Friday, May 06, 2011

On The Celebration of Death of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden is dead.

I have been reflecting about the crowd's jubilation and celebration over his death, and how ethicists are at a dilemma of whether or how to justify our reactions. I think the explanation comes down to the very core of human nature - we are still animals regardless of how we would like to think of our established civility and morality.

The reason war, schadenfreude, and revenge are so much easier to do, and I dare say prevalent than love, forgiveness and peace-keeping, is that we are hard-wired to behave this way. Even though we were taught to believe in "人之初性本善" (the human nature starts out with kindness), I don't think we need to teach a kid how to revenge a bully, whereas it takes a lot more effort to inculcate the value of forgiveness. In neuroscience we have the fight-or-flight circuitry built in as part of the basic neuro-circuitry, but there's no such anatomical equivalent for love. I am not a neuroscience expert, but from what I could deduce, morality, love and forgiveness remain a higher-level, cerebral level of mental function, whereas hedonism, aggression, animosity towards enemy, herd mentality etc remain the domain of more primitive human behaviourism.

In the case of OBL, I think a lot of people hold such profound hatred towards him that the primitive reaction has overwhelmed the moral code of not celebrating a person's death. I don't really think too negatively of the crowd reaction, I think it reflects on just what we really are. Ethicists are fumbling over things that are really outside their domain. If someone revealed a national security secret after waterboard interrogation by his enemy, would you blame him for being unpatriotic?

Image credit: FBI - Ten Most Wanted