Wednesday, January 10, 2007


This could be an incredibly controversial post, and if you're incredibly touchy about things such as ethics and morals then please don't take offense. And it's a long one, and if you don't want to read it all (it is interesting, though) please don't post a response. It's a big and messy topic.

"Ethics" don't exist.

Wait....what? The ideas and values that we base our lives around are pointless, meaningless, and paradoxical? Yup.

I'll begin with the simplest argument against this: It is wrong to kill another person. It is a basic fundamental belief in every major religion. It is hammered into our minds from the time we are born. Killing people is bad.
But then comes that little loophole that exists within every possible moral: ...except when...
Examples: war, self-defense, religious right, defending your "property", police action, etc., etc.
But wait...just because it's not wrong for some people doesn't make it any less wrong for me. Killing people is still wrong.
But it's also right. This is the contradiction - this is why, really, none of our beliefs mean anything. Something that is wrong can't also be right and vice-versa. Killing terrorists is a good thing for us to be doing right now - it is the right thing to do. But look at it from the point-of-view of the people who agree with the terrorists and you see family members and innocent people who believe in a cause that is not accepted being slaughtered by a nation with more power and wealth then their insurgency could ever dream of having.
People will say that this relativistic nature of each and every moral "law" doesn't mean that the morals are pointless. Just because someone thinks what we're doing is wrong doesn't make it wrong. But yes, yes it does. Just think about it: that notion itself, "killing people is wrong", is a universal notion. We automatically apply it to the rest of the world, every other human being, and make judgment calls based on that application. But when that notion fails, when that ideal doesn't serve our purposes, we toss it aside. It stops affecting us, we stop adhering to it. It loses its meaning.
For example, if someone with a gun pointed at your head backs you into a corner, and your hand finds a pistol on the counter or ground behind you, what would you do? Fight or flight. The cornerstone of our psyche. If there is no other option, then our morals disintegrate in front of the prolonging of our little lives. I know that if I were in this position I would take my chances and shoot the "someone" first. If I ran, I would die, so I choose to forsake my morals for an instant and kill this person standing in front of me. Doing so is neither right nor wrong to me at the time, because "(s)he started it", but (s)he is now just as dead as I would've been. One life gone, one still living. The fact that it was in self-defense doesn't fully apply. The moral "law" that had been followed throughout my entire life is now shown to be devoid of right or wrong sides, and as such, doesn't exist. That moral loses the pretense of meaning when faced with the truth of the action.

Now, the security provided us by our nice little things called "societies" or "governments" and by the "social contract" wouldn't be very effective if people were to go around killing each other, would it? Not really, no. In fact, anarchy would become the most popular government if people started acting out the ideas explored in the above section, and that wouldn't exactly be good for politicians. Or economists, or used car salesmen, or the IRS. If people didn't live by a code of some sort that delineates between "right" and "wrong", then the world would devolve into chaos. Yup. It would mean a resurrection of the notion of "survival of the fittest" that we as a species have slipped away from just like we have become immune to practically everything else this lovely but frustrated planet of ours has thrown at us. The people who can survive have the right to survive and will survive, until they let down their guard and someone removes them. They lost their right and gave it to someone else. It would be brutal, messy, and not much fun. But, I think we have to acknowledge the fact that our existence as it is now is based entirely off of lies: lies the government tells us, lies we tell ourselves, and lies we tell other people. If even a little of the truth were to seep in, the truth of life would be revealed through anarchy. Anyway, that's a tangent you can talk about if you want. Back to my earlier statement.

So, killing people as a moral doesn't really mean anything since it is relativistic. But what about the others? Is every moral negated because they're relative? Yup. Exactly. I'm going to stress this again: the argument "this moral is right for me and therefore, to me, it is right, signifying its existence." doesn't hold up. The whole point of having a moral is it's universal nature - the fact that it applies to everyone else in the world in your mind, not just you. If someone else believes your ideal to be wrong, then they throw a wrench into the whole thing. A moral cannot be right AND wrong and still be a moral, still be a guiding force in our lives. If it is both, then it is not universal, and therefore not a moral. Look at another example - stealing. If I walked up behind someone and stole their wallet, that wouldn't be wrong - I took advantage of said person's lack of attention in that particular moment for my own gain. Survival of the fittest. But it wouldn't be right, either: because I stole their wallet, I would have deprived them of money, identification, and practically everything that holds a life in this civilization together. The society we live in frowns upon that sort of thing. People living within a certain socity have to be productive to further that society's goals or aims. These two opinions clash and that is where the "meaning" of the moral disintegrates.
However, before I continue on that topic, another question has to be answered if it isn't clear enough already: "Why do we have morals, if they are negated because of their relativity?". The answer is rather simple - because the society we live in demands that we have them. As discussed earlier, societies would break down without a moral code, and no one would be happy about that who happened to have power in the society. So, they created a set of guidelines so that the workers wouldn't go about killing each other over silverware sets: our modern "Ethics". These are not a part of our psyche, as some would have you believe - if you can kill someone and you have the right to kill someone and you would stand to personally gain from killing this someone, you would. We are not inherently afraid of transgressing our morals, we just don't because we believe we shouldn't. Nothing directly relating to the action the moral deals with. The "moral" means nothing to us except that someone somewhere says it's bad. There is no more essence to a moral than that. And does "someone somewhere says it's bad" sound like a good enough reason to not do something? Not really. So then why do we continue to pretend, and go about our daily lives living with these restrictions (that's all they really are)? Because if we didn't, there would be chaos. And although chaos is interesting and alluring, it usually doesn't foster a long life. Look at teens today, for an example.

I am not saying that morals are bad. I am merely saying that they are lies. They are lies that make our lives a little bit more plush and extravagant, but they are lies nonetheless. I am also not saying that we should dismiss them all together. I'm saying that we should acknowledge that our existence as we know revolves around lying to ourselves constantly.

Whew....I think I'm done, but I probably didn't say everything. Anyway, thanks for reading the whole thing, but I do have one little request: don't post a simplistic, short, and false response to my statement here such as "Since this is right for me, it is right, and that signifies that moral's existence.". I think I already covered that. More than once. It's complicated material, so don't take it lightly.


J.Malone said...

Great question... we'll be in the midst of this entire argument in 2 short weeks... I'll ask you to bring it up... So readers, start thinking about it now.

ELanciotti said...

So let me put it out there, if you were to kill someone would you feel good about yourself? I don't know I have never killed anyone and I don't really know until I do (hopefully not ever!) but wouldn't it, doesn't it leave some sort of empty feeling? The fact that you have ended someone else's life a choice that was not their own? How do you know they are lying to us that morals don't exist? Have you never had a time in your life where it beared down to the gritty details and you had to choose reguardless of morals? If you were to go ahead and shoot that person and not run would you just walk out of that experience feeling great about what you did? I sure don't know, but I do agree with the fact that our society wouldn't work without this overlying sense of morals, but then who a very very very long time ago decided this? Someone had too, and well its been a long time since killing was bad/or relative depending on the situation. Wait a second, doesn't the whole of history involve that? Then where did it start, who put this sense into us in the first place? I sure don't think the government is lying to us then because I have a hard time thinking that anyone in this current time created "morals and ethics" they have been around alot longer (and you know alot longer).

All I can think of is pointing a gun at someone, pressing the trigger and watch them die...would I feel fine about myself inside reguardless of my society (because that really doesn't matter at that moment, all that matters is my thoughts and me really). Would I walk away satisfied and happy? I don't think so, but I don't know. would you?

Great post, wow you wrote alot.

devin said...

Well, sadly, there are situations where one would feel good about oneself after killing someone else: if it was their job. If you were supposed to, then it suddenly wouldn't mean as much to you. If it just happened, if there were no convictions there set against it, then it would mean next to nothing.
What does that say about ethics? Something to think about...

ELanciotti said...

oh ok i see your point...i think that is true that means that the ethical standards we have set up are kind of paradoxical...hmmmmm interesting