Eric Harrington – Our Greatest “Moral Crisis” is Moral Crises..
I recently saw an article on Global Warming entitled “Caring for Creation: The greatest Moral Crisis of Our Age”. Now I am firmly convinced that CO2 emissions are a major factor is the rapid environmental changes we are witnessing today. Not that anyone has proven a direct relationship between the two for they have not, but instead because the climate of the Earth is a chaotic system and inherently unstable. The only thing that gives us the illusion of it being stable is the massive size of the planet. But in chaotic systems, very small changes can be amplified dramatically, and that defines what we see today.
But this essay is not about global warming. It is about our greatest moral crisis… that of Moral Crises. I cannot help but be struck by the fact that everything today is being distilled down to some form of moral crisis or another. A bared nipple on prime-time TV? A moral crisis! Prayer not formalized in school? A moral crisis! Some disillusioned person burning a flag. A moral crisis! It is a veritable crisis of crises of epidemic proportions.
The roots of this phenomenon I believe can be found in basic human nature. Many years ago I read a sales training book that suggested that if you wanted to get the sale, you had to get the “customer” (insert sucker whenever appropriate) to evaluate the product on emotional terms, and not on analytical or practical ones. The pragmatic mind will generally find stasis and further evaluation the appropriate next step to any major decision, while the emotions can spur someone to act, to buy now – often times without real careful consideration. Fear, sexual attraction, anger, all emotional responses connect to the animal in us and elicit powerful and immediate responses and these emotions can be easily manipulated to elicit the response the “emotee” desires.
Morals are the great Svengali of manipulators. Confucius suggested that laws only reduce a decision to a weighing process of “I get this if I am successful, or I get this if I am caught” and is not as powerful socializing tool as morals and tradition. But morals, while arguably important in the socialization of people, conversely can reduce what should be objective, logical decisions to emotional ones. They artfully reframe the debate on any issue from the actual issues involved, to an argument about the cultural environment in which they are being considered, for morals are not typically specific, rather they are vague and subjective, and can be manipulated. Now don’t tell that to your local minister, because he will proceed to inform you that they are not vague, but instead clearly defined in the Bible, or the Koran, or the Torah, or any one of the many repositories of the dogmas and philosophies of the period they were written. Filtered through his noble interpretation of course… But the truth is, they are, like an artful sales presentation, only a caricature of the real issues at play.
Take for example sex, or sex outside of marriage, or sex outside of procreation, or whatever moral framework you choose. If you remove from the discussion the dogmatic ideology of religion, and discuss this with staunchly secular people, you will see that they will still frequently have strong moral feelings about sex. They may not use the bible to justify them, but the feelings are strong none the less. So where do these feelings come from?
Sex is an extremely vulnerable experience. Only a rare few people are really beautiful in the process from a purely physical sense, and even beautiful ones can exhibit some pretty funny expressions at just the right moment. But that is one of the most beautiful parts of sex. It is the unmasking, the removal of the social camouflage, the uniting of two people in a communication free of device or artifice. And it can quickly lead to that most powerful form of human bonding, love. And in that way it is frightening, for to be rejected at that level can be devastating. Hence sex is fraught with fear and insecurity. Even the most sexually confident and promiscuous people are often that way specifically to protect themselves from the alternative. Vulnerability.
So sexual morals are mostly a system by which each individual tries to protect themselves from risk, from vulnerability. To say it is immoral to have sexual relationships with multiple partners is really to say that if I limit you to just me, I will be safer. Safer from disease, safer from comparison, safer from loss of love. But instead of simply saying, I am not comfortable for all these reasons, reasons that can be debated logically and possibly invalidated, we instead say it’s morally “Wrong.” For sexually transmitted disease can be avoided through various protections. As can the flu be avoided by washing ones hands after coming home from the store. Yet we do not call this immoral. Comparison and fear of loss are more complicated and rooted in self-esteem issues, and thus instead of just admitting we are weak or insecure, we reduce the judgment to the intangible. It is Immoral. It’s just wrong.
But while effective in manipulating human actions, Morals are the definition of a slippery slope. For they remove the reality from the evaluation, and place it in a surreal historical fiction, where the past has become absolute. It has been said that if “we do not learn from the past, we are destined to repeat it” and truer words have never been said. But moral summations can easily remove the context, all the wisdom from the lesson, and change it from spiritual education, to spiritual suffocation, for they all too often carry a charged emotional content without any real “history” attached. And the veiled or not so veiled threat they carry is social rejection, for as they spread, they provide a fertile soil for gang mentality and “with us or against us” attitudes.
And because they are unquestioned and unreasoned absolutes, these little emotional letter bombs are potent tools for manipulation by the unscrupulous, the power hungry, the jealous, the angry. They have protected the power of the church through millennia of abuse and horror. They insulate our government today from scrutiny by questioning ones patriotism, another veiled moral. The contaminate literature, art, love, virtually all expressions of basic human freedom and joy with guilt and outrage. And they are on the rise.
Now I can just hear the outrage at the suggestion that there is simply no valid grounds for morals, and that people should be absolutely free. “Why that would be Anarchy! That’s what happened to ROME!”
But that is not what I am saying. There is a place for morals. In situations where there is a clear victim. In situations where there is a choice between a win/win and a win/loose.
In situations where one party has the upper hand and the opportunity to take unfair advantage.
One of the basic morals that really stands up ironically can be found in the bible, although actually first written centuries before by Confucius. It is called the Golden Rule. It’ states “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But of course this axiom always solicits the following exception, “But what about a masochist?” And for that reason I add the following, “or if it is not obvious what the other person might prefer, ASK!” i.e. interact. Be open, be frank, be honest about your intents and you will find out what the people around you want in your interactions. And be fair. Strive for a win/win at all times. “But that is the antithesis of business!” I can hear the Capitalists gasp. But that is simply not true. It depends on if one has the interest of the good of one, or the good of the whole. And business can be operated under true capitalistic principles, while preserving a sense of the greater good, when one is wise enough to realize that we are all connected, and when one is abused for the gain of another, there will be a price to pay by all. When the environment is sacrificed there will be a price to pay by all. When the Middle East or South America is manipulated by the global corporatocracy, there is a price to pay…by all.
My goal here however is not to try and evaluate which morals that are valid or necessary, or not. For then I would be manipulating you. My goal is to suggest that as the most intelligent and powerful creatures on this planet, we have an obligation to not to be morally and socially lazy and simply accept the morals foisted upon us by our peers, our parents, or our fears, and instead step outside the emotions and create our own moral system based on the basic principles of win/win, and greater good. In that way we learn and grow in wisdom through the process of formulating our own moral code that will be grounded in reality, experience, and history.
And through this process our ability to understand and cut to the core of a problem continuously improves and we become better, wiser, more objective people, not for what we believe, but for what we have learned and understood. We begin to learn to step outside the emotions of the situation and see it for what it really is. This is not to say we should become unemotional automatons. Emotions are also the source of our joy, our passion — even pain is a powerful educator. But they should not be used to formulate your blueprint for human interaction, only to enjoy it, motivate it, inspire it.
For in the end, there are no moral crises. Only a crisis of ignorance. Of belief. Of blindly accepting the word of someone else as right. Whether out of fear, childhood programming, or just plain laziness, it is the first step on the slippery slope of fascism, and is self perpetuating, for with each surrender, the next becomes easier. It is possibly the greatest crisis of our times. The crisis of Moral Crises.