Monday, June 7, 2010

In Search of Morals

What does it mean to for something to be moral? Why do we feel the need to classify the things that we do into what is acceptable and what is not? Is there some fundamental set of values that is ingrained into the deepest, most primitive parts of our psyche, influencing our actions every day? Many have attempted to answer these questions, and just as many have claimed to have figured them all out. In reading what some of the great thinkers have claimed to be the fundamental aspect of what morality is, I still find things to be incoherent, incomplete, or missing the point. It is this lacking feeling that has driven me to come to an understanding of morality all my own, which I will do the best I can to convey to you so that you may gain new perspective on issues relating to what is right and wrong.

First, in what I have read of other philosopher's work on morality, what seems to happen is they attempt to define what it is a person is supposed to do with their life. Plato generally tells us to pursue happiness through living a virtuous life[Mackenzie]. Kant defines the a priori categorical imperatives that he claims when not followed, will cause society to collapse[Kant]. And Simone de Beauvoir preaches that we should live our lives exploring our freedom in good faith [Arp]. Though these thinkers do not explicitly claim to be defining the purpose of life, in defining their moral principals they are stating what they believe all human beings should do. If I were to define what it is human beings should be doing, I would say it is the only thing that we cannot not do - experiencing the world. No matter what it is you are particularly doing, it is still a part of your experience here during your life.

This is very similar to what de Beauvoir talks about in the Ethics of Ambiguity in that life has no inherent meaning. But where she says that life is meaningless but we are to make the most of it by living in good faith, I say the meaning of life is the experience and no matter what we do we get the most out of it that we possibly can. Having accepted this, a consequence of claiming it to be true is that there is no inherent right and wrong with anything that we do. So what then of morality? If there is nothing right or wrong about anything, why do we still feel that way on a vast variety of issues?

The next logical step would be to try and understand where morality comes from. A simple thought experiment will help us in coming to this understanding. Consider a world where you are the only living being. You could do anything you would like with absolutely no consequence, save death. But even if your objective was to die, you could purposefully do that with no effect on anything else in this world. Now, if you were to populate this barren world with other living things, suddenly your actions have the potential to effect them. It is this interaction between sentient beings that the concept of morality arises. When one being does something to another, and the second being dislikes what has been done, the deed may be viewed deplorably. This is where we begin to see where 'right' and 'wrong' in a moral sense comes from.

So what then of morals? Are there fundamental values that we should never sway from? Do they exist outside of the realm we exist in? No, absolutely not. What may seem to us as fundamental things that should never be done (murder, suicide, rape, etc.) have only emerged over time through the establishment of our human society. Being that we have lived amongst each other for so long and that we intend to keep doing so, the amicable and deplorable have come to seem as if they were independent of our existence and from an individual standpoint, they are. But this is only due to the fact that society exists independently of our personal existence. What is right and wrong, good and bad, etc., has been determined through the collective experience of humanity over the course of our physical and mental evolution.

Now that we have realized where we derive these concepts from, how may we use this understanding to conduct ourselves in such a way that we live in peace with one another? Or why even try to live in peace? To answer the second question, if you choose to live at odds with everyone else then you must also be ready to accept that others will likely attack you in response to what you may have done, or even through simply knowing the way you conduct yourself they may attack you preemptively. Essentially, the old proverb 'those who live by the sword will also die by the sword' holds true. So if you decide that you do not want to die by another's hand, it would be in your best interest to live in peace with others. To do this, you must consider how your actions effect the people around you and particularly, whether your action will be seen as having a negative consequence to someone else. A major part in whether or not an action will be seen as negative is whether the person being effected had prior knowledge of it happening or a full understanding of the risks involved with what is being done. For instance, if I were to give a person something that they saw as having the ability to better their life, but then suddenly changed the circumstances so that whatever I gave them could possibly cause harm, regardless of if it actually caused any harm or not, this person would likely be upset at what I did. But on the other hand, if before I gave them the item, I told them about how the circumstances would change and they understood the risks, they would (should) not be upset if they accepted the item and it ended up causing them harm.

What can be taken from this, is you shouldn't effect someone's life without their prior consent. In many instances though, a judgment must be made simply because what you may do will effect so many people, it is not feasible to ask them all. In cases such as this, one must consider whether societal consent has already been established. An example of such a situation is whenever a person drives a car. Cars pollute, they are loud, they may look ugly, but even though they have so many negative effects on a large number of people, society has accepted their everyday use because we industrious humans like to get stuff done (and also because we may not have fully understood all the effects cars have at the time of their invention).

Another important mechanism resulting from this theory of morals, is who has the right to judge another's actions? Most of the time, this is obvious, as there is an action and subsequently an effect on someone or something else. The party effected by the action is the rightful judge of whether the action was acceptable. But there is the potential for complicated situations, where individuals may not have the capacity to understand what is going on (children, mentally ill) so their guardians or whomever is caring for them at the time should have a say. Finally, a third aspect to the notion of judgment rights would be deciding if a person who passes a judgment upon another had no right to do so. An example of this would be those individuals who claim homosexuals are immoral because of their relationship preference. These people are not affected by what the homosexuals do with their lives, so they have no right to judge.

To fully understand what this theory implies, it should be realized that 'morality' is not something fundamental that guides our lives in a very strict sense of what we should be doing. It is more of a guide for living peacefully amongst one another. No one is wrong if they do not pursue a completely virtuous life, or if they act in ways that may be inconsistent with how they've acted in the past, or if they choose to live under the rule of another individual. What is 'wrong' is consistently doing things that affect others in a negative way, and only because you hurt the potential relationships you can build with those people.


Mackenzie , Mary Margaret. "Plato's moral theory", Journal of Medical Ethics, 1985 Vol. 11, pg. 88-91

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphyisics of Morals. Republication. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Arp, Kristina. "Moral Obligation in Simone de Beauvoir's Ethics of Ambiguity". Accessed 6/5/2010

Monday, April 19, 2010


I bring forth two pieces of work I acquired over the weekend in celebration of record store day (aka we invented this holiday so you spend your goddamn money on us day). Here they are:


I had heard of this band many a time before, but I never took the time to check them out. When I saw this nice package for six bucks, I decided now was the time to finally look into them. I was not disappointed.

What we get here are three tracks: Gravelord, off their 2008 album An Overdose of Death, as well as two previously unreleased tracks, 666 and Suicide Eye. The result is just under six minutes of satanic sack kicking thrash sure to get your head banging from beginning to end.

A Storm of Light & Nadja [split] - Primitive North

At first, I wasn't sure what to make of this. A Storm of Light struck me as being a bad Neurosis rip off, but given that guitarist/vocalist/visionary behind this outfit, Josh Graham, spends some of his time working on the visual end of Neurosis' live act and album art, it is probably better said that this is an extension of the collective mind that is Neurosis. Their contributions to this split, the tracks Brother and Sister, exemplify this through the slow, crushing riffs and dark ambiance that alternate from one to the other over the course of side one.
Nadja, on the other hand, is a two piece set hailing from Canada, delivering an epic 20+ minute trance inducing drone composition titled, I Make From Your Eyes the Sun. I found myself liking this more than I first realized. The fusion of repetitive riffing and plenty of electronic textures has made it a stimulating track I can put on while getting lost in my studies.
The place where this record really shines in on the two remixes each band did. Nadja remixes Brother and ASOL does I Make From Your Eyes... The latter is in my opinion, the best track of them all. Pack a few bowls this 4/20 and see where this sucker takes you.

Toxic Holocaust:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What is truth? pt. 1

Truth is something I believe to be altogether objective and subjective at the same time. This may seem at first to be a blatant contradiction, but let me explain.

There exists an ultimate truth in this universe. This is the objective truth, that which cannot be disproven, as it is the embodiment of whatever it is being debated. An example of this would be the statement "We exist." If this were not true, we wouldn't be here to contemplate whether it is or not. This is Truth.

Where then, does truth become subjective? In most everything else, I would answer. The subjective truth is a product of one's perspective. A product of what one sees, feels, hears, smells, tastes, and understands. It is easy to understand perspective in a spatial sense, but what does it mean when I say that it is a product of one's understanding? For one, perspective of understanding is not opinion. Opinion is something to be had when truth isn't relevant, such as when I say "Opeth's third album was their best one." In the debate about which Opeth album is the best, it comes down to personal preference; there is no truth, therefore the notion of truth is irrelevant.

Perspective is something you hold to be true, but really might not be on the larger scale of things. For instance, the classical mechanics of motion were once considered to be Truth, but when Einstein proposed his theories of special and general relativity, it became evident that the laws guiding classical mechanics were really simplified approximations of those in relativity. My point here is the things you may consider to be true are not in fact Truth. Another perspective may fall upon your mind that forces you to change what you believe about the world.

I plan on expanding on this topic much more, but I need to get some things straightened out first, as even this short bit turned out to be quite difficult to write down in a manner I feel comfortable I won't be misunderstood.
Also, April 17th is Record Store Day, so go out and support a local independent business in celebration, I will be (which also means a new rip will likely be posted soon).

Friday, March 19, 2010


We are a divided people. It seems that of the most important things in our lives, debates on healthcare, the economy, climate change, terrorism and war, human rights, civil rights, all the things that will define our age when history looks back at us, we are at odds with one another about.
Where do these disagreements come from? Is this how it has always been? Has there always been an onslaught of misinformation coming from all sides aimed to discredit the opposing views? What makes one view right and another wrong? If there really is a definitive right and wrong out there, for claiming to be an intelligent, rational species we are incredibly irrational; As this would mean a large portion of us fail to see the logical 'truth' on many issues.
This is an incredibly disheartening realization. I have many questions and very little answers. But it is my objective to come to terms with this dichotomy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Religious Perspective

The evolution of the human mind has been a remarkable one. With history, we are able to look back upon the things our ancestors did and didn't do to learn valuable lessons on how we should live our own lives. The most difficult things in doing this, though, is to first look at history with a perspective unbiased by the social, cultural, moral, and political climate we live in, and second, to attempt to empathize with the perspectives of people living in the past to better understand why things were the way they were. Of course, this is merely using the evidence presented from the writings and artifacts of old to make educated speculations on the conscious and unconscious mind of people we never personally knew, but having the insights that may be extracted from this is much more valuable than no insight at all. To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Consider now, how our era can be compared to previous ones; particularly in a sense of religious belief. There are people around today who practice the same faiths that have been practiced for thousands of years, but due to the advances in science and technology most of these practitioners do not devote themselves with the same fervor to their faith that people in the past have. A large number of people have even shed faith altogether and claimed atheism. This of course is not a bad thing, but I do believe we had lost a part of ourselves when "God died," as Nietzsche so bluntly put it.

What is it that we lost? Purpose. We lost what we believed to be our purpose in existing in this world. When the masses believed in God, particularly that of the great organized religions, they lived to worship and serve God. They did this for the promise of salvation after leaving this world for the afterlife. This was a human being's purpose on earth, whether they consciously realized it or not. Ever since the scientific revolution shook the human mind with ways to naturally explain the world without God, we have been unconsciously scrambling to find meaning in in a cold, indifferent, mechanical universe.

So what have we found to fill this void? We turned to science and technology. We placed ourselves onto the pedestal on which God once sat. There was nothing the human mind cannot conquer, our technology brings comfort to our lives and stands as a testament to our greatness. This was the zealous fervor we had at the beginnings of the scientific revolution. As time went on, we lost this momentum. We began to encounter the problems this mentality brings with it. And there was still a nagging feeling of spiritual emptiness beneath it all. So what did we do? We ignored the problems and began to consume more. Why not, as that is all we can do in our short lives, right? If we compare this to the religious mentalities of old, we have in a sense reverted back to a form of narcissistic, earth worshiping paganism.

The fruits of this lifestyle aside, the problems that the cult of consumerism brings are ever more daunting. Anthropogenic climate change, seemingly constant wars for resources and domination, the stresses of a highly competitive working world, these all are taking their tolls on the minds of people worldwide. We cannot sustain this forever, lest we be forced to live with the guilt of destroying a planet's ecosystem while at the same time oppressing others for the very fact that there are not enough resources on this planet to allow 6+ billion people and growing to enjoy the same lifestyle we do. We cannot revert back to the old religious mentality of serving God, though. To do so would be to cling to an archaic way of life. It may be difficult for some to understand, but the God of old is dead. He is never coming back.

What can we do, then? I will offer you a suggestion. Having wrestled with this dilemma for some time, I came to this conclusion. This is the mantra by which I live my life.

The sense of purpose our ancestors enjoyed through the worship of God must once again be turned to. We must use it differently this time, though. If we consider ourselves to be smarter, we should recognize the idea of a guiding purpose as the tool that gave structure to our existence it once was. We should then personally wield this tool, instead of having it's power centralized in the figureheads of various religious institutions. It is a fusion of the things learned through natural science and the ways of living before that revolution. Humanity cannot only manipulate their environment but can also manipulate their mind.

How can we manipulate our minds? Through learning and gaining different perspectives. That is all that really matters in this world. Unlike material items, you can never take away an idea or thought from someone. This is our purpose - to learn. Being open minded, attempting to empathize with different perspectives, and accepting or rejecting things based on what you already know is the most efficient way to better yourself. It goes beyond what you materially have and don't have, and to preoccupy yourself with the obsessive need for those things stifles your personal growth.

Go into every moment of your life looking to find something new, some new idea or perspective, scenery or art that you find strikingly beautiful, a new rhythm or melody you've never heard, in a seemingly infinite universe the possibilities are endless. See it, appreciate it, understand it, move on. After some time, the quest for money and useless material crap begins to seem a bit childish.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thou/Salome split - Our Enemy Civilization (2009)

I had the privilege of picking this up from Salome personally when they came through NYC last Thursday. Let me first talk about that show.

SALOME IS FUCKING AWESOME. To see a band like this live is to experience how they are supposed to be heard. No high end stereo system can compare to it. Somehow, Rob Moore is able to get crushingly low frequencies out of his guitar, which leaves no need for a bassist. That's right, a sludge band with NO BASSIST. He also manages to write some of the grooviest riffs I have heard while keeping it crushing (see: With Hell For a Mouth from this release). Drummer, Aaron Deal reinforces this with rock solid skin thumping accentuated with quick passages that hit like a hook you never saw coming. Finally, singer Katherine Katz is a demon. There is no way a mere mortal of her stature (5'1" I believe) can shriek and growl like she does. Watching her bare her teeth while screaming til she was red in the face was something I will never forget, and hope to see many more times in the future. They opened for Wolves in the Throne Room and the already legendary Shrinebuilder, but they were easily the best act of the night. They played both tracks from this split, three new ones, and one from their self titled release. Mr. Deal did inform me after the show that they should have a new full length out this summer. Fuck yea.

On this release, we get two tracks each from doomers Thou and Salome. The Thou side is good, but I got this for Salome, as you could probably already tell.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wolves in the Throne Room - Malevolent Grain (2009)

This wonderful EP is the precursor to WITTR's full length Black Cascade. One track on each side of 12" 180 gram vinyl, played a 45 rpm. Pure earcandy.

Jamie Myers (formerly of Hammers of Misfortune) offers her hauntingly beautiful voice for the gloomy psychedelic black metal masterpiece that is "A Looming Resonance."

You are then reminded why WITTR is at the forefront of American black metal with "Hate Crystal", a relentlessly driving composition that leaves you invigorated with the energy of a primal and pristine wilderness.