I have engaged in the international time waste that is the Facebook debate for as long as there have been people to debate on Facebook. I don’t know that debate is the proper term, the discussions seldom follow rules, and there is often a disconnect between the participants that prevents meaningful discussion. Recently, I was engaged in a discussion that spanned some 23 pages of text. It was sparked by this article advocating the repeal of drunk driving laws.
(A transcript of the discussion is available here. At over 16,000 words, it should kill a solid portion of your day.)
A topic that came up over and over and over again was morality. I am not moral philosopher, and when I do give my opinions on morality it should be interpreted as the opinions of a lay person. I didn’t make that clear enough during the discussion and it came back to bite me. That being said, if I were to offer the most succinct version of my own morals, it would be a morality leaning moral relativist. That is, at best, disingenuous; going back to elementary school lessons, I have just used a word to define itself.
People fear moral relativism, because it relies on the morality of the person using it. “Well, if I kill him quickly, it would be less bad than killing him slowly. By moral relativism, killing him quickly is moral.” I just made your argument for you, no reason to make that argument in the comments unless you really want to. That’s the point, though, and the point so few people want to address; morality is deeper than a single layer paradigm. (Sorry about the words there, that sounded douchey, but please let me explain.)
Many would claim to be Biblical moral absolutists, that the Bible, being the height of all moral teaching, should be adhered to in all things. That being said, when you ask them about some of the Bible’s less tenable teachings… Well, they will say they would jump if God said jump, right up until they saw the cliff. That tells you that they are not Biblical moral absolutists, they are … Something more complicated.
In the same way, a moral relativist may not be able to draw binding lines in the stone and say “I will do all that lies between these lines and nothing else,” but there is some other moral judgment at work. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that my motto, my creed, my life goal, and a piece of short philosophy that defines many of my choices is the idea that “I will bring more happiness into the world than I take out of it.”
While it may not contain any explicitly moral content, a friend has been teaching me (with great resistance) to read more than what words say. When I am presented with a moral choice, then, I have to weigh things in the case of many decisions. Some are concluded before ever reaching my conscious mind (will raping this person bring more happiness into the world right now?), and get resolved before the question is ever asked — but even then, something in my subconscious has to have a bearing for this choice, so I assume somewhere in my brain these questions are answered.
Moral gray areas are much harder to resolve, as the debate referenced above pointed out in great detail. It ended up as an argument hinging on what I am going to call moral chaos theory versus moral order theory. The other participants may disagree, but let me explain.
My argument is something akin to moral chaos theory; letting a drunk driver into a driver’s seat begins a chain of events that could lead to the death of a person or people, and the irreversible alteration of an untold number of lives. By this chain, I could be indirectly responsible for the loss of happiness of hundreds of people, or a thousand people, even if they never saw my hand in it. If I extend that idea to the Police force, their not enforcing drunk driving laws is similar; by allowing drunk drivers on the road, they may end up indirectly responsible for untold numbers of drunk driving related accidents. Therefore, by my own personal moral chaos theory (I still find that to be an over simplification, but it at least illustrates a picture), allowing drunk driving is immoral.
Moral order theory, while again a term lacking in the required depth, is somewhat akin to that preached by my discussion partner(s). This morality theory does not plumb as deeply, though that is disingenuous (DAMN YOU, KYLE! My realization that words suck is your fault!). In any case, his approach was that of the fact that potential harm is irrelevant and shouldn’t be weighed against the real harm done by a police officer enforcing the law. The irony is that despite what became a very heated discussion, I believe our morals (my opponent and myself) would align in most cases.
The point I am trying to make here is a point as old as words themselves; trying to reduce a human being, in all of their complexity, down to a single word, or a single sentence–that is impossible. Trying to describe my morals would take a book larger than any written, and taking longer to write than the lifespan of the universe. The thing is, while morals may boil down further and further, they lose integrity as they are simplified.
Morality is more than your religion. It is more than your upbringing. It is more than your genetics.
And do you know what? For all of history, humans have fought to prove who is the most moral. “Killing in the name of peace,” is something that probably doesn’t sound unfamiliar to most reading this.
And yet… Here we are. I got in a heated argument to prove my morals were better.
I am a monster.