'm a complementarian and by no means a feminist, so I don't entirely mind discussing virtues and vices as "more masculine" or "more feminine," as long as those concepts are sufficiently qualified. E.g., Many individual women manifest "more masculine" virtues (such as being logical, sportsmanlike, and professional) and many individual men manifest "more feminine" vices (such as being illogical, whiny, and manipulative).

But as regards the question of whether being more logical leads one to be more virtuous, an interesting point arises: Just as there is a "more masculine" virtue of being highly logical, there is also a "more masculine" vice of turning oneself into the wrong Mr. Spock. The ability to turn off one's emotions and one's instinctive reactions has some utilitarian value. For example, a soldier has to be able to turn off his instinctive aversion to killing people. A surgeon has to be able to overcome any instinctive aversion to plunging a knife into someone. But sometimes one's emotions and instincts are deeply important clues to the meaning of the universe. The instinctive aversion to strangling a baby, for example, is part of the braking system that God has placed into mankind. It's the good part of human nature, a manifestation of the image of God in man. It is that part of the imago dei that pro-lifers access when they show either beautiful images of babies in the womb or shocking images of aborted children. When one says that that instinct is "mere emotion" and turns it off in response to a false "logic," one becomes Kermit Gosnell.

I conjecture that men are somewhat more likely than women to stifle their instinctive aversion to doing bad things by way of reasoning consistently from faulty premises. For example:

1) This being in the womb of this woman is not a person. (Because I studied personhood theory in ethics class, and there I learned that the fetus has not attained personhood.)

2) It is not always wrong to kill non-persons. In fact, non-persons can be killed for sufficient reasons of convenience as determined by persons.


3) It is not always wrong to kill this being in this woman's womb.

4) This woman is a person and has a sufficient reason for wanting to kill this non-person in her womb.


5) It is not wrong now to kill this non-person in this woman's womb.

6) I am a professional technician who can help this woman to kill this non-person without doing harm to her, the person.


7) It is not wrong for me to kill this fetus in this woman's womb.

And proceeds to carry out the procedure, however bloody, stifling all his horrors and qualms as simply something he needs to get over to be consistent with "logic."

Don't misunderstand me: There are plenty of women who go through this reasoning process as well. But I conjecture that this sort of false use of logic is somewhat more common among men, especially the sort who pride themselves on being logical (as does Mr. Spock).

Something similar is at work in the thinking of the ethicists that I discuss in this post. They argue that it is legitimate to dehydrate some people to death even if they are asking for water, because the patients lack "true capacity" to change their minds and ask for something they previously refused. As I pointed out in that post, this position is consistent with the ethicists' own premises regarding food and water, autonomy, and so forth. But that doesn't make it any less crazy. The ethicist who argues for dehydrating a woman to death even when she verbally asks for water has become the wrong Mr. Spock. A good dose of yuck factor and human compassion could cure the craziness and would be in an important sense more rational to follow than the argument they are using, but they have deliberately cut themselves off from that source.

What all of this means is that human nature is a many-orbed thing. God has given us various ways of getting access to moral truths, and we should not despise instinctive responses as simply unreliable as a guide to moral truth while elevating logical reasoning from given premises as simply reliable. At that point, it all comes down to the premises, doesn't it? What this means about men and women is that, if it's true that men are in general more logical and women in general more emotional, we are given to one another to complement one another, and this complementary value can sometimes carry over into the realm of morals, where we should each value the other's gifts. Women should value logic, and men, especially men who enter philosophy, should watch out for the danger of becoming the wrong Mr. Spock.

1 comment:

steve said...

That's true as far as it goes, but in addition, there are many people who relish killing other people. Who relish wielding the power of life and death over others. Who relish inflicting pain on others.

The difference between them and the stereotypical sociopath is that they are generally restrained by fear of consequences.

But as soon as you put them in a situation where external restraint is removed, their inner sociopath emerges.