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


WP said...

You might not think negatively of the crowd's celebrating, but I do. There is a difference between feeling glad that someone is dead, and doing the actual act of celebrating. It might be in our nature to want revenge, but we don't have to show it to the world. Especially when everything we've learned (morally, ethically) tells us that it's wrong.

As for ethicists...are they fumbling? I don't know what there is to fumble about...humans aren't perfect, after all. Or are they afraid to tell the majority that they're wrong?

Anonymous said...

Little is required to exact vengeance than to forgive. To hate is easier than to love

ShouFarn said...

The fact that its easier for us to hate rather than love speaks volumes about our neural make up, actually.

Anonymous said...

I think WP has a point - does science furnish us with a moral compass, or does it merely through the act of purported explanation justify what already we want to do?

I think it is important to note that just because something can be explained in terms of motivated behaviour doesn't necessarily justify it.

- bluez

changyang1230 said...

Allow me to clarify that I am in no way letting science become the moral compass, and I was in no way trying to justify the morality of these celebrations with science. We could very quickly go down the spiral of eugenics and Godwin's law if we go there. What I intended in this post was just to provide an objective observation and explanation of why people did what they did, instead of whether it's right or wrong. Yes I did say that I don't think to negatively, but that's not because I exonerated the act, it's more because I looked at the root of these action and realised that these people are not evil in their very core, they are just reacting to their primitive urges.