Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Epistemology versus Ethics

A local, recently gender-reassigned nanny drove a car which featured the following bumper sticker:


While sympathetic to the sentiment expressed, believing, as I do, that reality, taken in the totality of its sordid, mundane, and astonishing details, is nothing if not outrageous, I felt nevertheless rankled.

Said rankling arose from my even stronger belief that the unstated logic of the proffered statement – “If you are not responding in a specific way, then you are not perceiving reality as it truly is” – serves as the logical underpinning of political, ideological, or religious fundamentalism in every form.

My work on Germany’s Red Army Faction (aka, The Baader-Meinhof Gang, a much cooler name, IMHO) led me to rebel against and reject “the unassailable logic of the next step,” as Norman Mailer called it in The Armies of the Night, insisting instead that there is no ethical norm inherent in the physical world, including, and this is the real scandal, the human world in all its perplexing complexity.

It is one of the benefits of being human that we can simply observe. While sense stimuli – a flashing light, a gunshot, an electrical shock – do indeed provoke hard-wired responses, and the body may involuntarily behave in a specific way based on the type of stimulus, this becomes less and less the case as we consider more involved levels of cognition.

Sunlight reflecting off a passing car may make us squint; recognizing the driver as our mortal enemy could make us cry out in fury or turn away or remain impassive. Conscious, attentive perception, thankfully and sadly, does not produce an automatic, programmed, and necessary response.

Still, to a certain way of thinking, the true outrage is human freedom.