I feel the urge to make a bold and uncompromising statement of Morality.
It’s a bit weird to be talking about morality. I’ll grant ya that. After all, we live in age when the “moral majority” has so co-opted morality that most of my peers want very little to do with it. Or, to be fair, they want to talk about personal responsibility. About freedom of choice. About what morality means for them. Which has always rubbed me the wrong way, to be honest. Morality, it seems to me, is very much wrapped up in our relationship to other people in a collective society. As such, there is no such thing as personal morality because if we all had our own personal moralities it wouldn’t matter what the hell we were doing and that isn’t very moral, now is it?
But I digress. (I must still be thinking about that bit I heard on Forum on the way to work this morning, that guy who referred to the very “we’re all in it together” morality of 1930’s Frank Capra films.) What I really wanted to say was that I think it’s high time that we, as concerned, responsible, progressive, and rebellious leftists, started reclaiming morality from those self-centered, pretentious moral majority types. So here goes.
Morality begins with the basic assumption that what one individual does, he or she does to the collective whole. While I will freely admit my Buddhist bias in this regard, I don’t think the idea of the basic interconnectedness of society is at all the exclusive purview of Buddhist morality or ethics. Wasn’t it Jesus himself who said “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” which presumes that we live in a symbiotic relationship with other people? Further, everyone’s favorite modern secular ethicist Imanual Kant was a big believer social morals versus personal morals wherein if what you were doing had no negative impact on other moral agents, more power to you. But when your actions have negative consequences on other moral agents, guess what? You’re being an immoral jerk.
Which brings me to my Big Statement of Morality.
I believe that it is the mark of a truly moral person who takes into consideration the needs of his/her fellow humans. I believe that it is the mark of a truly Good person when s/he is able to transcend purely self-centered desires and act out of compassion to alleviate the suffering of others. Further, I believe that it is the responsibility of the moral person to attend to the alleviation other peoples’ suffering.
Why? Because we live in an interdependent world, the suffering of other people effects us. The suffering of other people is our own. Accordingly, we have a responsibility as moral agents to do something about said suffering, within our means.
Now this is key. This “within our means” business. For all our (irrational) talk in this country of equality, the simple fact of the matter is that we are not all equal. Period. (And anyone who thinks differently is on some great drugs. And they should really share.) We are not all equal. Here I am sitting in my cozy little apartment with my laptop and my wireless internet connection and the stereo playing in the background while there other people living in tent cities in Louisiana. We’re not equal. And my ability to live in a cozy apartment is due, in large part, to the random accident of history of my being born a white man. Because of my place in this society, my ability to live this lifestyle is far more attainable than it would be were I born a person of color.
People in this country are not equal. And that’s a fact.
Because of this inequality, those considered inferior or less important suffer.
It is the responsibility of a moral person to help alleviate the suffering of others, within his or her means. (I’m perfectly aware of the problems of “liberal guilt” here. And I’d love to address those in some other long-winded Big Statement of Morality.)
So I’ll do what I can. Within my means. But, because of my life choices, I am not a wealthy or powerful man. Which means I can only do so much. I’d love to do more, but it’s beyond my means.
On the other hand, there are people in this country who do have the means. Who do have the wealth and power to do things that I can scarcely imagine. And I believe that if the mark of a truly moral person is their will to help alleviate the suffering of others then they have the moral responsibility to help stop the suffering of their fellow citizens.
And there is a whole class of people in this country right now, a class of people who all have mail stops in Washington, who have the ultimate power to alleviate suffering. That they have not acted quickly enough, that their systematic neglect of poor and disenfranchised people in this country over the years has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, is quite plainly, a moral outrage.
I don’t think I need to say much more than that. I don’t feel it’s something that you can really argue against. It’s not a political discussion. It’s not a political debate. It’s a question of moral conscious.
Three years ago, the moral majority made the claim that there was man in power half a world away who was committing crimes against humanity. Sure. Fine. He was doing terrible things. He was an immoral person. So we went. And we didn’t argue.
And here we are. With the means to help prevent the deaths of our own citizens and yet we do nothing. Not just this past week. But for years. Decades.
The mark of a truly moral person is her or his willingness to help alleviate the suffering of others, within her or his means. The more power you have to stop suffering, the greater is your responsibility to do just that.
I think that pretty much speaks for itself. And I’ll say no more.