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For my money, here's my take on them, if I would draw a line down the middle of the page and categorize them, I think I would do it this way. I'd actually put the first three dilemmas together and I'd put the rainy night in Manhattan as a separate category. How is this dilemma different?
Well the way I'd describe it is with a boxing analogy, in every good boxing fight there are two boxers, there's boxer number 1 and there's boxer number 2 and that's the way you can visualize any moral dilemma also, as a combat match between sort of two competing ideals. There's got to be two things that are battling each other, otherwise there wouldn't be a dilemma, otherwise the answer would be obvious.
So let's try and name those two forces, or the two boxers in the ring for each of these dilemmas. Back to dilemma number 1, let's try to identify the boxers. Boxer number 1 - this is going to be ring number 1 and this is going to be ring number 2. Okay so what would you say the first competing value is over here? What sort of boxer do you say? Are you going to help your daughter, are you going to help your mom? So you have obligations towards both. Here it's really your obligation as a parent on one hand and your obligation as a child on another hand. You're a child of your own parents and you have obligations towards your parents, and you're a parent of this child on the other hand, so the question is, which is going to take precedence?
All right, so let's go to the next dilemma here on our list, the respirator. What would you say the two sides are over here? So on the one side you have - you might call this sanctity of life, the idea that under no circumstances should you play G-d and kind of take life early. On the other hand, you have what you might say quality of life, the woman is never going to wake up, she may not want to live life in a vegetative state. You would have to balance sanctity of life on the one hand versus quality of life on the other hand, how would you balance those? So those are the two boxers there.
Moving on to our third dilemma, basically the idea is on the one hand I would say honesty; you don't want to lie if you don't have to, and maybe even if you have to, you don't want to lie. On the other hand you've got loyalty; Bob is your friend, he's asking you to come to his aid, so which trumps which? Does your loyalty to Bob trump your commitment to honesty? Or does honesty trump your commitment to Bob, your loyalty to Bob?
In each of these cases I would argue there are very clear boxers on side number 1 and side number 2. We can identify those boxers. But if you go to the last dilemma, it starts getting tricky. What are the two boxers here? Well let's talk about why you should leave a note? You should leave a note, it's the right thing to do, again it would be honesty. So honesty says leave the note. Now what is the competing value over here? What's the other possible value which is battling honesty? Why shouldn't you leave that note? So the answer is, there's no competing value, you can't really come up with another competing value.
But now the question is, one second, so why then is there a dilemma? If I've got one value over here and there's no other boxer in the ring, so then why isn't it a forfeit? How come there's a dilemma at all?
But there is a dilemma, and the truth is the reason why there's a dilemma is because there is another boxer. What is the name of for that boxer? What really is the thing that's keeping you from just being honest and leaving a note? It's that other boxer, what do we call it? The answer is that boxer is actually a boxer named desire. It's that you don't want to leave a note. It would cost you money to leave a note. You do not want to leave a note. It's your desires.
But the interesting thing about this is that that is not how the dilemma looks to you. In other words, if you actually put yourself in the shoes of somebody who is in this situation, they don't think of it that way, you don't think that way. Let's think about how you think of it. Okay, so this time let's replay the dilemma but let's do it with that - along with that little voice inside of you that's talking to you, sort of illustrating the two boxers as your mind presents them to you.
Okay so it's this dark and rainy night in Manhattan, it's kind of stormy outside and here you are, and you're parking somewhere in this street over here, and you go do your thing and you come back and you're pulling out and just as you're pulling out you hear this kind of sickening, crunching sound. You don't know why, but you stop and you look, and lo and behold, there's this gorgeous, beautiful Jaguar behind you, with this big, huge dent in the hood. You think to yourself, oh my gosh, I really - I guess I really should leave a note.
But then your mind starts talking to you and you say, well I don't know. I mean, before I leave a note, I don't know that I'm the one who put that dent in the car, it could have been dented before I came. Anyway, there's this crushed coke can in the gutter, maybe that was the noise, when I ran over that coke can, it wasn't the dent, the dent was probably anyway there. What am I going to do? I'm going to leave a note because maybe I put a dent in that guy's toy? I mean, that Jaguar wasn't there when I first parked there, he pulled up - what was he doing pulling up so close to my truck and parking that thing over there? I mean he shouldn't have been so careless to park so close to me. And anyway this is what insurance is for, the guy is rich, and the insurance companies are rich, what am I going to do, I'm going to leave some note? It will probably get washed away in the rain, and if I do, then he'll come after me? This is what insurance is for. I would be a sucker if I left a note. He wouldn't leave a note for me, you think that rich guy is going to leave a note for me? I'd be crazy. I'm not a fool.
What kind of ridiculous - and by the time you're done with this kind of conversation, you've convinced yourself that actually it would be virtuous, it would be positively virtuous, for you to walk away. That's how your mind presents it.
Well welcome to the world of good and evil. In the world of good and evil the boxer named desire never shows up as desire, he always shows up as something much, much more virtuous than that. He's a phantom boxer, always cloaked, and you have no idea that what's really talking to you, the real boxer there, is actually your desire. Just the fact that you don't want to leave that note. Desire will dress up as anything but desire, the people who commit the greatest evil in the world, one of the most frustrating things about them is, they're never convinced that they're actually evil, they're always convinced that they're doing the world a favor. Even Hitler convinced that he's ridding the world of undesirables.
So getting back to our list of boxers, the difference between all of these is that these guys are real dilemmas; there's actually two competing values in each of these dilemmas except for this last one, there is no competing value, instead there's just desire. Desire perhaps masquerading as a value, but at the bottom line it's between what you know is right and what you want to do. And what you want to do may have the ability to convince you that this isn't right, that this in fact is wrong.
The ancient Sages of the Medrash actually had a fascinating way of talking about this, they tell a kind of parable about a mountain and a hill. They suggest that when a person dies after 120 years he goes up to heaven and at that point the angels show him his evil inclination. You get a chance to see your evil inclination. So it depends if you were a righteous person, if you were an evil person. So it turns out that they say that if you show a righteous person his evil inclination he looks at it and he says, oh my gosh, that was a mountain, how did I ever climb the mountain? That was the hugest thing in the world. If you show an evil person his evil inclination, what he sees is a hill and he says, oh my gosh, I can't believe it, how come I wasn't able to scale up that hill? That thing was nothing.
Now at face value this is counterintuitive, you would have thought that it would be the other way around, that the evil person would be looking at the greater evil inclination, that's why he was evil because he had such a greater sense of passion and desire to confront. The righteous person well he was righteous because it wasn't so hard for him, he didn't have as big of an evil inclination. But in fact the Sages tell you the exact opposite, that it's the righteous person with the mountain, it's the evil person with the hill, why?
A friend of mine, [Rabbi Danziger 10:24] once suggested to me an idea which I find compelling and I want to share it with you. That in fact the evil inclination in both cases is exactly the same. It's just a matter of perception. The difference between the righteous person on the one hand and the evil person on the other hand is whether they gave in to their evil inclination, whether they gave in to that part of them that was trying to get them to just follow their desires without looking at what was right and wrong. Now the nature of desire is that if you don't fall for it, it looks huge, it looks impossible, it's like the macadamia fudge torte, it's like how could you possibly resist the macadamia fudge torte, it looks so delicious, it's oozing with caramel, it's the greatest thing in the world. But of course after you eat the macadamia fudge torte it's like, that was it? Like 20 seconds and five hours now in the gym to work this off? I don't get it. So if you look at your evil inclination after you've given into it, after you've given into it you could see it for what it really is, it's just a little hill. But if you haven't given into it, it continues to look like a mountain, that's the illusion of desire.
So getting back to Maimonides, if we think about the pre-tree world and the post-tree worlds, if we just summarize, what he seems to mean is this. The question is how do you relate to desire? Mankind is always going to have desire whether it's pre-tree or post-tree, that's part of what it means to be human. But the question is what's my perspective, what's my relationship in desire? In the pre-tree world I stand outside of desire. I can sort of evaluate it objectively and I can try to choose right and wrong and when I do I'm making choices between true and false. I'm looking at something objective, I'm asking myself, what does my creator want? What does my maker want? If I get it right I arrive at the true, if I get it wrong I arrive at the false. I can also see desire and I can choose if I want to give in to desire, but if I do that then I know that I'm giving in to desire. Again, I can choose desire over what I know is right, but if I do so, at least I'll know what it is that I've done.
That changes kind of in the post-tree world. The post-tree world when you take this tree, the fruit of this tree, this dripping with desire and you bring it into yourself - when you bring desire into yourself all of a sudden you're sort of off-balance. You begin to look through desire's lens, through the filter of desire and now my choices look different. There's ever so subtle a subjective element injected into my choices, it's no longer a clear choice between true and false, but it's a choice between good and evil. I'm never really sure if what I consider good is truly the morally right thing to do, or maybe it's just what I want to do?
I'll see you again soon, and we'll pick up the discussion from here.
1. The Lullaby Effect
2. Kinds of Questions
3. The Mystery of the Pre-Tree World
4. The Tale of Two Trees
5. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle
6. The Primal Serpent
7. A Perplexing Temptation
8. A Naked Paradox
9. A Snake in the Garden
10. Beasts of the Field
11. Beauty and the Beast
12. What Does It Mean to Know?
13. A World of Broccoli and Pizza
14. Are All Dilemmas Created Equal?
15. The Phantom Boxer
16. The I of the Beholder
17. The Filter of Desire
18. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey
19. Epilogue: God as Knower of Good and Evil (Premium)
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