(Chinese Education)U(Ethical Reflections)

(A series of ethical reflections after realizing how incredibly unlikely I am to be where I am)

I am fortunate to not have been in the Chinese educational system, designed to produce mandarins. The more I think about it, the more it horrifies me. You are just your score. And your score at a single test in a single moment of your life. It is terrible. You prepare 18 years for a single week. And you either fuck up or succeed. I would have gone crazy. No doubt.

One sometimes have to be really grateful for what one has. But somehow it is not enough to merely say it. You have to feel it viscerally. And after feeling it, really grasp the situation that fortuna has given you. Take advantage of it. That is to love life.

But to love life, also, is to affirm it at its worse. That is the most difficult. Perhaps that is too much to ask of a person. To love life when there really is not much to love inside it. I don’t think I can do it. But maybe that is what differentiates homo sapiens and human beings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ethics recently. And the more I think about it, the more Kantian I am getting. For Kant, the ethical act is the act done with no other reason. Duty done for no other sake other than I have to do it—it cannot even be duty done for duty’s sake. The ethical act is one where I myself take full responsibility, where there is no exterior reason other than an action done because it is part of the entire existential framework (or even, shifts your entire ethical framework so it retroactively becomes completely innate, as when you make a Kierkegaardian leap of faith). It is an action done so that when others ask you “Why?”, you can answer only with an odd, surprised expression on your face and reply, “No Reason.” (Anscombe, in Intentions —a rare good analytic book, partly because she is not so analytic after all—made this distinction. There are actions where you can give an account of “Why did you do it?”. For these, there is a reason behind it. There are some other times where “Why did you do it?” is unintelligible, where the question is rejected, like “I didn’t do it.” Then there is the intermediary, the strangest case, a kind of infinite judgement, a schism in the system of sorts, where the answer to the “Why?” is: “There is no reason. I just did it.” And herein lies the ethical act.)

But this does not mean that we should condemn any other act. Acts done for a good reason may be noble, may be laudable. We should try to do more of them. But they are not ethical. They are not truly human.

And note that the ethical act may be one that is “diabolically evil”. For to be human is to have the capacity for both good and evil. Cain, we all have to remember, killed Abel.

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