Friday, July 30, 2010


This is of no terribly deep significance. It’s just two photographs of a sculpture from different perspectives. And let me assure you this isn’t a trick used by manipulating the camera, the difference in perspective is also true when you are standing there looking. The effect is also intentional. The sculptor set it up so that it looks at first like the fox is chasing the rabbit. That is the view you get entering the garden. Later, when you have done the tour and you are on your way out, you see the second perspective and realize that they are really in it together.

I bring this up for two reasons. First because it is possible to have language go on holiday here and imagine that the sculpture is making a deep moral point when it’s really just a cute trick.

We could do this because we talk about moral perspective too and we could go on to say, it all depends on where you stand when you look at the problem. And suddenly a contrived illusion begins to look like it’s making a deep point.

There was a deceptive advertisement (deceptive in several senses of the word) for the Guardian back in the 1980s that used this dishonest trick. It showed a skinhead running towards a little old lady. We all assumed the worst until the last moment when the perspective changed to show us that the skinhead was pushing the little old lady out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Very cute but does that somehow make the skinhead movement with its overt racism okay? (And this isn’t an ad hominem slur 1980s skinheads were proudly racist and violent. Which raises a troubling question: Why did the Guardian think it was okay to use a series of visual tricks to deliberately misrepresent what this movement was about?)

This, of course, also comes back to the question of moral argument and teaching. Is it really okay to say, this is one way of seeing the issue but you may decide on another? I don’t think so.

The second reason is to advertize the Kingsbrae Garden in Saint Andrews where I was yesterday afternoon. These are lovely gardens and well worth the $12 admission I paid.


  1. I'm not familiar with the Guardian or the ad you refer to, I assume the Guardian is a newpaper and somebody was trying to clean up the public perception of the Skinheads. This is what public relations "experts" here do for a living, for politicians, movie stars, even--God help us--high profile victims of crime, essentially anyone in the public eye who has or might have an "image" problem, or is trying to land a book deal. Hopefully people didn't fall for the ad you refer to and presumably the Guardian could have chosen not to run the ad.

    But there is, of course, a bigger issue here about perspective. I think of the old native-american saying (and 60s or 70s song) "Walk a mile in my shoes," (which my mother never hesitated to remind me of when she thought I needed reminding). I think that people do make maybe not all but some moral decisions based on their own perspective, experience, or circumstances and I don't know that is avoidable or even not a good thing. I'm not just talking about self-interest here, e.g., deciding whether or not to help someone based on "what's in it for me," or what is euphemistically referred to today as "enlightened self-interest." I see this all too often and it sickens me. But I think people can and do bring their own life experience to the weighty moral issues and I think that is a good thing and should inform the debates. We're never faced with moral issues in a vacuum, but always within the context of particular circumstances. Should the old woman on a fixed income be prosecuted for stealing a can of cat food to eat herself because she has no money for food after paying for her life-saving prescription drugs and household utilities? We can all agree that killing another person is wrong, but we make allowance for it under certain circumstances: self-defense in time of war or on a city street, and capital punishment. Ethics to a great degree is about reconciling competing moral claims or principles that come into conflict with one another and deciding which principle will trump under specific circumstances, and sometimes there is no ideal option, only the less bad of limited possible options. And what is moral can vary between circumstances. I think the Golden Rule--do unto others as you would have them do unto you--still holds up as a moral compass. It doesn't provide an easy answer despite its seeming simplicity, but I think its maybe the only universal "starting point" that most people can agree on.

  2. Kingsbrae Garden looks beautiful, well worth the $12 admission.