Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Have you thought about this lately?

"Abandoning an absolute ethical moral standard leads irresistibly to the absence of ethics and morality. Each person determines his own ethical/moral code. That's anarchy. Humans become their own gods and decide, each in his own way, what is good and what is evil. Evil becomes good -- good becomes evil. Upside down morality! Good is ridiculed!! Evil is dignified!" - Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate

Can you say he's wrong? For those of you that just blurted out "yes", think about all the times that "good Samaritans" are punished for doing good works. Some are sued because they are not doctors or EMT's and pulled an accident victim from a burning car but causing bodily damage by not using accepted emergency procedures. You've heard of these horror stories, don't make me look them up; my time is valuable and if you're that big of a curmudgeon, then I will be wasting my efforts proving my points to you.

So we as a country struggle with cultural relativism (the idea that no culture is more "right" or "wrong" than another, and that all aspects of that culture -- including its ethics and morality -- are no more right or wrong than any other, and that furthermore no one has the right to judge another culture. Basically, it says that "what's right for me is right for me, and what's right for you is right for you".

Take the Ik tribe of Central Africa. They "acknowledge no moral or social obligation to anyone or anything. Their standard of value is the self; their rule of life, to do whatever they wish. At age 3, children are put out of their parents' huts and thereafter sleep in the open, rain or shine. To survive, they gather in bands and form not friendships but temporary alliances, which are betrayed whenever convenience dictates... children learn to cry tears of malice, anger, or hate, butnever of sorrow.... The Ik's sexual expression typically is adulterous and is driven less by passion than by the desire to profit at someone else's expense. A neighbor's suffering evokes not pity or kindness but malicious glee. (observations by anthropologist Colin Turnbull, from his field study in the mid-1960's)*".

To tie this all together, according to cultural relativism, the Ik have the right to continue to behave as they do, treating others as they do, and no one else has the right to tell them that they are in the moral wrong to do so. Halverson would say that this is anarchy and reprehensible, and he might even liken this sort of dignifying of "evil" to issues we see arise in our own country, as so many criminals get off on some technicality or another, thus invalidating the point that they committed a crime and owe reparations to society.

The Ik live -- as described by Turnbull -- without any sort of moral conditions tying them to one another nor any other group. They are the basest culture I've ever heard of, where pleasure comes solely from enjoying the pain experienced by another. "They live without love, and they die alone*".

I argue that this is the inevitable end of people who cannot or will not "draw lines in the sand" for what is right and what is wrong. I argue that even if a 5 year old steals something, and that it is successfully argued that "she didn't know any better", that the crime of stealing remains unchanged, and that reparations to society are still appropriate.

Here's where I become unpopular in my thinking, but bear with me dear reader! It is only here that the details of the case should be considered. Only in judgement, not in deciding whether or not there was a crime committed. If something is stolen, it remains stolen regardless if a toddler took it, a seasoned criminal, or a forest animal. Even if it is successfully argued that Big Foot himself stole, the argument is not whether or not something was taken, but WHO took it.

Before we get way off track, let's get back to the thieving toddler. Should the toddler have her hand chopped off as might happen in some cultures as penance for stealing? No, that would be overkill. Should she be forced to serve time in prison? Nah. Should she be forced to return the item she stole? Sure, that's appropriate. I'd even go so far to say that she could spend an hour of her life in service to the person from whom she stole.

I personally that it is admirable to punish according to crimes. That upholds a standard and a consistency in society that would give the members of the society something they can count on, and a moral base by which they can decide their actions. This crazy society we have, where pleas of insanity often are used as some form of excuse, where deals are made to catch bigger fish or simply plea bargain to a lesser sentence, where repeat offenders do not necessarily receive stricter sentencing with each offense... this to me is anarchy. This is a lack of moral structure and substance. While everyone is fighting for individual rights, the "greater good" is completely forgotten or shoved aside. Cultural relativism is winning, and yet the result is that we have no culture.

For according to its own definition, we have no right to judge or be judged by another culture. So who wins? No one. It has no choice but to exist as "every man for himself". Slowly we are slipping into looser and looser cultural morality. I dread the days when I'm old enough to sit on the front porch and talk about the "good ole days". I fear that I've alredy seen the best this country has to offer its citizens, if things continue to progress as they have been.

If you disagree with me, I'd like to hear a detailed account as to why. I could use some cheering up.

*source: Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, 7th ed. pg. 52-53

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