Friday, March 23, 2018

Going Martin Luther King, Jr., One Better

3/23/2018—Martin Luther King, Jr., used to say, echoing, I believe, Theodore Parker, that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Aside from whether this is so, it suggests only the category of history. Slavery was unjust, so it had to go, eventually. As did Jim Crow.

But why should this be so?

For a Christian like King, the answer was presumably that God oversaw history.

But what if we eliminate the word, moral, altogether?

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Now our category includes everything, including science.

But how is the statement to be understood? Through evolution. As Frans de Waal has shown, human traits of generosity and love are continuous with our nearest animal relations. Humans are different, but also similar. As Tom Berry writes, we are an expression of the universe. The universe through us bends toward justice. The universe made us this way.

People say to me that our best traits evolved naturally—they gave early humans an evolutionary advantage. The curious human found the best hunting site. The generous tribe kept the wisdom of the elderly alive. And so forth.

They say these things to demean these traits—they are only self-interest. But what this story shows is that the universe is on the side of reason and love. Well, good for the universe.

But the same thing is true of purpose—what E.L. Doctorow denotes as living in moral consequence. Humans all have the sense that what we do matters. This also evolved. If it is an illusion, as many argue, then humans are not well adapted to the universe. But why should we assume that? The universe went to a lot of trouble to create a self-conscious creature who felt her actions were intrinsically important—morally significant. Why not give the universe its due and proclaim that the universe chose beings like that. The universe is on the side of our purpose, of meaning.

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