By Alex Bunard, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

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What Does It Mean To Do No Harm?

This is a fundamental question of morality. For people who don't believe there is such a thing as morality, the problem is non-existent; for them, there is no way a person can do any harm. For the rest of us, doing harm certainly is possible, and consequently we hold the view that it is wrong to do it.

Consider the following illustration of the morality dilemma: someone goes out and kills another living being. Does that amount to actually doing harm?

It is largely dependent on the context: if a lion chases an antelope and kills her in order to eat and survive, such an act could hardly be called doing harm. If, on the other hand, a bored human shoots and kills an antelope in order to try and get some entertainment, that act approaches what many of us would call harmful behavior.

So, in a way, the situation is quite simple: whoever behaves in a natural way can hardly be accused of performing harmful acts. When hungry, we have to eat. If the food is not readily available, we must do something to provide for it. If it means fishing and hunting, well, that's a natural thing to do, given the circumstances.

This definition leaves open the question "what does it mean to be unnatural?" Many of the topics discussed here will be focusing on this question. It is not a trivial question, and therefore will require taking a variegated look at many facets of the human spirit and culture.

Morality -- Human Justice And God's Justice

With the advent of scientific discoveries and the subsequent applications of these via various technological breakthroughs, the spiritual and religious forms of morality have begun to deteriorate. About a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago, the belief that there are ways of living that are "beyond good and evil" became quite widespread. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche was the most prominent bearer of such news. His philosophy made a very deep and long lasting impact on the ways typical humans who live in a western society think. Soon, this "beyond good and evil" message had degenerated into the "beyond right and wrong" dictum. The masses, who felt liberated from the bondage of Christianity-imposed moral laws, have cheerfully embraced this new mentality. Thus, the world of unbridled materialism had flourished, proclaiming that there is no right or wrong, as long as you do not harm my material possessions. This is the stage where the Human Justice has largely replaced the God's (or Divine) Justice.

Many people feel that the Divine Justice is not really fair: it expects us to make sacrifices in order to reap the rewards in the afterlife. However, this simplified, childish message is actually the result of a gross misinterpretation of the religious teachings.

The alternative -- the Human Justice -- is based on the mind-bogglingly simplified and stripped down picture of the world. It results from an act of measurement and comparison -- a very vulgar criterion indeed. It is a very simple fact, that could be brought forth by a little bit of sensitive observation, that one cannot plainly take a whimsical yardstick and apply it to any situation one finds suitable. What would this "whimsical yardstick" be? Most commonly, it would be some grossly simplified rational construction. Something like "we are all equal, therefore we should make sure that the material possessions are spread out equally". This results in the lifeless, crippling arrangements that stifle human creativity and instigate huge and faceless bureaucracies that inevitably collapse under their own weight (witness the outcome of the biggest project of social engineering in the history -- the Soviet Union).

Justice (human or divine) must be based on something more fundamental than rational thought. Rational thinking is linear, and it forces everything to behave in such a way that it forms straight lines and seek the shortest pathways "from A to B". Reality, as can be easily demonstrated, shows no inclination towards conforming to this rational dictum. Rather than toiling in order to coerce the reality to conform to our beloved rational thought, it is much more productive to make ourselves more sensitive to the facts. We should not bend the facts so that they support our rational picture. We should bend our interpretations so that they respond to the facts.

And the fact is that everything has its proper place in the world. The trouble is, we may not like this fact (and we typically don't like it). However, it is utterly childish to blame the facts for not playing along with our fantasies.

This "proper place" fact is the manifestation of the Divine Justice. At this point, a very interesting Turkish story may illustrate this principle better than any explanations:


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