Evaluating our Morality

Empathy and goodness are writ as deeply in our genes as murder and savagery. We did not choose to have two parts to our nature, but we can choose which to embrace. If the entire human species were a single individual, that person would long ago have been declared mad. The insanity would not lie in the anger and darkness of the human mind– though it can be a black and raging place. And it certainly wouldn’t lie in the transcendent goodness of that mind– one so sublime, we fold it into a larger “soul.” The madness would lie instead in the fact that both of those qualities, the savage and the splendid, can exist in one creature, one person, often in one instant. We’re a species that is capable of almost dumbfounding kindness. We nurse one another, romance one another, weep for one another. Ever since science taught us how, we willingly tear the very organs from our bodies and give them to one another. And at the same time we slaughter one another. The past 15 years of human history are the temporal equivalent of those subatomic particles that are created in accelerators and vanish in a trillionith of a second, but in the fleeting instant, we’ve visited untold horrors on ourselves– in Mogadishu, Rwanda, Chechnya, Darfur, Beslan, Baghdad, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Lebanon, Israel, New York, Lybia– all of the crimes committed by the highest wisest, most principled species the planet has produced. That we’re also the lowest, cruelest, most blood-drenched species is our shame– and our paradox.