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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Putting the "Care" in "Kerosine"

Back in November of 2003, in the context of considering a relationship with someone when I knew it to be a bad idea, I wrote:

Maybe it's more, and has some deep symbolic significance I'm missing. The possibility is clearly there. Reading Tristan and Isolde you get a feeling of fate and of individual fulfillment in the sacrifice to another. Reading Romeo and Juliet you can't help but understand the futility and ferocity of, respectively, stopping such an immovable force and the force itself. But does anyone really think in these terms? Or do they just, irrationally, participate in this silly dance because they are compelled to by something they don't really understand? Is it really so irrational?

Taking the leap is something I think is fundimental[sic] to being a person. You have to have faith in something, and having it in someone seems as good a chance as any. Taking the leap isn't really so cataclysmic, and after all, sometimes it doesn't end, and people don't come crashing back down to earth. Every once in a while people sprout wings and learn to fly... and that's all that really seems to matter.

I've been considering this idea a lot recently, not just in a relationship context, but in others, as well. Rationality is one of the hallmarks we ascribe to respectability - someone acting outside of their own self-interest is branded, at best, as foolish. There's something uniquely human about the rational mind, and there's something about those who achieve the apex of rational accomplishment that commands respect. The Nobel Laureate, the engineer, and all of the other Randroidian wet dreams. These are the folks to whom we are instructed to emulate as best we can.

And yet, human tradition similarly dictates a counterpoint to the rational and hard working. Take, for example, Thomas A. Baker, who recieved the Medal of Honor during World War II. I suggest you read the entire excerpt, which concludes with the following:
Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier's pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker's body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Were the actions of Sgt. Baker rational? In this case, his success seems to indicate that they were - his company was able to better accomplish their mission, and there was an overall preservation of life accomplished by his actions. The optimal outcome, in this case, involved Sgt. Baker's risk. But what if he had failed? If he had, during his attempt to get around a fortified strong point, been shot in the head and killed instantly, rendering his unit less effective and less likely to succeed?

In other words, is the evaluation here consequence oriented? Would it be right to say that his decision to attack the enemy ought to be calculated against expected probability of success versus advantage gained, or at least, his own perception thereof?

One of the propositions I've never been able to resolve is this question of consequence. When anybody performs any action, it creates a ripple of unforseen consequences that could result in anything from saving a life, to a twenty car pileup. It seems a copout to say that all that matters is the individual's perception of consequence, and whether they took due precaution in avoiding overt negligence. If the important portion of an action is that someone consider the consequenecs, then the outcome of an action is, in a de facto sense, immaterial. Either you have to accept consequences outside of the forseeable, or you have to ignore consequence entirely. Anything else seems to induce a pretty spectacular dissonance.

Even within the category of intention, the outcome determinant portion seems secondary.

I'm curious: what do you people think? What is the important part of action?

cranked out at 2:22 PM | |

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