Morality, the more it has become a thing, the more it has become meaningless. The more meaningless it becomes the less it’s worth talking about. Let’s talk instead about the things that are important to you, the things you find precious, the things you value above other things. Ultimately we would get to a morality that can be defined and practiced starting this way, but if we start with morality as if it were the bar to meet, we will get stuck in a sort of slough of despond. Morality will become an end in itself when it is not really even a thing you can place value on.
I don’t litter. I don’t not litter because the sign over there says “Do Not Litter”. I don’t not litter because I have “morality”. I find the environment I live in to be important, precious even, and because I value it I don’t trash it. But I see something more valuable than the environment.
I once dated a girl for a few weeks. After several dates we discovered that we got along great, found each other interesting and all the other things that go into a relationship. The last date found us at McDonalds for a chocolate shake and a walk around a nearby park. And then it happened… she finished her drink and proceeded to toss the McDonalds cup into the bushes… she was a litterbug! And so I broke it off.
See it became obvious that we did not value the same things. It was not just the nature park that I value, it was also (and more importantly) the poor slob who had to come along behind us and pick up her trash. A person I will never see or meet or have anything to do with was ranked down into a lower caste with less value by the act of littering. Absurd? How would you feel if you were the poor slob?
If morality is really just the result of rightly valuing, how do we rightly value another person? It is common to assign value with a refrain of “What have you done for me lately?”. If someone is in a position to benefit us, we would tend to rank them higher than someone that can give nothing. And theoretical person who can give us nothing (that is, the person we will never meet) is even more lowly.
“But isn’t this the way it should work? Survival of the Fittest and Competitive Exclusion and blah blah blah?!?” Well the comment implies a standard behavior by which to judge – which is nearly also synonymous with “morals”. But the unguided process of blind matter has no morality. If there is no innate morality, we have to provide one in order to keep using words like “should” and “ought”. So this means that we have only our own behavior by which to judge our behavior. We have only our own preferences by which to judge the value of another life (be they person plant or animal). Any one of us seems to have the right to say “To hell with your preferences”.
Or we can assign value to a person based on the categories of “right” and “wrong”. But still, we can only get the categories from a pre-defined morality. We tend to get hasty with our judgements as well – like a 5-year old boy who’s told that he has to clean his room before he goes outside to play. There are only two toy boxes and so everything gets tossed into one or the other. Judgements are made quickly and never really examined after the fact.
But suppose there is a method of assigning value that transcends personal preference, pragmatism and judgmentalism? Suppose I could say with full impunity that the theoretical person I will never met has a real value – one inherent to their existence? Because they have life, they have value. Just because I will never come face to face with them does not mean I can treat them like shit.
And more…Suppose I do devalue another human – since we share an inherent worth I am also devaluing myself. This is ultimately why porn is bad for us. By viewing another person as nothing more than an object we degrade them, and when we degrade another human we degrade ourselves. And it doesn’t have to be something as blatant as porn – littering accomplishes a similar objectifying degradation of another person which whips us with its tail even as it strikes another. Basic self-respect becomes harder and harder to come by from there, and short of that, all kinds of pitfalls in behavior.
Plato made the assumption of perfect forms. He described the things we experience in life as imperfect copies or degraded images of a Perfect that existed outside of time and space. We experience beauty here only as a pointer to a perfect beauty. The same with goodness and truth. We see through a glass dimly, but the imperfect experience is evidence of the perfect’s existence. Here we can find a way to assign value to another that is not dependent on preference, pragmatism or judgmentalism. We can find the beauty in that person plant or animal and allow it to remind us of the Perfect Beauty. We must remember a strict comparison with Perfect Beauty is beyond our reach but if we can find a resemblance in our neighbor, our spouse, in strangers and even enemies, we can value them apart from the small thinking our culture is trapped in.
We can look for goodness, and allow it to remind us of Perfect Goodness. Remember that good and bad are not independent entities. Badness is only goodness gone sour, twisted out of form – it has no foundation of its own. And so even badness can be a street sign pointing us to Perfect Goodness and therefore a method of evaluation.
I’m still working through this thought so there may be refinements in the future. Until then, wonder for yourself about the things you value, and the ways you assign that value.