Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Moral exemplarhood

I'm reading a very interesting article written by Ryan Indy Rhodes and David Kyle Johnson in the Batman and Philosophy book called, What Would Batman Do? Bruce Wayne as an Exemplar (2008, pp. 114-125), where the authors argue that the fictional Batman character has as much right to 'belong' to a list of moral exemplars that have actually existed in history (Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, etc.):

Although most readers probably don't need reminding, let's consider some examples of how Batman exemplifies moral virtues. Justice is a constant aim of his activities, not only in the general sense of fighting crime and protecting the innocent, but in more particular endeavors...(p. 115)

-the authors list an impressive demonstration of Batman's commitment to a 'moral code' in dealing with 'real', individual people as well as the villains (symbols) he is sworn to struggle against. But...

Since Batman is a fictional character, it would seem that he cannot be referenced by language. That is, because Batman is not real, sentences about him do not operate in the same way as they do about things that really exist. (p. 117)

The finer points of the authors' argument are compelling and interesting; I would tend to root for their argument whole-heartedly. The two lines of reasoning above are similar to the ones I proposed in Socrates the Man somewhere in this blog.

But there is a sweet irony in this particular paper: if we should deny Batman membership to this 'elite' list of real historical exemplars for the simple fact that Batman is fictional, perhaps we should re-examine historical figures in light of the inevitable embellishments of tradition and demand the same standards of them.

An 'exemplar', you see, is best interpreted semiotically rather than lexically: it is more an embodiment of a set of idealized characteristics than it is in reference to a person. After all, "What is a pond"? -depending on who and what you are (a dragonfly, a person, a frog, a bird, etc.), what makes a pond a 'pond' changes because your needs and emphases change (even from season to season).

Yeshua ben Yosef is my Lord and Savior, and no historical treatment of His figure can change that: He is an embodiment; He is an inevitability; He is expressed in the Nazarene (John 14:6). Period. Full stop.

But I also admire the Batman character. And, for different reasons. The Batman is not only psychologically-real, but psychologically-real that instantly makes him more than a fancy, a whimsy but a well-developed and highly adaptable (ie, stable) characterization of moral exceptionalism.

He has a certain integrity that is preserved across a broad spectrum of backgrounds and re-tellings. Miller's Batman (though the most original telling, to be sure) is inherent and adumbrated in the earlier iterations by other writers. There is an ineffable pedigree linking everything. Even Adam West's Batman has his place in this substantive mythos.

In the Inuit tradition, the Batman figure is very familiar, more so than the Christ figure (though Christ is readily accepted by Inuit): Kiviuq, for eg, is a 'normal' human being cast into exceptional circumstances. He is flawed but ultimately perseveres. And the story continues...

However, Inuit do not somehow mistake the Kiviuq character as someone real: he is an exemplar of human curiosity and ingenuity. Where he goes and what he does is restrained by the seasons and geography. These features are not obvious but may be justifiably extrapolated in each 'episode': it is autumn when the story begins because Kiviuq becomes lost in a sea storm and lands to a place where the bumble-bee woman ultimately 'invents' ice that traps him before he can qajaq safely away; in one episode, Kiviuq has to traipse across a gigantic cooking pot (ie, hunting area) where in one end  he jumps onto seal blubber (ie, Marble Island) and hops over to a series of ribs (ie, Belcher Islands on the other side of the Hudson Bay).

Each telling is different but, throughout, Kiviuq exhibits exquisite sensitivity and sensibility towards animals that he encounters (another hint to times of year) that justify Inuit hunting culture as much as are expressed by a realistic 'person' in Kiviuq that we may try and emulate and strive to be.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

A note on continuing translating The Little Prince

Someone left me a note on my Inuktitut translation of The Little Prince which got me thinking about resuming the translation—actually, I've been thinking about it before. What kind of stumped me a while there was looking for an Inuktitut name for the planet Jupiter. I think there are names for some planets but I'm beginning to doubt there is a name for Jupiter in Inuktitut.

The Little Prince—by the French writer and poet, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry (1900–1944)—makes reference to Jupiter near the beginning of the story. Though hardly important to the overall telling of the story, a seamless reference in the translation is what I prefer; I think italicizing Jupiter will work just as well...

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Batman and Philosophy: the dark knight of the soul

I accidentally...no.

I couldn't help but open my birthday present early this year. In it was a book called, Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, ed. Mark D White and Robert Arp. It makes an immediate disclaimer: "This book has not been approved, licensed, or sponsored by any entity or person involved in creating or producing Batman, the comic, the film, or the TV series."

What an excellent read.

Well, the form is a bit fomulaic in the beginning. Compare this entry in a Standford search engine for published papers in philosophy: entry: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-deontological/ but once the authors of the Batman book get into contrasting 'deontology' and 'consequentialism' with 'virtue ethics' things get interesting quickly (virtue ethics, says the author, "emphasize character traits, called virtues or excellences, rather than judging specific acts (as deontology and utilitarianism do)." (James Digiovanna, Is It Right To Make a Robin?, p. 21)

This 'virtue ethics' approach looks very familiar to IQ and its notions of 'education'. In discussions where I listened in on and contributed to, the Inuit elders who participated said that IQ education aims to "make a (whole) person" (ie, inuliurniq - lit. 'making of a person') who is able to think and problem-solve even in the middle of nowhere with only what he's brought himself.

Digiovanna continues:

Virtue ethics also takes into account differences, such as differences of character, the different roles people play, and the different cultures in which they live. While he strives to uphold abstract moral principles that he thinks are always right, Batman seems to understand that different sorts of characters demand different sorts of actions. Not everyone should be a Batman or a Robin. The specific character type needed to be a superhero is not suited to everyone, and society demands different roles from each of us. (ibid)

Not only are we all unique as beings but that every event in time is itself uniquely unfolding; it has a beginning and an end (Inuit elders everywhere always says this). How we respond as ethical beings has some influence in the outcome. The Inuit elders spoke at length about the issue of suicide by Inuit youth...the contrast is poignant:

...Plato and Aristotle (384-322 BCE), emphasized building character, noting the importance of training someone to be ethical, rather than simply explaining how to be ethical. (ibid, p. 23)

Trying to be an ethical person is hard. It certainly does not come naturally: it accompanies grief and heart break.