Monday, August 8, 2011

Dualism vs. Materialism

Dualism – the belief that we are both physical and spiritual beings – is essential to our lives, relationships and legal system. Without this belief, society as we know it will be vastly degraded. For one thing, without the spiritual component, we lack any stable identity as people or even as humans. Perhaps a hypothetical meeting between two materialists – those who claim that we are merely the sum total of our physical parts – might prove illuminating.

Josef Mengele was in charge of human experimentation at Auschwitz - Birkenau, the Nazi death camp. His extreme cruelty earned him the title, “angel of death.” He secretly escaped to South America where he successfully avoided capture until his death, 34 years later. In this fictitious dialogue, he is finally cornered in an empty bar by a bounty hunter, Richard Mawkins, both of whom love to talk philosophy.

MENGELE: You’ve got the wrong person, Mawkins. I am not the Josef Mengele of Auschwitz. You see, during these 30 years of exile, every chemical in my body has been replaced. I therefore am not the same person. Our identity is a matter of our materiality. Therefore, I’m a completely different person than the Mengele who ran all those so-called diabolical experiments. It would therefore be a gross mistake to take me into custody.

MAWKINS: Very clever, Mengele! You are a man after my own heart – devious and unprincipled. We are both materialists who don’t believe in ghosts, like an unchanging immortal soul. Even though such an immortal soul provides a basis for believing in our unchanging identities and our guilt, we both have the courage and wisdom to reject such ridiculous fantasies. They’re for sissies, not for men like us. However, you are making a significant philosophical blunder. Your identity and consequent guilt do not rest upon your material substances but rather in their organization – their DNA.

MENGELE: Mawkins, did you know that I have an identical twin. He has the same DNA as I do. Would you therefore regard him as guilty as “I” of my so-called crimes against humanity? After all, we are genetically identical! Does this make us the same person? Of course not! Besides, no one believes in your preposterous notion that we are our genes and consequently, the my brother is me. If that were the case, my brother would have been arrested long ago. Therefore, you can’t appeal to DNA as the basis for our individual identities.

Did you know that I had wanted to clone an entire army of “humans.” Of course, they would all possess the same DNA. But would this mean that they were all identical, without their own identities? I think not!

Once again, I must inform you that I am not the Mengele of Auschwitz! Besides, I’m now an old man with many ailments. I don’t think that they will throw me into prison.

MAWKINS: Mengele, I must admit that I have underestimated you, but there is something that you fail to understand about my contract. If there is no conviction, I don’t get paid. Besides, if I bring you in dead, I am guaranteed my bounty. I guess I’ll just have to kill you. No disrespect intended, of course. Actually, I’m growing to admire you. But I am a materialist, after all. And, as you said, you are just an ever-changing sack of chemicals, without any personhood that extends beyond your chemicals.

MENGELE: But that would be wrong to kill me. I’m a human being, and I have my rights!

MAWKINS: Mengele, you are indeed funny. You know better than that. How can you claim to be a “human being,” when you even deny that you are the Mengele of Auschwitz? If your changing materiality provides no basis to prove that you are the same Mengele of Auschwitz, then how can your materiality establish the fact that you are a member of the human race? As you point out, “you” are always changing. How then can you claim to fit into any one category, if you are different every day! “Humanity” is just a label we’ve invented to convince ourselves of our superiority. Actually, there is only a continuum, a solidarity between all living things. The distinctions we make are just passing and illusory.

And who has given you “rights?” Aren’t our rights just arbitrarily given at the caprice of the government? They no more real than our changing identities! Materialism has no room for the fiction of “rights.” Rights are merely manipulative tools that the ruling class extends to the masses in exchange for their compliance.

Besides, we’re all different in terms of the physical, some more evolved than others. As such, we have no reason to believe that we’re better than the pig. In fact, the pig might have a superior sack of chemicals than what your sickly body now contains. Why then should I treat you any better than I would a pig, especially if it’s going to cost me my bounty? I’m sure that you understand that, Mengele.

MENGELE: Spoken as a true materialist! Mawkins, I admire the fact that you conduct yourself without insincere sentimentality. You know that materialism has no room for those silly conventional values! You refuse to escape to the world of imaginary values when things get a bit tight and the rules of the game need to be changed. I was never that way. I never shed tears of repentance for the things I did, not like that cry-baby, Albert Speer. We are two of a kind. I’d consider it an honor to be slit as a pig with your knife.

MAWKINS: Mengele, I really hate to do you in, but that’s just my genes talking. As you know, business is business.

What makes us who we are? If we are nothing outside of our component substances which are always in flux, then when I say that I am “me,” what can that possibly mean? Also, when I say, “Here’s a picture of me when I was five,” does such a statement have any meaning? In other words, can a materialistic worldview provide the continuity for life, truth, and justice in the way we have enjoyed?

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