Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Unmarked Game

Assume you are playing a new game in a foreign language. Now, there are many actions you can do in the game, but since the instructions are all in weird runes you can't really know the effect of each action. All you know is this- some actions reduce your score, and some actions increase your score. There are a few other people playing the game, but none save the host seem to be able to read the language. The host seems very disinterested in teaching everyone the game, and just murmurs a few words here and there when "explaining" what some actions do.

Under such circumstances, what action would be the most optimal? It might be entirely valid to act according to your interpretation of the host's crappy instructions. Alternatively, you could follow the crowd, and adopt the set of actions that everyone seems to play; surely that would be a safe move, to adopt the wisdom of the crowd? Or, in the absence of any real information, and knowing the possibility of negative scoring actions, would the best move be to not play any actions?

What a pointless game, you might think. But is it really so? I sometimes think that morality and ethics is such a game. It is clear that not everyone agrees on what is the most moral or ethical. Right and wrong are often argued about, sometimes with little agreement.

Should one act upon one's convictions, to trust one's moral compass, regardless of what others think is right? Is this not unlike the first strategy in the hypothetical game earlier, relying on one's understanding and interpretation which too can be flawed?

Or, would it be wiser to act according to the norms of the day? People ought to know better, but is that not a problematic assumption? It has led to startling travesties in history- at least, judged from our own dubious perspective.

Now, if one admits to knowing nothing, then perhaps one might choose to do nothing. Though nothing good is done, but hopefully nothing bad is committed. At least, if one does ignores the "if good men do nothing" idea.

My thoughts are that the first type of people would either commit great good, or great evil (if the problem of judging morality was to be sidestepped). The second seems to be a lazy and irresponsible approach, though it is also most often irreproachable. The final type seems to be overly passive, but I am attracted to its agnostic and neural nature.

Of course, if the unmarked game were to occur for real, a wise crowd would evict the host, and agree on a best way to understand, interpret, and play the game, to hell with the original rules which might never be known or revealed.

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