Thursday, February 04, 2016

Toward a Universal Moral System

Unethical actions are impossible to commit against someone whom you consider a fellow human being. If one considers some other individual to be a fellow human being, it is impossible to even want to murder, assault and battery, rape, steal, or defraud them. One can only do these things against an individual whom one has dehumanized, or perhaps never considered human in the first place.

The truly ethical move, then, is to consider more and more people as fellow human beings. The truly unethical move, then, is to consider fewer and fewer people as fellow human beings. The man who is abusive to women does not consider women to be fellow human beings. The man who rapes a woman does not consider that woman to be a fellow human being. Even the woman who, coming home to find her husband having sex with another woman, kills her husband has not killed her husband, but has killed a "cheater," and cheaters are not fully human. They are a dehumanized ideal.

It is easiest to treat one's own family morally, though the existence of familial murder, assault and battery, rape, theft, and lying demonstrates that there are even those who can and will dehumanize their own family members, at least on occasion. Sometimes all the time.

The sociopath never considers anyone else a fellow human being.

Morals expand as one includes more and more people in the group of "fellow human beings." Morals regress if one excludes a person or group one previously considered fellow human beings.

If you consider any group as "inferior" or less human than yourself or your group, you are immoral. Certainly less moral than someone who is inclusive. Since only human beings can act morally or immorally in this way, to point out that someone is behaving immorally is not to dehumanize them, but to fully humanize them. To insist that a person or group should be excused for immoral behavior is to dehumanize that person or group.

You can dehumanize someone based on any number of group memberships: sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, income, occupation, IQ, neural architecture, etc. Dehumanizing someone based on sex is sexism. Dehumanizing someone based on race is racism. Dehumanizing someone based on class is classism. All are equally immoral, as all are dehumanizing in nature. If you hate someone because of their income, that is identical to hating them because of their race. You hate them because of some quality they have, and hatred is dehumanizing. Fear and hatred lead to immorality.

Criticizing some aspect of culture is not immoral. Criticizing some aspect of a religion is not immoral. Criticizing some particular behavior is not immoral. Dehumanizing someone because of their cultural or religious affiliation or behavior is immoral. Failing to criticize a culture for doing something you would criticize a member of your own culture for doing is dehumanizing to the members of that culture, and is immoral.

As one's moral sphere grows, one's morality grows. Those of us who consider all members of Homo sapiens as fellow human beings are more moral than past generations who did not. At the same time, we should not make the mistake of imposing our own moral narrative on that past, on people who could not have possibly known what we know. We are more moral because we are more knowledgeable. If the fault is ignorance, the goal, then, must be education.

When you do not know, and you act on that ignorance, and the outcomes is bad, your action is bad. When you do know and act on it, you are good. When you do know and do not act on it, or act against it, you are evil.

Are you knowledgeable or ignorant of building bridges? If you are knowledgeable and build a bridge that stands up, you are a good bridge builder. If you are ignorant and build a bridge that falls, you are a bad bridge builder. If you are knowledgeable and purposefully build a bridge that falls, you are an evil bridge builder. But do you even try to build bridges? If you're not trying to build a bridge, you're not a bad bridge builder, because you're not a bridge builder at all. You know what you don't know, and don't try to do what you don't know how to do. Refusing to act out of ignorance also makes you a good person. Good intentions don't count, other than to reduce your sentence. 

We must keep in mind that there is relevant and irrelevant knowledge when it comes to a given action. Now, it may be possible that one necessarily must act in ignorance. the consequences of biotechnology, for example. But one will necessarily act in less ignorance the second time around. One is obliged to use whatever relevant knowledge one can prudently attain, or one discovers. If one acts, and the action has bad consequences, one must attempt to correct future action by learning why is it the action failed. Failing to expand one's sphere of knowledge in order to ensure one's actions improve in the future is itself a moral failing.

Vice is easier than virtue. Dehumanizing is easier than humanizing. 

If you read this, you know. Now you have no excuses.

No comments: