“Imposed philosophical morality will not save the world. Only a calculated, tangible plan to alter our circumstances so such actions pose no merit will stop ‘immoral’ behavior.”
-Peter Joseph, Defining Peace
Rather than commit what follows to a post, I wanted to commit it to a page because I want to write (briefly) about something which I think has an empirical permanence. That is, I want to say a bit about (the relic of) morality.
THE PROBLEM WITH PHILOSOPHY
Let me preface this by saying that when I took philosophy in high school, there was a whole main branch devoted to the study of ethics, and the teacher, Mr. Shaw, drew a clear distinction (one I will not be drawing here) between ethics and morality. The exact nature of that distinction escapes me now but this actually serves to reinforce the following point: Even as someone who aims for precision in my language, I have no use for philosophy which splits hairs on the definitions of terms like ‘morals’ and ‘ethics.’ With all due respect to Mr. Shaw, I abhor philosophy like this which consists of lofty arguments and logical “proofs” which are not tied to anything relating to our everyday lives. Rather than philosophy, such posturing turns into a pissing contest of deductive reasoning where the most long-winded and impenetrable arguments are lauded (see: Immanuel Kant) and simplicity is reviled.
All that being said, I do love philosophy when it is done properly and it’s arguments take into consideration the whole range of emergent human knowledge. Philosophy, like all subjects can not be understood properly in isolation. Rather a broader knowledge of all fields enriches the philosopher and his philosophy. Let me digress here though because I didn’t set out to write an indictment of philosophy, but rather about the passage/passing on of morality as we know it.
ABSOLUTISM VS RELATIVISM – A POINTLESS DEBATE
It seems to me that we tend to view most things in society dualistically (light vs. dark, capitalism vs. communism, republican vs. democrat, etc.). In the case of morality, people tend to view it in terms of relativism versus absolutism. Relativism is interesting because we very clearly live in a world of culturally relative morals. Granted, most creeds and ideologies have a degree of overlap, but in very broad terms, the closer you follow one ideology the further you fall from grace in the finer aspects of others. I think this indicates that relative morality is no morality of all.
But like I said, most creeds would have a degree of overlap. For example, there are certain baseline assumptions about morality which we would likely all assume have some empirical value regardless of our chosen creeds or ideologies. The big one here would be that you shouldn’t kill another human being. This serves as the shining beacon of moral absolutism. However, since people kill people every day we are faced with a dilemma: Is the premise of moral absolutism (i.e. the premise that you shouldn’t kill someone else) flawed, or are these people evil?
Obviously we tend to go with the latter assumption in our mainstream media, our cultural expressions and our everyday language, but evil and its counterpart, good are just another example of us viewing the world dualistically. Scientifically, these terms have no real merit and they don’t the advance the discussion about human behaviour one bit because they imply no causality. Viewing the world through a good or evil lens tells us nothing about how to induce good behaviour and prevent evil behaviour, it simply reinforces the premise of moral absolutism.
Of course if you don’t fancy yourself a relativist or an absolutist, you might classify yourself as some hodge-podge of different -isms. The thing about -isms is that they are subject to (mis)interpretation and added connotations. And ultimately, the fact that one might cultivate his own moral code and cool-sounding philosophy regarding morality (There’s gotta be at least one Stoic-Machiavellian-Realist out there) is just more proof of the ultimately relative and (if you ask me) obsolete nature of morality.
It’s not that we live in a post-morality world, as this only implies that morality is no longer fashionable. Rather, we are at a Trans-Morality Epoch, and we are moving beyond the need for morality and associated paraphernelia like laws, regulations, guidelines, etc.
Let us talk first about the inadequacy of laws and then move on to how they are poised to become more inadequate as (if) our society changes to reflect our emergent knowledge.
THE FAILURE OF LAW AND MORALITY
Now before you start thinking I’m an anarchist or a nihilist or any kind of -ist (I can assure you I’m not, and any passing similarity in what I say to some established ideological platform is purely incidental and likely superficial), let’s look at where our morality, such as it is, has gotten us. Has a law against murder stopped murder, war and all the other associated horrors which produce death? Of course not. Similarly, have declarations about the inviolate security of person of every human being stopped rape, abuse, torture, exploitation or any other form of interpersonal violence? I don’t think so. Finally, have laws against theft, usury, fraud, corruption and the like prevented these particular ills? Answer hazy, ask again later…
So its clear that rules don’t work, or if they do work, they only work for rule-followers. But here you might raise the argument that laws and rules are not a true reflection of morality, so their failings should not reflect poorly on morality. Well the degree to which the laws/rules of a society are congruent with one’s (inherently relative) morality is dependent on two things, 1) What the laws and rules of a particular society are, and 2) What the observer’s (necessarily relative) view of morality is. These are issues for you to discuss with your God and your legislative representative, but whatever the degree of congruence, what can be said with some certainty is that the laws, rules and codes of morality all reach for the same thing: The Natural Order. If you’re puzzled by this term, don’t use it. Peace, happiness, coexistence or any number of other ideals which you hold dear could be substitutes. I could use the variable X and make the same point:
Where: X=The End Goal of All Our Laws and Morals
I simply used the term natural order because I heard it in a lecture I liked and it stuck with me. But since we’re on this point, have you ever thought about what end result you are hoping for when you abide by the rules and formulate your own personal code of morality? It was a profound thought for me because until I’d thought about it I hadn’t hoped for more than the keeping the status quo. But if we take the long-view and juxtapose what we are hoping to achieve against how we are trying to get there, we can gain some interesting perspective about habits and conventions we take for granted.
TRANSCENDING LAW AND MORALITY
What I have tried to show you in the last few paragraphs is how rules and morality have not been suppressing or deterring aberrant human behaviours like they ought to. Right now I want to talk about about how the imposition of rules and codes of morality is only going to become more and more irrelevant if we start heading in the right direction. This is a broad topic, but I want to focus on certain bits which I think would diminish the need for rules rights, and morals. Remember, its not an anarchistic wish that we burn all the rule-books, but a desire to see us fully outgrow these imposed, artificial constraints.
“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”
-Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
First of all, we need to recognize the causality of aberrant behaviour. There are a few causes worth mentioning such as psycho-social stress and feelings of shame and inferiority, but let us focus on deprivation. If people are engaging in aberrant behaviour due to deprivation, that is, stealing my food because they have none, we need to address the deprivation, because morals have nothing to do with basic human need. In fact, the concept of morals is an insult to anyone brought to wretchedness through deprivation. And for the record I am not saying that we should address deprivation through welfare or taxation, for these too are concepts we are poised to transcend. Rather, we must apply our technological know-how to create complete abundance for everyone without a price-tag. The question is not, “Do we have the money?”; rather it is, “Do we have the know-how and resources?’ The answer is usually yes, but still nothing gets done.
Say for example the question is, “Do we have the knowledge and resources to build de-salination plants on the nearest coast to every arid, freshwater-deprived region in the world?” The answer in this case is “yes.” Is there a need for drinking water in these places? Let’s assume “yes.” So whence cometh thirst? Is it perhaps that there is no money to be made in free, abundant water?* Or perhaps it’s that the financial cost of building such plants would be unfeasible if certain of the nations in these regions were impoverished? Whatever you think the cause is, the reality is that there is a need that we are technologically able to meet (with ease) that is not being met for millions of people (and perhaps billions in the next few years). If the competition for scarce water resources leads to violence or crime, would it make more sense to address the violence or the water shortage?
Ultimately though we have to be aware that water is only one of a multitude of universal human needs, and that creating abundant water for all will not automatically bring peace to the world and end aberrant behaviour (although it might solve some problems). But if we
could decided to address all of human need (even a little bit at a time) rather than imposing scarcity through the profit motive (ultimately a function of our core value or fear) there would be no incentive for deprivation-based aggression. And when we deal with the causal mechanism which perpetuates deprivation-based violence and aggression, we effectively marginalize the associated philosophical morality and it’s imposition through laws.
Again, I want to reiterate that we should not burn all existing rule-books. That would solve nothing because society is still structured in such a way that it creates aberrant behaviour. To strike down all the laws right now would simply allow all of the law-abiding human beings to act on their baser impulses with impunity. No, first we must overhaul our society and get away from our fear of scarcity which is the driving force behind the profit motive. To this last point, the first step in moving forward is not to get rid of money, as money will remain indispensable in conditions of scarcity. If we use our current knowledge and planetary resources to transcend scarcity and create the abundance which is entirely technologically possible, the exchange of currency will fall by the wayside without any imposition.
And this is the heart of the Trans-Morality Epoch: By abandoning our outdated methods of production and governance, layovers from an earlier, less-enlightened time, we can also abandon our equally outdated measures of dealing with the negative outgrowths of those methods (i.e. laws and morals).
Essentially it is better to prevent a negative outcome than it is to treat a negative outcome.** So let us try and create a world where laws and scruples are not the only things holding holding people back from wrongdoing.
*If you still see money and the profit-incentive as the great facilitator of progress at this stage of the game, rather than the hindrance that it actually is to true progress, well unfortunately I don’t have the space to address that assumption in this post. But I would implore you to watch a few minutes of this lecture (start at the 6:50 mark if you wanna get right down to brass tacks) and see if it piques your curiosity further.
**In our current system of profit-maximization, it is the opposite. Perpetual scarcity, inefficiency and malady are quite profitable for those with the means to treat those problems. There is no profit-incentive to permanently fix a problem.