This article was written by Peniel Okwuchukwu
My father is in the legal/judiciary field by profession, is knowledgeable in politics and history, and I like to see him as a gifted teacher – well he is a teacher and he teaches Christian theology (most especially in the area of Christian discipleship) as a passion.
My mother is in the field of theater arts and educational psychology by profession, is knowledgeable in entrepreneurship and business, and I like to see her as a gifted counselor – well she is a counselor and she counsels teenagers and youths as a passion. They both organize marriage counseling too.
Me? I am a lover of politics, history, arts, psychology, and entrepreneurship. I also think I would make a good teacher and counselor someday, and no; I don’t think I would organize marriage counseling at any point in my life.
My immediate younger brother Jedidiah is the first one in the house to be science inclined by virtue of the university course he is studying. What little the rest of us know when it pertains to science is largely from one or two items we’ve read because we are avid readers.
Jed is also the first in the family to like sports on a deep level. He also likes entrepreneurship.
My last two brothers Beracah and Eliel who are still both in secondary school…well it is too early to concretely tag what their inclinations would be although by a broad categorization one seems interested in arts and commerce while the other, in science.
So it is a morning in the household, we’re all together at the family house because the covid19 pandemic is ravaging outside and before we get into the business of the day, we are having some family time.
It starts off with a typical conversation but soon gets intense and interesting.
We start with a mixture of theology and history, and my dad shares how he is coming to believe that God established the earth in such a way that it responds violently when its inhabitants begin to abound in wantonness and injustice. We cite historical examples to affirm this standpoint and by the time my dad is done highlighting instances both in biblical history and beyond, I have goose bumps because of the factuality of his theory when compared to the instances he has highlighted. The example he gives that settles with me deepest is perhaps the simplest and earliest of this instance in play; the murder of Abel by Cain. He exemplifies the murder of Abel by Cain and how God explained to Cain that as a result of Abel’s blood which was crying out in vengeance from the land, the land was revolting against Cain and had become cursed to him (see Genesis 5 of the Holy Bible)
My brother Beracah inputs at this point, alluding to some things he has been reading that agree with my dad’s theory. It is something about the timeline of human plagues in history, and something about a hundred year interval between these plagues that proves that there might be a systematic nature to these plagues breakout. I didn’t properly grasp everything Beracah explained (mental note to self: Follow up this conversation with him at a better time) but I’m glad he is reading and not succumbing to the multitude of misinformation circulating
Then somehow we get into science with Jed leading the charge on this one. He highlights many scientific principles and its everyday implication and reality, and I can tell that my parents are impressed. They question me mockingly at one point on why I am silent, and I defend myself that the only principle that really interests me is the principle of karma.
Jed further expresses that the universe abides along scientific principles, and that the most complicated theories of science can even be seen manifesting in everyday life once you remove the heavy microscopic lens of science semantics and take it at simpler value.
I however find the second law of thermodynamics to be unnerving after Jed paints it the way he did in his attempt to bring it very close to home. The fact that any isolated system, including the universe would always increase and not decrease its entropy so long as there is no external influence is attention-grabbing to me. After further analysis, entropy is simplified at the barest minimum to mean disorderliness, which by my own calculation has its endpoint in eventual destruction. What I personally summarize it to mean is that the growth of disorderliness in the world even by scientific principle is inevitable when there is no external influence that somehow interferes enough to alter this natural process.
Jed further chairs the discussion on principles of motion, gravity, aerodynamics and some others too, and moving on I interject that my distaste in science is in its rigidity. I like science when it is practical, but when I hear it in theory, it doesn’t make much sense to a mind that has been made fluid by arts. Jed agrees with my position although only to spite me. He agrees that science is all about principle and in his sarcastic words, “in science it’s either you know or you don’t know” I probably would have agreed with his statement if I didn’t catch the subliminal insult that was embedded somewhere in it for me. So I counter that arts and philosophy is equally about principle and matter of fact, it is the principles identified by philosophy that gives the world its substance. My explanation is that science explains the world as it is and can be, and only gives room for a vertical kind of growth, while philosophy explains the world as it is and should be, and gives more room for a horizontal kind of growth. We go back and forth on this some more before agreeing that there is philosophy in science, and there is science in philosophy. Of course we already know this and mutually respect the place of both philosophy and science in keeping the world going, but at that moment, agreeing with the opponents’ point wasn’t how we planned to win that debate.
My mom steps in at this point with a sprinkle of psychology, talking about emotional intelligence. She is straight to the point, enquiring from us what our perception of emotional intelligence is. I summarize emotional intelligence to be the ability of a person to process their emotions while processing other people’s emotions, and then being able to reconcile both of them with proper decision making where the emotionality of both parties is taken into consideration and isn’t neglected or denied. My mom is impressed, but doesn’t give me a perfect score because I did not reference any figure of authority in the field of emotional intelligence while giving my definition. I counter that the only person of authority I’m ever interested in referencing is Jesus Christ, and they all laugh.
We go back to philosophy and I take the charge. I enquire about the infinite monkey theorem and Jed answers perfectly enough which irks me considering that I didn’t have so much to say when he was blabbing about science. He highlights that the infinite monkey theorem is a theorem that helps one properly wrap their head around the concept of infinity by presenting it as follows: if you place a monkey in front of a typewriter over the course of an endless time and allow the monkey to keep jabbing away at the typewriter, the monkey would eventually type out the entire play of hamlet word for word. The odds of this happening even over a space of a human’s lifespan is probably nonexistent, but over the space of infinity, every scenario and possibility that have even the littlest chance of occurring, would occur.
Beracah inputs at this point, explaining that he suddenly questions the beauty of immortality. I honestly feel bad for him when I realize that this paradigm shift in perception might tarnish whatever fantasies of immortality he is holding unto, although the feeling only lasts for a nanosecond. I know immortality at one point of every person’s growth process is a fascinating idea. Many years back after watching Twilight, I fell in love with the idea of immortality, the idea of being able to do anything one wanted without the possibility of dying.
Today I simply reply Beracah that immorality is boring. What I don’t say out loud is that at one point in my life, I questioned the beauty of going to heaven, considering that heaven is expected to last for all of eternity. I know that this is the natural me questioning, but sometimes in light of eternity without an end, I do not see any activity however divine or majestic it is, constantly providing gratification. To my mortal mind, the ability to find satisfaction in any activity is because a timeline for it exists. In the face of eternity and forever, I wonder how any activity would retain its originality, its purpose, and its ability to always feel fulfilling.
We further discuss other philosophical theories – the ignorant bliss paradox, the prisoner’s dilemma, and even some psychological experiments that occurred, like the Stanford prison experiment.
Eventually we get to one which becomes the most engaging, and that is the Trolley Problem.
There are two levels to this thought experiment and I put it forward to the house to get their opinions on it:
You are standing by a railway and there are three human beings tied to the railway. A train is fast approaching and is going to kill them, but there is however a lever to your side. If you pull the lever, the train would swerve unto an adjacent railway track where only one person is tied to it, thereby killing one to save three. The question is would you do it?
Beracah opines that he would not do it, obviously unable to fathom the idea of taking a human life irrespective of the circumstance surrounding the decision.
My father however, says that he would do it, much to Beracah’s surprise, but to my admiration.
Beracah argues that it is disconcerting having to take an action knowing that someone is going to die from it, but my father counters by pointing out that it is important to recognize that you are not the originator of that situation, but you are only in a place to decide how it ends, not necessarily how it begins.
He points out that at the end of the day, your inaction is an action in itself because your decision to not pull the lever transcends into a decision to stand by and watch three people get killed
The house is quiet now.
Then I push the thought experiment further and introduce the second stage of this thought experiment:
Now you are standing by the railway track watching the train coming with speed to kill three people. This time however there is no lever, but there is an obese man standing by the side. You calculate accurately, that the obese man weighs enough to topple the train over if pushed in front of the train and so the question is, would you do it? Would you push the obese man in front of the train to save the three people who are tied to the tracks?
Beracah again says that he would not, and he goes ahead to ask: what if the obese man turns around and pushes you in front of the train in order to save himself? This causes us to laugh although I point out that this thought experiment does not give room for such variations. As I think about it now, that is actually an interesting question, considering that the first and most instinctive human response is self-preservation. By the way Beracah is the one out of the younger duo whom I figure has the tenacity for arts. Only the fluidity of an artistic mind would push anyone into conjuring alternate endings as opposed to accepting a dissatisfactory ending that the script being used presents.
Naturally and as I expect, my father’s first response is also a no. He questions the place of a man to take actions like that, when it would directly cause the death of another man regardless of what would be achieved. He doesn’t believe God has given any man that kind of power to cause the death of another man in such a direct manner and for whatever reason
I question further, wondering what the difference is between the two scenarios if both of them are sacrificing one life to save three. If at the end of the day you save three at the expense of one, isn’t that commendable? My father then likens the stance of my question to Niccollo Machiavelli’s book ‘The Prince’, wherein Machiavelli postulated that the end always justifies the means. My father however says that the problem with that position is how it is and has been used over time by self-serving leaders and politicians to justify having to kill people and do questionable things once they convince themselves that the end is rewarding. At this point, we transit into politics and leadership
We unanimously agree that in that thought experiment, a clueless bystander might perhaps not need to bear the burden of responsibility of others, and can choose to stand back and absolve himself of doing anything in that situation. However, what about leaders who cannot afford the luxury of freedom from choice? What should be their position in that type of situation considering the fact that they are warranted to always act?
At this point my dad reflects on something he read somewhere although he doesn’t remember the source – “no matter the decision we take as leaders, men must die” and he accepts the reality of this statement. He narrates how defending the people you’re leading would oftentimes come with the need to hurt other people, and he believes that if someone cannot survive in that high altitude far above conventional morality, the person should choose to not become a leader. He says leadership necessitates having a standing that allows you to do what needs to be done even if the blood of others might fall on your hands but yet, a standing that keeps you from giving into your darker instinct and resorting to total viciousness and self -serving bloodshed
Sitting down as a leader to plan the death of a terrorist in order to keep your people safe, is accepting to kill a man who could be his teenage daughter’s hero. A leader might know fully well that the terrorist’s death would be of immeasurable agony to his daughter who would suffer cruelly in a cold world because of the absence of a father to protect her from it, but yet a leader would realize that such an action needs to be undertaken. This is the dilemma of a leader. This is the burden that a leader must prepare to carry while remaining careful to make sure that such burden does not eventually rob them of their humanity and make them unjust people or murderous psychopaths. Do you know how crazy that is? Trying to preserve your humanity which means that you get to keep feeling the periodic weight of sadness that would befall you whenever you think of the pain you’ve caused someone else by your actions, but yet always finding the strength to keep making ruthless decisions whenever there is need for it.
My father eventually agrees that from the position of a leader, he could push or not push the obese man in front of the track, but his decision would be thoroughly processed, and not just sponsored by an inclination to run away from responsibility that comes with a distasteful burden, the burden in this case being the blood of a human being.
I agree too, and not just in the moment. I know this has always been my make up as a person and that I have it in me. If I am a clueless bystander, I probably wouldn’t interfere because I do not know enough to make any decision and I do not carry the burden of stopping deaths and saving lives in that particular situation.
But if I am a leader with the burden of making decisions to save lives and help lives, I would or would not push the obese man and whatever my decision would be, would be because I am a leader and I have to ACT.
Pushing one person to save three could be argued to be utilitarian if you quantify human life simply based on number, but there are so many other variables, and regardless of whatsoever, I will eventually act.
At this point the house is solemn, everybody is sober reflecting, and so I stand up and walk inside.
If you’re reading these words right now it means you read until the end, (except you decided to be a fraud and you skipped to the end) so here is my thank you very much for reading, I honestly appreciate you.
For today’s useless information, since my article was really about family, let me tell you something about my mom: Since I was born and since I’ve known my mother, this woman has never watched a whole movie before in her life. Well except that one or two times that we forced her to, and she succumbed to our persuasion. Beyond that one or two times, this woman has never watched a movie in her life and what’s the reason? She is unable to wrap her head around the thought of sitting down in a front of a TV and just staring for so long at characters. L.M.A.O! Yeah, the only other times she watches movies are the one where I feature in it. She acts too, but I honestly doubt if she ever watches her own movies.
This article was written by Peniel Okwuchukwu for Truth Zombie blog.
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