Friday, 25 December 2009

Compartmental Conscience.

I describe our human ability to have a selective conscience as "compartmental conscience". This term enables us to visualise the way we put bits of our conscience into different boxes in our minds, separate from other boxes, and the way we take things that we don`t want to have a conscience about and set them aside into another box. This process allows us to function even when different boxes/compartments have contradictions with each other.

Lets look at some examples:

I was prompted to write this blog after seeing video footage of youths tempting a swan to the riverbank with some food, only to viciously kick it in the neck, killing it outright. The TV program then showed a vet operating to save the life of a swan that had had it`s wing broken in another savage attack. The bird lay on an operating table and the vet amputated the wing. The swan`s blood triggered my mind to visualise a similar scene where the bird would be a turkey or chicken being prepared for eating and I imagined that the vet would happily sit down to a roast chicken, yet was here using all her skill to save a bird. This is an example of compartmental conscience. In one mental compartment she is eating a bird, and that compartment says that it is OK to do so, yet in another mental compartment she strives to save a bird. It is the compartmentalising of conscience that enables these contradictory actions to take place, the closedness of each compartment in the mind allowing guilt-free actions in one mode and conscienceful actions in the other.

We see this pervasively in the relationships around us. Someone may bully a friend or a spouse, or whomsoever, on the one hand, and be decent and kind and morally upright on the other. One mental compartment will justify being abusive to one person whilst the another compartment will not allow such behaviour at all. Indeed, it can be the very nature attached to one compartment that propels the moral or immoral behaviour of another. A typical situation would be the compartment we make when we want to justify being unkind to someone: We may be respectful and kind and loving to this person most of the time, but when we want to be unkind we create a compartment with a label of justification...Something like,
" so- and- so forgot my birthday, so I am justified in not speaking to them."

We as human beings want and need to be in a mental compartment that is comfortable and approving of our actions..We see this in religious practice, for example, where people cleave in order to furnish approval for themselves, both from within themselves and from the community in which they live. But where there is one area where we obviously strive to be good, there are others where we are less than good people. Religion can be excellent propaganda for us as "good people" and can help us to feel good about ourselves, yet it can also convince us that other bad actions are acceptable/allowable given that we are so good in this one area. And this we see all around us, a sort of trade-off between compartments, that lets us off the hook as far as guilt is concerned.

So what consequences are there, in the broader picture, of compartmentalising our consciences? Well, cruelty, discrimination, racism and bullying, demonisation and witch hunting, are all products of compartmentalising. We see it in the Nazi ability to demonise Jews whilst they maintain normal, non-paranoid, relations with their families and fellow countrymen. We see it in gang-mentality where violence can be inflicted against "outsiders", or other gangs, but not towards their own. We see it in criminality where a compartment allows shoplifting or burglaries. We see it in society wherever we look.

Bullying..... and I mean all types of bullying....compartmentalises the one to be bullied by some judgment that will enable bullying to take place without there being conscience to prevent it. You have to put someone in a box as "different from others" in order to allow your conscience to get away with it. We thus see that doctors, for example, can be exemplary towards most of their patients, and yet will put a patient whom they don`t like or maybe have damaged in some way, into a separate box labeled "problem patient". The placing of this patient into another category will enable the conscience to switch off in regard to this particular person and the doctor can be rude or even medically abusive without any conscience at all.

We need to be aware of compartmentalising in our interpersonal relationships and in the wider world. Whilst it has many damaging affects, it can also enable our better nature to thrive and function normally.

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