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Monday, November 11, 2002

Post-Post-Modern Ethics

The human need for an ethical or moral standard is apparent in everything one sees in life. Especially now in these terribly “amoral” times we live in. The questions I would like to raise are, to what do we owe this need, and is it possible for this need to be overcome. By overcome, I do not necessarily mean through discipline or some such self motivated effort. On the contrary, I would suggest that it can be bred out of the species, and moreover, that similar social evolutions are currently taking place. But from whence has this come? That is the more intriguing question. At what point in human development did we find need for a system of right and wrong? For the sake of this writing, I will be dismissing any Adam-and-Eve notions of divine guidance. If that is the reality of it all, these questions are fruitless. And if so, so be it. But given god’s lack of hopping forward to help his dwindling creation, that idea can be very nearly put to rest.

First, let us examine the social systems near the development of the first ethicist: small tribes, hunter-gatherers just learning the magic of agriculture. The development of social systems themselves is an incredible topic as well, but we will not delve into it here. We are assuming now that the people are just entering what could be called a pre-moral social organization. Now, somewhere between there and Caesar, humanity developed ethics. We must consider a few options here:

1. A moral system developed on its own out of an innate human need for guidance.
2. A few people in power wanted to stop the crime of the day.
3. We are, and have always been ethical creatures.

I believe the 3rd option may be taken off the table for its sheer absurdity. To this day and throughout history, one can see that people are not basically good and must have a structure of good forced, or at least gently nudged, onto them. The proposition that a system of ethics developed itself is intriguing. However, such a complex system is highly unlikely to completely develop itself. One might argue that civilization, in its basest form, developed on its on. However, upon viewing the evidence we have concerning the development of civilizations, it becomes obvious that such early gatherings of people arose out of a common need. Be it food, protection, or simply companionship, there was a need to be filled. I propose that ethical systems developed for the same reason. A need had to be met. That need, was control. The people in power at the time must have been having a difficult time controlling the growing numbers of people in their tribes. You can see today how hard it is to get someone to do something just because you tell them to. Threats work, but they can damage one’s image and create a mutinous atmosphere. How much easier it is to get someone to do something because they should? Because it is the right thing to do? This was the beginning of ethics, as we know them today. Specifically, Judeo-Christian ethics. The Hebrew people were nomadic and fractured, the development of their ethics brought them together and holds them together until this very day. I cannot fault the designers of this plan; they have accomplished more than they could have dreamed. I do not wish to besmirch them, only to expose them. The issue I leave to you, however, is this: Do humans now crave simply morals, or to be controlled?

Now, to my second question, can (or should) such a need be bred out of our species. As I have stated, I believe it can. Also, I think that a process much like that has already begun. I believe what the right-wing sees as the fall of morality, is not quite that. It is simply a mutation of morality. Morality is not being erased. The need for it screams forth from nearly every person on TV, regardless of the degree of each’s atheism or agnosticism. The experiment is not one to attempt to erase the need, but to exploit it, to corrupt it even further. Is it not nobler, then, to retreat from the force? To attempt to circumvent the control? One must realize that a single system, no matter how well planned or implemented, cannot function well in ANY given scenario. It is each persons right, dare I say responsibility, to accept only that which commonsense can allow. For many, this may be a well-established system of political or religious beliefs. And who am I to question a man’s judgment? But there are people who do not respond to random and arbitrary stimuli, be it positive or negative, people whose lives do not mesh with a given system. These must reconcile in themselves a plan, a system to disembark the need and accept what they are, a judge with no law.

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