Ok, so Scott Adams is a brilliant man. I get a kick out of reading his blog because his take on most of the world is, well, not with a grain of salt, but more a bran flakes and salted beef cereal take – i.e. decent food served in odd combinations. His question about our supposed War for Money leaves you without a real way to answer, but does bring up an interesting debate on the side. I can’t, however, stand the people who comment on his blog, because they seem too much like the professors I had in college, the ones who would saunter past a group of students discussing something amongst themselves and offer an opinion as if they, somehow through divine intervention or massive quantities of dung-beetle wine, had the right answer. And they’d give it over a shoulder, while holding their meerschaum pipe and wearing plaid from L.L.Bean. Too often they’d throw out “Nietzschien”, “Hegelian” and “Nihilist” when they meant “strong”, “reasoned” “meaningless” because they had to seem ‘all-knowing’. But I digress.
Adams has posed the question “would America have a moral obligation to attack Iraq under false pretences if its experts believed that doing so protects the most lives in the long run?”
What an excellent question, and as of this writing he has 208 comments most of which will, from my perusal, either mock him, the subject, or try to make out like their grey matter matters more than Gray’s Anatomy (the book, not the TV Show).
I like the question because he puts in “moral obligation” which just makes me giggle. I happen to despise morals and adore, prefer and uphold ethics.
I will repeat that for the slower of you out there – I despise morals. I adore, prefer and uphold ethics.
I suppose now would be a good time to clarify for some people out there, and I might as well. It’s Sunday, after all, and a good many of the folk in and around Houston are out thumping their bibles in the hopes that a few good whacks with the good book can clear up some of the sinning they’ve done so they can avoid at least a few eternities in Hell. They should be all over this post, too.
The problem with morals is that they tend to be based on religion or a belief system that can, in and of itself, be contradictory to other life. Even other Human life. I’ll give you one word, and it’s “Crusade”. And I mean the ones where Europe invaded the Middle East because God told them to.
Whole centuries were spent at war for a moral reason – saving the Holy Land from the infidels. This can be paralleled to the current situation with militant Islam and terrorist attacks on Europe – it’s basically the reverse of the Crusades, although with more interesting and terrible weaponry. With morals it’s actually quite easy to create a situation where you’re hurting, maiming, killing, raping, pillaging, etc., and still being moral or even upholding moral standards. And this is because moral standards are self-defining to each group. It’s why I don’t care if you’re being moral, I care if you’re being ethical. Any one leader can define a new moral standard, which may or may not be ethical, but it’s fact.
Ethics, however, are a different beast entirely. Being ethical requires that you find a balance between all things that are or seem right. I’m not entirely positive on how this is done, but given that you can’t find people who teach ethics who haven’t been convicted of ethical lapses, but I kinda figure that ethics are defined by the entirety of humanity. It’s sort of the ‘rules of balance-meets-law school’ theory of life.
For everyone I’ve just lost (or, as I like to call them “everyone”) it goes like this:
This school of thought says these 10 things. That school of thought says these 14 things. There are 3 things that are conflicting in each of those lists, 7 things that are the same, and the second list includes 4 thoughts that are unique. Therefore, I will discard the 3 conflicts from BOTH lists and continue my life, looking for a third list and abiding by the 11 items left over from the first two lists.
Which, as you continue through life and get to the 15th or the 30th list, you find that a lot of morals conflict, and truly ethical rules are few and far between, but once found, they become universal in their application.
I can best sum this up with an illustration of the difference. A Jewish lawyer would be morally opposed to defending a Nazi in a court of law, however ethics dictate that they’d do it and give the best defense possible because it’s necessary to a just legal system that everyone, regardless of who and what they are, be defended as vigorously as they are prosecuted. I’m not saying it would be easy, or fair, or fun to do, but it would be ethical, and frankly, anyone who maintains their ethical standards in their day-to-day life is someone I want around me. You probably do, too.