moral fear

Ethical discourse, I suggest, is degraded and corrupted by fear.  I’m not talking about the healthy protective fear that flows from love, but rather the unhelpful power-grasping fear that is its own source.  Below I’ll suggest two equal-opposite examples of this power-grasping fear, and then I’ll offer a suggestion about a third, ‘middle’ way.

On the one hand, we can see a fearful response to ‘misbehaviour’.  This kind of fear is reactive, and wants to (at best) guide or (at worst) control human behaviour.  It often takes the form of wanting to ‘raise’ ethical standards, or perhaps turn back the clock to prior times where standards were ‘higher’.  The logic seems to be along the lines of:

  • People misbehave
  • People misbehave because they don’t know what is good behaviour, and/or cultural moral standards are too permissive
  • Therefore, to improve behaviour, more moral instruction and/or more strict morals is needed

On the other hand, there seems to be a fearful response, not to misbehaviour, but to the effects of perceived misbehaviour.  This, too, is a reactive fear, and wants to protect people from (at best) false guilt or (at worst) any guilt.  It often takes the form of ‘updating’ or loosening ethical standards.  The logic seems to be something like:

  • People harm themselves and others
  • People harm themselves and others because they feel acute moral guilt
  • Therefore, people will harm themselves and others less if we loosen ethical views that are too outdated and/or strict

The point here is not to say that morals never need to be adjusted in either direction.  Arguably, they can be unhelpfully permissive or unhelpfully strict.  The point has to do with the way that fear plays a role, both in the desire to make morals, ethics, and laws, more strict, or less strict.

As suggested above, fear can be helpful.  Among other things, we should have a healthy fear of false guilt. Auckland-based theologian Neil Darragh calls this ‘disabling guilt’, signalling the way that victims of it are disabled from feeling and acting and being as they should.  But this false guilt is flanked by what he calls ‘enabling guilt’, which – contrary to what we often hear – is actually helpful in that it assists us to face our wrongdoing, take responsibility for it, and amend our behaviour and grow morally and personally.

The problem with the two types of reactive fear above is that they tend to short-circuit moral discourse and reflection.  Fear cements people, cornering them into angry and aggressive (or passive-aggressive and condescending) dismissal of those they disagree with.

Patient discussion is better.  People may not instantly agree when it comes to a particular activity and whether or not feeling guilty about it is enabling or disabling.  But at least they might be able to understand one another.

is-for-ought-law

behold “the ladder of ethics” – a.k.a. an explorative conceptualisation of the steps we take (consciously or subconsciously – considered or assumed) when we deal with ethics/morals/laws/etc.

A while back, I did a post called ‘ontos|telos|ethos‘, and I’ll build on that, adding the codification of law (greek: nomos) to the scenario, hence, ontos, telos, ethos and nomos – or οντος → τελος → ηθος → νόμος.

  • Laws (good or bad, subjectively or objectively formed) are based on
  • ethical principles/opinions (good or bad, subjective or objective) which are based on
  • goals or ‘ends’ (good or bad, subjectively or objectively formed) which are based on
  • essence or nature – including what the thing is worth (good or bad, subjectively or objectively formed)

This is a strictly philosophical accounting of ‘the ethical ladder’ (as I understand it currently).  One can give a scientific or empirical accounting of laws, ethics, goals and nature – but it would of course be restricted to scientific (and thus prescriptively indifferent) modes of analysis.  No sorting a good law, principle, goal or nature from a bad one.  Just indifferent, numerical, statistical quantities.

* * *

P.S. – Interestingly, Christianity can be seen in terms of this ‘ladder’ with each rung being revealed through Love.

  • Laws  = the highest Law: Love
  • ethical principle  = do what is Loving
  • goals or ‘end’ = to become like God who is Love
  • essence or nature: all reality grounded in God who’s essence/nature is Love

india: different

So I should probably post about my recent trip to India.

I could give a ‘what we got up to’ report of the work our team did (some still over – some still yet to go) on the new Freeset T-shirts building.  But we didn’t only go as labourers – we went to observe as well.  Kerry took us on a couple of ‘walks’ to see the areas around Freeset, and also we saw other bits of Kolkata as well.  I suppose I’m more inclined to reflect on what I observed and the thoughts it brought to mind – many of which will still tick over in my head for some time to come. Continue reading “india: different”

teleology & ethics

The word ‘teleology’ (from Greek τελος ‘telos’ – meaning ‘goal’, ‘end’, ‘purpose’ or ‘that toward which things tend’) is not a street-level term.  However, the concept of a purpose, goal, function or ‘end’ to things most certainly is.  It’s a common as anything.  Teleology is blindingly relevant.

Continue reading “teleology & ethics”

pro-life atheists

In a very interesting find, this is a site of atheists (and agnostics) who are pro-life.

I think their arguments are (mostly) excellent, though of course it would be interesting to a) see how non-pro-life atheists would respond to them, and b) converse with them concerning things like how they determine (judge/establish/discover) the nature of human worth/value/dignity.

go bananas

Visit and fill out name/email and the site will send an automatic email on your behalf to progressive grocers – requesting that they stock fair trade bananas.

Now, you’ll also probably get an automatic reply from progressive about their ‘efforts’ – which includes a ‘voluntary code of conduct’, which (found here) initially looks/sounds nice.

However, upon a closer look, it seems like the usual coporate-ish reaction to such things.

“Oh, but we are already making every effort to be good, fair, better, nice traders.  No, really.  We’re not just trying to make money and be ‘progressive’… Look at our fancy code-of-conduct website!  It’s a whole 2 years old!  That’s how long our tradition is of caring about ethical business!  All the farmers/producers (in other countries!?) have to do is pay $50, fill out a complicated form, pay travel expenses for a ‘Ombudsman Representative’ to meet with you (no lawyers, sorry), and cut through probably about 16-thousand other pieces of red-tape…” et cetera, ad infinitum

http://www.produceandgrocerycode.com.au/accessmediation.htm (And I quote: “Applying to the Produce and Grocery Industry Ombudsman for mediation is simple.” emphasis mine.  Really!!??)

http://www.produceandgroceryombudsman.com.au/process.html (More quotes: “Once the Ombudsman’s Representative has been appointment, he or she will ask for any travel expenses to be paid in advance and will ask you to sign an appointment agreement which makes your meeting confidential between everyone there.” and on meeting the the ombudsman: “You must make sure that you have authority to make a final agreement without checking with anyone else. If someone else has the final word then that person must attend too. Lawyers are not allowed to attend but you can bring a support person. That person is not an advocate, just someone there to support you.
” Gee… thanks!)