There are many people in my limited world who I appreciate and like a lot. Some of them think the meaning of morals is “behave in such a way that you always follow the shared values and virtues as a good person”. Personally, I do not really see morals as something all that positive. Consequently, here is what I reply when I hear them talk:
So what exactly are morals and ethics? What exactly are values and virtues?
And then I come up with examples and ask them what is “morally” the correct thing to do:
- “Being in favour of order and peace” or “openly demonstrating for freedom by marching on the streets”?
- “Progress and change are a good thing and come at a price” or “Progress or change must never be an end upon itself”?
- “You have to go and vote!” or “You can refuse to vote if this is how you voice your protest”?
- “It is a human right to drive your car as a matter of course!” or “It is a basic human obligation to do without a car altogether, because too many resources have been destroyed already.”?
- “Let everybody feel free to fly as much as they desire!” or “Going by plane can only be the Ultima Ratio.”?
- “In sexuality, freedom need have no limits” or “You only should do it with one partner and your sexual practices should be limited”?
- “Women have the right to dress loosely” or “Women have to cover everything that is not supposed to be seen in public”?
- “Prostitution must be forbidden” or “Demanding fairness for those who prostitute themselves.”?
- “Women must have long hair, men must have short hair” or “Everybody may wear their hair as they wish to!”?
- “Removing body hair is hygienic and beautiful” or “Removing body hair is amoral(!)”?
- “Shorts are a normal thing to wear, even in business” or “Wearing a suit and tie is obligatory in business!”?
- “Strike is a NOGO when public interest is violated” or “Going on strike is a social obligation.”?
- “You have to have a fence around your property” or “You should not fence in your property.”?
- “Everybody must be willing to die for his fatherland” or “You have to become a deserter when war is threatening!”??
I could easily come up with many more examples.
But then: WHO can, should, must, may decide what is wrong and right?
Ethics try. They want to find a compromise between various positions by seeking a consensus that matches both the society and the times and try to legitimize said consensus. But ethics, too, always fail.
There are even “ethics commissions” which want to and are supposed to answer the difficult questions of life. Instead of consensus, however, all they ever come up with is compromises – which are just as flat as their attempts at justification. Yet those compromises are then heightened to become “new” morals.
Morals almost always will turn out to be (either consciously or subconsciously) “know-it-all” behaviour driven by interests.
“You” simply know what is right and wrong. “You” basically own the “truth” and can tell others what they should do. “You” can therefore assume you are better than your fellow citizens.
As I see it, “morals” will mainly generate enemies and frustration – and it will also cause defiance. All too often, the “moral rules” are nourished by questionable sources, such as religion and its equivalences. The collective constructs of systems that put themselves beyond and above human beings with their dogmata decide what is “morally correct” and what is not.
The consequences are hatred, arguments, conflicts, fear, intolerance – and war! Both on a small and a large scale.
Well, those are my arguments against the firm belief in morals by some people. Yet I can well understand those who are in favour of morals. Because if you no longer believe in morals, then this is like someone took away the carpet of life you have been walking on. After all, we all have been “morally educated” and have become more or less victims of our own moralism.
As soon as we leave the protective gear of morals, we must go and look for a meaning in our personal lives and behaviour. And it is not always easy to find a balance between what you found and what you perceive as social reality (and its morals).
I wrote this article for the community “Strategische Moral” in Google+.