We Sold Our Ethics

A long time ago we created money. About five thousand years ago and in that time money have proven it can build anything but humans have successively become incapable of doing anything without money. The economic system is now a straight-jacket holding us back. There are multitudes of interesting, better inventions that could make cheap energy, good food, clean water and we put them all on hold to keep business afloat.

We know what it best to do. We always have people who have the knowledge to advise us. We rarely do it. We pretend what we do is wise, we suborn our better natures to the system, we go along with the general view and we agree with the lies we are told because the lies make our living with ourselves easier.

We ceased to question. And in the same, strange, ridiculous way an army surrenders when its leader is killed or tells them to, as if all the reasons for fighting vanish with the loss of a general, so too will money vanish but the army it leaves behind will barely be able to feed itself and it will have no home to go to. Economics is fundamentally anti-nature and we have ceased to believe we can live without it.

Guns but No Roses

Death haunts the human race and comes in a myriad of forms. It may be true that guns are not the problem, the will to kill is the problem but there would be no guns at all in public hands if profit were not involved.

The true measure of a human being is the quality of their thinking and that does not require an education. It requires a dedication to ethical behaviour. It requires each and every individual to discourse inside their heads with a degree of clarity, the ethical solution to any and all their problems. No other solution is acceptable.

Kant tried to describe this ethical solution as that all people would come to in any given situation. Sadly it is obvious that ‘all people’ never come to the same solution but we do have proposals. Thou Shalt Not Kill is 3,000 years old as a regulation but we have never followed it. We slaughter animals in their billions without a thought. We make weapons with less thought than we give to making toys for children. We even make guns for children.

Tears are not enough.

Arguing From Within

I was talking to a friend about ethical systems and was brought up on the fact that as ethics are in my brain, and my brain has evolved through natural selection, any system of ethics is flawed because physics, upon which we are all based, would not recognise ethics being largely governed by forces and a certain degree of luck (at least luck certainly pertains to living beings).

My first reaction was to defend the fact that all knowledge as we have discovered it has been uncovered by the brain and it was  a bit unfair to critique ethical systems just because the universe might not contain any. I also added that perhaps evolution is all about ethical systems simply because they don’t exist in nature, though I did point out some ethical behaviour is found in the broader animal kingdom.

At which point the argument fell into a  discussion about lady luck and how ethics are anthropomorphisms we project upon life especially in my criticism of the principle that life feeds on life, which since it is natural and since my brain is personal, cannot be held to account for any ethical system I devise.

I find this point of view nihilistic and unedifying. It does loop rather satisfyingly – nature -brain -nature. I hold that ethical behaviour is  universal but I am not going to convince my friend.

The Great Dilemma

As thinking beings we have always discussed amongst ourselves how we should interact with each other and the world around us. There is an old saying that my freedom ends where another person’s begins and most of our discussion surrounding ethics are all to do with how we should comport ourselves. It is an ideal of course and much is there in laws to serve purposes wholly other than ethical but we do have a fundamental dilemmas.

Life feeds on life.

Since it become impossible to live without something dying (and before macrobiotic specialists tell me you can I would remind them their houses have been built on the bodies of millions of insects and even the Jains have recognised breathing is dangerous to minute animals in the air) we can never live up to the ideal of living without killing. We can never live without depriving some other animal of a home or its life.

So the ideal is unachievable but balance is not. We don’t have to kill everything or stop thinking about what we kill and steal. We don’t have to lose sight of the importance of life and believe all other animals are insignificant. Ethical behaviour is about how we think. It demonstrates just how deep a hold we have on life as a shared experience.

If we have no hold on another’s life, we have not even begun to think.

The Battles Of Life

Fantasy has always been about the struggle of good over evil. Great stories of all cultures are about justice fighting injustice, religions are about the right path versus the wrong path for living. This dichotomy reflects the division in the experience of people that there are decisions to be made in our existence and that existence itself does things that can be judged. A volcanic eruption is not a thinking being but it can be judged as good or bad,depending on what happens and one’s viewpoint. People dying in Pompeii and Herculaneum is bad, volcanoes erupting millions of years ago and giving us continents and islands to live on now may be considered somewhat fortuitous.

Does this endless round of story telling on a strict theme display something about us? Is there rally a dichotomy in our thinking and in the way we run our lives? How many bad things are expedient and how many good things are simply our spin on our cultures? Is there some authority we can turn to that doesn’t spring from our minds that can show us a universal idea of goodness and badness?

Or is all this just a story as seen from our point of view? Is there no objective good anywhere just a judgment based on outcomes that affect us? Are our assumptions actually, the worst thing about us?

The Weakest Make Us Strong

I have always subscribed to the belief that had I been young in 1916 I would have been a Communist eager to free the serfs and build a just society in Russia and I would have been one of the first to be shot when Lenin destroyed the ideal by creating a dictatorship. I am actually sure that I wouldn’t have survived very long in any of the fascist states that have existed since the beginning of human society for any of a number of reasons, but certainly amongst them would be my adherence to the belief that life itself is the only sacred thing there is.

So much of our education is designed to teach us how to get on, make good, have fulfilled lives by being ‘successful’, and successful always means having ‘enough’ money, when actually it should be about how we empower those with no power. Because we are powerful enough to kill anything and anyone, ethics must exist in our allowing things to live. It is not ethical to keep slaves, it is not ethical to build wealth upon the backs of slaughter, it is not ethical to lie to ourselves that society is inherently good because it keeps us alive at the expense of everything else that lives.

Either we are not ethical animals we just pretend to be, or the way we are living is wrong.

Where Politics Starts

I used to think that everything we do is political because politics starts with every interaction we have with the world outside our bodies. I am now of the opinion that this is naive because in actual fact, that is where ethics starts because we have to interact with the world around us in order to exist.

Politics is such a strange part of human thinking, and there are such definitive lines drawn on particular views on how to run society, that it is obvious to me now that what defines a political view depends almost entirely upon how much empathy one has with other living beings. It seems to me impossible to hold some views if one has empathy with the plight and suffering of others. And some views must arise naturally from the empathy one has for that suffering.

This is why a man like Shaftesbury in Victorian England, with all the lavish lifestyle of an aristocrat, fought for regulations to help the children of the poor, and why when he died many poor people followed his coffin. It also explains why not every aristocrat fought for better rights for others.

To walk that mile in another person’s shoes does not just give one an idea of what it is like to be that person, it makes one’s politics. And I have to say I side with those who show the highest empathy and understanding of others.

Ethics and Fantasy

There are two broad aspects to all religions. On the one hand there are the stories and texts that tell the story upon which the religion is based and which form the ‘holy writ’ of the original event or events. On the other are the works, redactions and thoughts, of the theologians and others who have studied and thought about these original works. And the reason these other works exist is because the high degree of fantasy, oral tradition and sometimes plain obscurity of the original fantasy stories need to be ‘interpreted’ and discussed for ‘modern’ generations of followers. Hence the rise of the traditionalists.

This is the point where human actions meet religions and ethics are born. It is a tragedy, but obvious in the extreme, why ethics has become bound up with religion but it is equally obvious that ethics is a human discussion we have with ourselves that has nothing to do with religion. It is absurd to think that killing is anything but objectionable, theft anything but divisive,  intolerance anything but unacceptable; without any reference to a god’s prescriptive ordinances.

Religious ethics are in fact, human ethics filtered through a belief system. And it is dangerous nonsense for atheists to throw out the ethics with the religion. Without religion we still have to work with other people, work with nature and understand ourselves.

If ethical behaviour is not a description of our lives we are as much hypocrites as the religious.

Life On Life

It is, of course, almost an adage whilst being wholly true, that life feeds upon life. We may argue about its efficacy, its ethics and even the desirability of the facts but none-the-less it stands that to live, one thing must predate another. You can take this a bit far by suggesting that microbes that derive sustenance from the elements in the air are also feeding on life because of the  convoluted way creatures break down in their constituent parts and then merge with gases.

The real discussion though centres around how far we are to accept this fact of life as a dictate to our own actions. Given that most of life may be supposed not to think deeply about ethics, it is given to the human being to argue amongst themselves. Some accept our natures, some revel in them, and some dissociate themselves from this way of living in as far as a higher animal is able to. And there, as they also say, is the rub. For to live we must kill something to derive its energy giving elements which come to us a sugars, carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins and so forth.

This argument has been going on for millenniums,  and won’t ever totally go away because we know that killing is not an ethical action and our civilisation has been a continuous debate upon ethics. Feeding both our religions and our laws.

But then even the Universe may recycle everything to maintain its energy levels,  so we should not be surprised if we never reach a conclusion.

An Ancient Task

It isn’t so much getting up in the morning, as wanting to get up in the morning. Bringing yourself to the day and the day to yourself. And it isn’t so much not wanting to face the day, as not wanting to face what you have come to fill your days with, the chains of society.

We are still trying to survive. No longer just walking the Serengeti with a dirty spear and bare feet, we have other tigers to be careful of: the constant need for money, the constant need to eat, the constant need to sleep safely. And so many of us are not managing, millions of us.

And they do not suffer the torment of teeth crushing the bones, but the longer tortures. The lifetime of tortures. You can be secure and still be failing. You can be rich and still be failing. You can be asleep and still not be dreaming. For the art of life is a balance that reflects the brilliant balance of nature. We have lost the balance.

This is nothing to do with spirituality, it is to do with stewardship of nature. To maintain fresh water is beyond many of us. To grow trees not cut them down is beyond many of us. To plunder without cause seems to be our ignorant course. To convert nature into money has no long-term merits.

We get up in the morning but so much is still darkness.

If

If everyone in the world vanished in an instant and you were the only person left, how much of civilisation would be safe in your hands?

I asked myself this question after reading Immanual Kant and the idea that ethical behaviour may be described as those actions anyone would do in the same situation. To know what those actions are you have to ask the question, “What would others do?” This inner questioning, this study in ones own actions fascinates me. It seems to me that if we do not carry our ethics within us without reference to what others do (only educated by it), we are highly unlikely to be truly ethical.

In A Shropshire Lad, Houseman points out in the poem which starts Good People Do You Love Your Lives, that each and everyone of us is an entire universe. When we die it is the end of everything for us. This is not the same as being alone. We are not alone. But we are all separated by inner circumspection from everyone else.

And I hope when you answer you can say, “As much as strength and time would allow me to make safe.” Because that answer is the mark of the depths of your humanity.

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