The Grand Myth of Objective Ethics
During campaign time, many of us may note that the words "ethics," "values", and "morality" are continually bandied about, by both left and right, as if we all agreed on what they meant. None of the political moralists ask the meta-ethical question: Why should we be moral? And what does morality really consist of? Obviously, it is in some people's interest to be moral (and to have others be moral); it is in some people's interest to be "immoral" (and to have others be what we might term "immoral," or act immorally). The needs of the moralists and immoralists are certainly going to clash sometimes. Imagine the requirements and goals of the following groups: teetotalers vs. bar owners and brewery owners; vegetarians vs. cattlemen; Kern residents subjected to refinery air pollution vs. petroleum executives; schoolteachers vs. pornographers, etc.
Moreover, does Corporate America (or international capitalism ) operate on moral grounds? I think not. In fact it's debatable that those of us counted among the marginalized have a duty to respect the law. It certainly is not pragmatic to hack say a personnel database and get the SS#'s and DOBs of state employees and then open credit accounts in their name, but it might be in some sense justifiable. Robbing say Larry Flynt OR Bill Gates or Harvey Weinstein does not seem, in principle, unethical.
Morality is not simply about being nice or even respectful; it's about creating an ethical society based on entitlement, on the notion that everyone--except perhaps for criminal psychopaths--has a right to participate in the economy, to the best of their abilities. Malthus and Darwin would have something to say about this as well, however--what is the status of values and morality during a famine, or plague, or warfare? Little to no status, to be sure.
Expecting humans to all suddenly become ethical (or rational) is about equivalent to expecting the barons and baronesses on the Forbes 400 list to start doling out cash, with no strings attached, to the millions of needy and impoverished.
I think it was Bertrand Russell who said that teaching people to be "moral" is nearly impossible, but teaching logic and rationality is possible; therefore, we should focus on developing intelligence rather than simply do-goodism, and with that intelligence hopefully morality will increase as well. But someone like VI Lenin certainly had some pragmatic strategies for bringing about a more economically-just society. So did, say, John Dillinger....
Deep thought for the day: humans, even ones that can program computers, spin integrals, or compose symphonies, are far more animalistic (and acquisitive, hungry, greedy, lustful, etc.) than any traditional ethics or philosophy portray them as, and any attempts at rational ethics are most likely doomed. The great liberal myth of the "rational man" is a sentimental fiction, useful to justify capitalism and greed.
"Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun." Mao
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