Morality and Our New Reality

April 2, 2007 at 6:54 pm Leave a comment

Have you ever repeated a word to yourself enough times to the point where it becomes unfamiliar and sounds strange? Well, ever since the election of the current American President the term “morality” has been flung all over the place to the point that I wasn’t sure to what it actually referred. So, what is morality? I went and asked my reliable and impartial friend, the American Heritage Dictionary, who describes morality as “a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct.” Makes sense, but then I wondered: does this term that holds a great deal of historical baggage reflect our modern realities?

The world is arguably overpopulated for our current economic system. If the United States needs to consume a quarter of the world’s resources in order to maintain its standard of living in a day and age where that consumption and economic activity itself are the cause of our environmental problems, the end result seems to be an unsustainable system and one with many holes in it to boot. From this perspective, I think it’s fair to ask: is it moral to have more than two children? While no obvious solution to our economic and environmental problems readily presents itself, there are things we each can individually control and do to contribute to the solution; we can limit the size of our families to control future demands. This isn’t to say that we can never grow beyond today’s population, but rather that for now it is prudent to control our demands until we find and implement sustainable solutions.

While addressing family size can resolve issues of future and growing consumption, it does not address the morality of current consumption. This raises the next question: Is it moral to consume more than your share? Just because you can doesn’t mean it is. While most will probably declare that it’s “not my problem,” I can honestly say that on this ship called “Earth” that when I take resources for myself and my family, I am also taking the away from both other people future generations. Resources ARE limited. Just because you choose not to recognize it does not mean that it isn’t so nor does it alter the morality of your consumption.

In my mind those are the “BIG” issues, but the question of morality lurks everywhere. Government, for example, sets laws that become part of our moral determination. One of the underlying themes of our legal tradition is that it is wrong to abuse power. As an example, minors are treated uniquely under the law. Why? Because they lack knowledge and experience that can make them targets of manipulation by more experienced adults. This is a good concept, but is not applied universally. If we look at the American legal and tax codes, both are beyond the comprehension of most Americans. We require specialists to interpret these codes and failure to have competent representation can alter our lives. Isn’t this an abuse of power? It seems that, more and more, language is used to confuse and manipulate. Unless the language of these codes is comprehensible to all they affect, it would seem government’s efforts in these areas are both disingenuous and immoral.

I don’t think the question is whether the tern encompasses our new found reality, but whether people acknowledge our reality and can find the will-power to act in a “moral” way when that direction is counter to the trends of our modern society. Traditionally people have looked to their leaders for guidance, but unfortunately neither wealth nor power are indicators of wisdom. Consumption of goods and resources beyond one’s basic comfort and needs can easily be argued to be immoral, but in a day and age where our leadership addresses economic problems by calling on its citizenry to consume more, any practical resolution of the problems that face the world seems to be doomed from the start :-(

On the Web

How Ethical Is My Baby?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2007/03/how_ethical_is_my_baby.html

The Optimum Population trust
http://www.optimumpopulation.org/index.html

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Entry filed under: Consumerism, Economics, Environment, People, Philosophy, Population.

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