The Moralistic maze
By Chris Wilson
At first glance the concept of morality, and other related concepts, seem seems so very simple. We know we cannot act in isolation from others around us, and we know that morality benefits us all. We also know that morals, principles, and ethics, have been around for centuries and that, with distinction, they had stood the test of time. Finally we know that such concepts have been derived from thousands of years of expert philosophical, theological, and sociological study, therefore they must stand as true today as true they were at their point of conception.
If only all of this were true, but akin to lifting the bark of a fallen tree trunk on the forest floor, nothing is quite as it seems. During this chapter we well investigate what morality is, the positive and negative nature of the beast, and finally we shall assess the overall balance of both sides of its character. So let us lift the bark of the fallen trunk, and see what actually lies below.
So what is it that we are talking about, well in simple terms the following statements may be made? Morals are judgements made upon what is perceived as good or evil, or right or wrong. Ethics are principles of good or bad behaviour based on the study of morals and moralistic interaction, and moralistic principles are laws or assumptions based on moralistic codes of values or codes of behaviour . We are very sure, both individually and communally, of what is right or wrong, or good and evil, and in our defence, various bodies assure us that our belief is correct, but on closer inspection, whose values are we really talking about?
Theologians will tell you that such notions are derived from various deities who have relayed instructions, via a selection of prophets or soothsayers, so that we may conduct our lives in accordance his or her views.
Philosophers respect such views but state that such missives come from within the mind, and therefore only detailed examination of individual minds, or communal mindsets, can truly provide an answer.
Sociologists are far more practical stating that, though they recognise the good intent of both disciplines, true morality can only be formulated by the study of human behaviour and our interaction, for good or bad, with life that is all around us.
The problem for all three disciplines, and a problem for us as individuals, is proof. We have already established that definitive proof of our core belief systems is hard to find, but if we are really going to be told how to conduct our lives under external forces, or if we are going to set our own behavioural values, then surely some proof should be available?
Heretical or absurd though this may sound I would maintain there is no proof, and that all morality is based on guesswork, political or religious expedience, and or sheer desperation. As a result as can anyone genuinely claim any moral value that is good for all men, for all time, and for all circumstance? If this is true then ethics and principles must also be equally questionable, for if the validity of the root of the tree is questionable, then where does that leave the branches above? They are part of our make up however, so let us move on to the effect they have on our lives, and initially to the positive affect and use they can have for us all.
On a positive note they are a truly indispensable, as they provide a wonderful framework within which we can organise our increasingly busy lives, and a reference point through which new ideas or concepts of behaviour can be assessed. Such is the complexity of modern life that, both individually and communally; we do not have the time or the expertise to agonise over every aspect of how we should live our lives, or the knowledge to decide where our future paths lie. So it really is quite handy when someone in a position of acknowledged authority tells us how we should think, act or behave, or if such experts are not present, that we have an all-purpose guidebook to help us on our way.
Additionally when we accept a commonly held moral belief it means we do not have to think We can enjoy the comfort of communal conformity, ignore the disturbing possibility that everything we have been taught to believe in might be wrong, and avoid the unpleasantness of accepting any blame. Finally it provides us all with a mechanism by which we can adapt our lives so that we may not only co-exist with each other, but with other life which is always around us. If we look at how ethics affect us, again we need not look to far examples.
As regards global trade, think of fair trade deals and other ethical consumer trading patterns. Have we not improved the lives and the living conditions of so many poorer communities across the world? If we look at current medical debates are we not, ethically determining such issues as the future of our health services, the acceptability of genetic engineering, stem cell research, the right to die without prosecution, and a host of other medical conundrums and challenges that surround and worry us all the time?
Quite simply morals, moral principles and ethical judgements enable us to unravel issues which would otherwise be impossible to resolve, and allow us to come to terms with other issues which would be far to painful to bear. Under such circumstances it would seem that we cannot live without them, and that logically, they must be good for us, as how can anything with so much power and influence be bad? It would seem this is one free meal ticket that all of us can enjoy.
Regrettably there is no free meal ticket, and in the end someone has to pay. Sadly, both individually and communally, there is often a heavy price to pay. I talked earlier about the authenticity of morality, but it is different roots that I turn to now, and in particular our own roots buried, apparently, in the mists of time. The problem is they not buried, and like it or not they are still a powerful force even in our complex modern minds of today. It seems we are almost scared of our natural body and mind, and that through such fear we reinforce our moralistic disciplines so as to keep our deeper instinctive behavioural values at bay. Look back at the positive attributes of morality again, but now stand back and see what really lies behind the gloss. Let us look closely, and really be honest about what we see. We have extolled the virtues of convenience, peace of mind, conformity, security and peace to all on earth, and in a way such values all hold, but in doing so do they not drive us away from who we really are, and deny us the full use of our own mind? We ask our children to grow up, face facts, and live in the real world yet under the guise of morality do we not fail to do the same?
We despise the sneering bystander who shouts and screams from the sidelines yet refuses to join the game, and we vilify the pacifist who refuses to fight in the time of war. When we are at war, do we not glorify the freedom fighter that fights in our name, yet hound the terrorist who fights for the other side, yet are not such actions effectively one and the same?
Finally in this section what about world peace and long-term harmony with life all around? Yes there has been some peace where there might have been war, but the reverse has also been true, and the damage we have knowingly inflicted on the environment is by any standards extreme. Look at the effect or war, any war will do, and you will see what I mean. Destroyed bodies, haunted minds, and landscapes that still regurgitate the spoils of war years after the war has gone. Are these really the values that we would wish to pass on to the up and coming generations, and if we do wish to do so, how can any of us hold up our heads with pride?
This might sound melodramatic to some people, and it is perfectly true that unpleasant occurrences of such magnitude are mercifully few and far between. As such we can maybe ignore, to a degree, the moral implications that arise on such occasions, but what of our day-to-day lives, does morality have any role to play there? Few of us would deny it does have effect, but how many of us appreciate the full role it has to play? Is it not the case that from the moment we wake up, to the time we sleep, our lives are governed by moralistic codes, yet the only way that we can live is by selective screening and variable compliance of such principles?
Various darker implications of such a position will be dealt with in later chapters, but even if we choose simple examples problems soon emerge. Examples are all around us, but let’s look at just two examples and see where they takes us. Just the two, that is all we will need.
Ask any child about one of the moralistic rules of life, and the chances are that he or she will tell will tell you that honesty is the best policy, and that honesty always pays. Why so, because we, as adults, have remorselessly advocated such a policy and, in addition, we have intimated a punishment system should such advice be ignored? This is good, because as we all know honesty is such a noble and fine attribute on which to base our lives, why we practise it every day, we are good, we are responsible. Can we actually deal with total honesty though, and truly behave in the same way?
Lets begin with honesty about ourselves, let us assume we are operating alone in this world, and that we have no interaction with anything or anybody around us. Even here most of us fail, as how many of us have the strength and humility to see ourselves as we really are? Physically it is tough enough to look in a mirror, but if we analyse how we think and then how we act, how many of us could rest with an easy mind?
The next stage is where we find someone we like or love, and when they reciprocate our feelings in return, surely then honesty rules the day? Does my derriere look big in this, do you like my new shirt, what do you think of my new book, are you looking forward to spending Christmas with my mum and dad; the list goes on and on. Forget who is asking such questions, as some questions are unanswerable, while others are fraught with danger, and in all cases does honesty always pay?
Start a relationship and the real truth soon emerges, but such a truth has little to do with total honesty. However work calls, so escape seems to be at hand, after all we are all professionals, and above all else we are part of a team, and all part of one big happy family. Look at our boss, he tells us, all the time, with a dirty great big smile across his face. Why is he smiling, because though we all know the truth, he pulls the strings and as such he has far more control. Does that mean he can practise total honesty, probably not, as even he cannot do everything by himself. Even he has to keep you slightly on his side, but as regards team membership and workplace family values, the merit of honesty soon disappears. If we are in the front line of the service sectors life is even more farcical, for akin to being on stage honesty has little or no place at all. Honesty towards our workmates is a possibility, but honesty towards the client standing before us that is very rare indeed, and very little is offered in return.
Where does this leave most of us; lost, irritated and confused probably but at least we have diplomacy to fall back on; what a comic joy this turns out to be. A diplomat was once defined as being an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country and as such do we not always find ourselves in a similar position. White lies, porky pies, diplomacy; disguise it, or dress it up as you will, the true meaning of the brute will emerge in the end. Let us hope though that this is one cheek that will remain turned, for how many could actually deal with total honesty, let alone use the same currency in return?
I have known two totally honest people in my life, and it is fair to say that being with both could be slightly disconcerting. One used a gentle kind approach and that was fine, but the second individual acted with brutal sincerity and that very unnerving in the extreme. When conversing with the lady in question, I suddenly realised how much we lie all the time, how we desperately need to do so, and what a terrible mess we are in when forced to do otherwise. We all play this game with each other, every waking moment of our day, and thank heavens we do so. A Lifetime of honesty, for all concerned, what hell on earth that would be, but if we have the strength to admit such an outcome, isn’t it about time we changed our approach when we are dealing with children?
Should we really state that honesty being the best policy, and should such a position really be regarded with such great moral relevance and sanctity? What if we to promote such moral values as power tools in a useful kit bag? Such tools need to be stored, maintained and used carefully, usage should only be allowed once proper training had been received, and finally the right tool within the bag should be used in an appropriate setting. Given such a system we certainly might use a chain say to cut down a tree, but would we then use it to open a tin of sardines, or a similar item that we might chose? Take out the word chain saw and put in honesty, might not the same reasoning apply. Of course honesty is useful, as are many other moralistic stances that we deploy, but they are very powerful, and therefore must be handled with care.
Finally in this sequence we turn to global interaction, and honesty towards global communities, let alone with the natural world around us. We looked earlier at our ethical trading and global trade deals, but how many of us really care about communities, or individuals thousands of miles away, and how deep is our real concern for the worlds around us?
We pontificate about a fair days pay for a fair days work, turn bright green about carbon footprints, express love for our fellow man, and adoration for all nature around us. Then we go to the shops, built on green field sites, in our cars where we demand, as a right, cheap food, energy, clothing, and consumables. Even then we still then claim to care about the working rights and conditions of workers who have produced such things. How can we hold such views when our very actions make such opinions untenable?
The second great moral stance we preach to our children is the moral value concerning bullying, where we state, unequivocally, that bulling is morally wrong at any time, in any place, or for any reason.
At first glance this would seem an easy moral stance to defend as why should any individual or any group be allowed to oppress anybody else through intimidation, undue pressure, or plain mental or physical coercion. Ask any victim how it feels to be bullied and a tide of misery will flow, including such evils as denial of freedom, speech, movement and liberty, and potentially irreversible deterioration of self-esteem, confidence, self-respect, and self-belief; let alone a whole raft of other possible consequences.
If this is so why do we still see bullying, where do we see it and, if we encounter such behaviour, should we, from a moralistic, practical, and natural position try and stop it occurring?
First things first ,why do we still see bullying, after all shouldn’t such an evil practice have been condemned to history centuries ago? If we all lived in a pretty fairy tale world, and swam in an everlasting sea of decency, equality, and love, for all life as we know it, then I am sure we would have seen an end to bullying years ago, as there simply would be no need for such a mechanism to be deployed.
Unfortunately most of us live a more pragmatic existence, and though bullying is an unpleasant concept, most of us would admit that bullying can, at times, prove very useful, as by following such a course of action, much time and energy is saved. We prefer not to get our hands dirty of course, so we will often try to avoid direct bullying ourselves, but if others agree to do the bullying, and we somehow gain by their actions, then it becomes more acceptable. Even better is if we gain an advantage, and we have no knowledge or direct contact with the bullies in question. Then we can truly ignore our troubled conscience, after all, if we have no power to control, or any influence, the can we really be held to blame.
Finally if we do have to get our hands dirty by becoming the bully ourselves, we can always say we are only following orders. After all if we are being bullied by authorities higher than ourselves to become bullies, and we are powerless to resist, then what choice do we have?
Are we simply not pawns in a much bigger game of chess that is being played at a much higher-level way beyond our control? History is littered with such instances, and I am sure that the future generations will litter the planet in the same way so it seems that, like it or not, bulling is here to stay.
If this is so where do we see such bullying? Everywhere; in all walks of life; and in all ages; and under nearly all conditions. This might sound harsh, but when most of us consider bullying, how often do we consider it’s full extent within our society that we know and love so dearly, how often do we really care to consider what is going on?
For most of us bullying occurs either during childhood or possibly at work, and examples of this are very easy to find. While this can be the case we always claim that, under such conditions, such bullying is nothing to do with us, and secondly that little other bullying occurs, but I wonder whether this is true?
Over the years many of us have deliberately, or accidentally, become parents, and in doing so we would claim that we have never bullied our children, or anyone connected with them, but is this really so. Children are often unaware why we as adults give them orders, and they often do not have the power, understanding, or authority to fight back against our commands, so what happens when we give them such commands as “just do as I tell you!” or “don’t argue, just do it; now!” or the old chestnut of “you are too young to understand, mummy/daddy knows best!”
Look back at how we have defined bullying, don’t such actions, deeds, and words fit into such a category? If we enter the workplace are we not, in part, guilty of bullying. We all want the best of all worlds so how often do we seek to strengthen in house allegiances, or seek to pursue a career regardless of who is in the way? Even if we are at the bottom of the ladder do we not try to ingratiate ourselves with management, or with union representatives, so we might benefit from the power that they may yield?
Do we stop there, certainly not, for even if we ignore numerous other examples of how we bully each other individually such as denials of personal privacy, and non consensual intimacy, do we not often practise bullying as part of a much larger group? Such areas will be in greater depth in the Chapter Extended Family Values, but what of the, suppression and vilification of legal yet socially unpopular groups or individuals, and potential restrictions of their speech, movement, and liberty, all of which freedoms we would claim as our own.
We may view such actions as self or communal protection against one of more communal ills, but are such actions not bullying all the same. Finally what of our relationship with all other life around us? When do we consult resident wildlife in an area that we wish to develop, change, or strip of its assets? How often do we consult such residents before we restrict their food or water supply through such a development, and when we do so, how much consultation is there before we restrict their access or remove their homes? Of course I am not saying that we can engage in a meaningful discussion with the resident wildlife, such a suggestion, although fascinating and tempting, would obviously be absurd, but call it natural law, call it survival, call it what you will, can any of us claim we are innocent of bullying?
Finally we come to the most thorny and difficult question of all. Is bullying ever an acceptable form of behaviour, morally, practically, or naturally?
The moral position, as has been already stated, it is very simple. Bullying is vile, cruel, and counter productive, and morally it should have no place within a humane and civilised society. We have already seen that any moral authority may be at best questionable and at worst non-existent, so that means we can take up any moral position we wish. In addition moral formation and accreditation has been going on ever since the mechanism of morality rumbled into action, so why not give this particular moral judgement some credence, it seems as good as any, and we all enjoy the feeling, if not the reality, of following such a rule.
When we move towards practical application things get rather more serious, as we all recognise that it is one of the most ugly forms of human activity. It may seem that the stance I am taking means that I have never been bullied, how could I, or others in my boat, possibly take such an open minded view, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I have been through bullying, both at school and at work, and at school such bullying nearly destroyed me mentally, with some memories haunting me until this day, but despite such ordeals, I cannot state that bullying is wrong. Unpleasant certainly, soul destroying, vile, and cowardly, oh yes most assuredly so, and even after so many years I would still wish to mentally shred the three bullies that made my life such hell, but I cannot condemn bullying as such. This might sound strange, but if we look at the natural role in life of bullying, doesn’t a very different picture emerge?
When we look at the world around us isn’t bullying one of the most common and most efficient ways that any life form can continue living? Darwin called it the part of the survival of the fittest, Scientists talk about food chains, and environmental adaptation, while believers of many faiths believe it to be divine intervention or directed natural order; but call it what we may don’t we all seek to gain what we need, by whatever mechanism is at hand. When times are good we might be able to hide from such a truth, but when we are testing our strength through childhood, or if our personal or communal values or needs are undermined, can we really state that such actions are wrong?
When I was at school the bullies saw me, quite rightly, an easy target, and boy did they have fun, until I fought back via a well honed, and well sharpened, tongue. It was, briefly, my turn then, although I termed it self-defence of course, not bullying. As regards our larger society, how often do we turn on minority groups, how often do we see looting, theft, or physical intimidation when our law and order system breaks down?
In both such cases, as well as other instances do we, in reality, see bullying? Where does this leave us practically, between the devil and the deep blue sea possibly, but if we cannot rid our character of such a force, maybe we should follow the maxim of better the devil you know than the one you don’t. We seem to have coped with this brute for millions of years, so maybe we should carry on trying to minimise such an animal as best we can. Some things in life simply cannot be avoided, regrettably bullying seems to fit such a bill, but all is not lost for some actions can be taken. Awareness, education, and true understanding can at least partially negate some of the damage caused, and we should support any individual or group trying to achieve such aims; but we should not, and cannot, ever ignore who we are naturally and the natural life cycles that surround us. We are part of nature, that is one thing will never and can never change.
So it is we come towards the end of this chapter on morality. Where does that leave us, we have to do something, for, as we know, life will carry on? In an ideal world we would not need morality, as we simply follow our own instincts, emotions, and desires, and live our lives in the same way that the rest of nature enjoys. Nature is a contrary beast though, and such are the parameters by which we exist, we simply cannot live that way. We have to exercise some self-control as a species, for if we were given complete freedom to act totally naturally, the damage we would cause would be beyond belief. How do we generally do this? We invent, deliberate, and agonise over human rights, and the seemingly simple concept of right and wrong. Finally we implement laws so as to regulate in practise what we have theorised so far, and judicial experts to keep such laws in trim. This is the area we investigate next, and what an area this turns out to be.
- Upon The Subject Of: Moral Truths (kyleontheshore.wordpress.com)