Thursday, October 18, 2007

Universal moral imperatives

I just finished packing for the Dean’s Scholars trip to Ft. Davis in west Texas to see the McDonald Observatory. We leave tomorrow afternoon and get back on Sunday. I’m taking a bus with 40-ish other Dean’s Scholars, mostly first years, since we got priority in signing up for the trip. It sounds like it should be really interesting. More on that when I get back.

Monday morning I went to Kealing Middle School, here in Austin, to meet my mentee for the first time. He is an extremely quiet and shy sixth grader there. You may remember that I signed up for this over a month ago and went to the training last Wednesday. It was an interesting experience. First, Kealing is huge for a middle school. I can understand a high school having several halls and more than one floor, but seeing that in a middle school was not expected. My mentee, himself, has apparently only spoken English for a few years (his first language is Spanish), which the mentor coordinator I talked to said might contribute to his shyness. I think he’s just shy and quiet, as what I could hear of his speaking was perfectly understandable. Obviously, my challenge will be to convince him to speak up and express himself more… I was thinking “more clearly”, or something like that, but convincing him to express himself at all will be an accomplishment. Definitely a fascinating little project.

Wednesday, in Research Methods, we had a new speaker, a criminal psychology specialist who has, in the last few years, become interested in what he calls “universal moral imperatives” and the ways societies justify breaking them. It was, naturally, a fascinating lecture for me. His initial explanation of what constituted a universal moral imperative was, I think, poorly worded, as he loosely defined it as “a moral principle that a society accepts by consensus to have no exceptions” and provided as an example the principle “that life is sacred and should be protected”. When he asked us who agreed with him that such things actually exist, only three people raised their hands. Actually, at the time, I was not one of them. I have previously hinted at the fact that all things have exceptions (did you read my post on “Conflict”? That was basically an entire discussion of exceptions to his example.), and I could not agree that such a plain principle could “have no exceptions”. I liked the idea, though, and really was interested in the rest of the lecture. This guy apparently got his start studying drug dealers and prison inmates. He acknowledged several times that he is “attracted to the margins” of society, and he also at one point commented that he doesn’t really know what that says about him but that he has to live with it, anyway. Interestingly, he was able to talk with great authority about his universal moral imperatives without seeming to give away any strong moral opinions of his own. Late in the lecture, after someone finally asked about some point of his contradicting the notion of the universal moral imperative (He provided us with many chances to question this; right from the beginning, even, his explanation of what constituted a universal moral imperative was flawed.), he explained that such moral imperatives should be seen more as ideals than as applicable principles. I wish he had started by explaining that, as the dichotomy between ideals and reality is a subject I have pondered at great length. I look forward to seeing where he goes with his next lecture.

We had our second physics midterm Wednesday evening. It kind of snuck up on us, as the professor didn’t mention it at all before Monday. It was no big deal, though. The test was much easier than the worst of the problems we did in class earlier this week (some of which were really impressive) and some of its questions looked very similar to recent homework problems. We’ll be having the rest of our “second midterm”s over the next two weeks.

North Texas BEST Game Day is this Saturday. It sounds like I was about right; the team has practiced a lot this week and they sound like they are scoring well enough to have very good odds at getting into the final round. Since this is a robotics contest, rather than wishing them luck, I’ll wish them skill and cleverness.

Nothing really profound is coming to me in the insight department right now, just a bunch of unresolved thoughts and fragments of thoughts. I’m going to have to start digging a little deeper to really keep this up, as I’ve gone over most of my biggest thoughts already. As always, though, I welcome any comments you might have on mentoring, universal moral imperatives, life in general, or anything else.


Caitlin Whatever said...

I go to Kealing, and it's really kind of tiny. It's two floors with a new wing. small.

One For Logic said...

You think so? It's at least way bigger than most middle schools where I come from.