Morals and ethics

In a guide to finding employment, published in a local newspaper some time ago, the following two guidelines were given as the ethical code on which one should deal with one's workmates:

What this is saying is that morals and ethics are flexible things and should be treated accordingly. It say's that ethics and morals are now just guidelines to help you deal with people and are constantly being changed so that nothing is "wrong". Something I don't necessesarily agree with, but which seems pretty much the norm these days. If you have an ethical code where nothing is wrong, why even bother drawing one up?

In the past (in the western world at least) morals and ethics were based on biblical principles. Even if there were no more christians than today (% wise), society paid more "lip-service" to christianity and the bible. The bible says everything is black and white (God or Satan), thus it is relatively easy to create a set of morals/ethics where there is a definite right and a definite wrong. The code may be somewhat flexible but it is essentially "carved in stone" (what is right/wrong does not depend on the circumstances or on who you are with to anything but a minor extent). In contrast todays morals/ethics are not biblically based. That is, they don't have at their core the right/wrong division. Rather they are based on a good/not-so-good division. There is no right or wrong, rather it's a matter of doing what's best for yourself (or what "feels" good). Some things are good, some not so good. And wot is good/not so good for you will depend on the situation and people. Something may be good to do in a certain situation and not another. Thus today it is ethically acceptible to get blind drunk at a social party but a no-no while taking a client out to lunch. It is the consequences something will have for you here and now (in this life) and not the consequences in the hereafter that determine what is ethically/morally right today.

Thus in the past the key to morals/ethics was "wot's good for God?" (substitute your own deity as you wish) whilst now it is "wot's good for me?". The former is quite inflexible, the latter very flexible.

Why bother drawing up an ethical code then? Well an ethical code is something that helps you deal with life and the situations you face. You need one to cope with life, no matter wot basis you have ... otherwise you'd be thinking about every little decision etc for ages before you could make it.

Different people and cultures do have disagreements about what is acceptible and what is not because their morals/ethics are based on different principles or "logic". Such codes are built on cultural, religious and environmental concerns.

In some parts of the world (fortunately not so many these days - that's my moral/ethical code speaking) it is ethically "right" to leave baby girls to die of exposure. But not so in the west. In some muslim areas it is ethically right to "circumcise" girls, but not in other areas. In much of the west it is ethically right to do abortion, birth control ... in others parts of the world it is not. To most westerners it's ok to drink alcohol, to a orthodox muslim it is a very serious wrong (both religious and secular). Ethical codes can be so different that someone from one code cannot understand why someone from another does it the way they do. Some tribes in New Guinea used to practice ritual cannibalism ... they would eat the brains of warriors from other tribes. To a westerner that would be considered one of the most evil of crimes, yet to the New Guinean it was considered the ultimate declaration of praise of the worthiness of the captive, that they were a great warrior. They did not eat just anyone, only those captives that excelled on the battlefield (or elsewhere). It was done in honour of the captive (the one who "provided" the meal). And to them that was the ethical thing to do. In the harsher parts of the 3rd world it is the ethical thing to allow a deformed or handicapped baby to die, rather than let it live a life of suffering, yet in the west even a severly mentally and physically handicapped baby has just as much ethical right to live as a normal one. Then there is "caste". In the west it is primarily a function of wealth, if a lower "caste" (class) person gets rich they become a higher class/caste (in fact there is often less stigma attached to that kind of wealth compared to inherited wealth). Yet in much of asia, what caste/class you were born is wot you will die. If you are a lower caste then no matter if you become a millionaire, you will remain in your caste. That is something that is tied up with asian religions. To the west it's an ethically wrong idea, in the east it is ethically right.

So, next time you are ready to condemn some person or act as immoral or unethical .. stop and remember - their moral/ethical base may not be the same as yours, in fact you may be the immoral person! So a moral/ethical code must have some degree of flexibility to cope with other people. The question is, should it be as flexible as the article I read suggests? For that I would say no. Too much flexibility is not a good thing in this regard. For if your code is too flexible then ultimately nothing is wrong and so all sorts of "evils" become acceptable. You have to draw the line somewhere, beyond which lies definite wrongs, no matter how flexible you may be on the other side. For better or worse, the school system in the state I live in has decreed that virtually all forms of punishment are unacceptable - thus "wrongs" go mostly unpunished. This leads the children to develop a very flexible moral/ethical code which permits them to do things that elder generations would think wrong. Which leads to clashes. I see that when I look at many of the children I know .. so the news that one out of every 26 school students was suspended in '95 is no surprise.

As a final note, this is not all to say that morals and ethics are something that is immutable .. even a casual survery of history reveals that morals/ethics has changed over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The question thus is, where are they evolving to today?

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