Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Capacity for Moral Incoherence

In August, 1789, France's National Constituent Assembly adopted "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen"

The very first of these rights:

"Article 1: Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good."

Except in Saint Dominique - now known as Haiti.

A lot of wealthy French people were making a lot of money on the slave plantations in Saint Dominique so, as a result, the slaves in Saint Dominique were not free, nor were they considered equal in rights. And when computing whether social distinctions were founded on the common good, only the good of the plantation owners was considered, not that of the slaves.

I find it completely surprising the degree to which people can sweep moral considerations aside when there is money to be made.

Of course, we saw the same thing in the United States.

"All men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Except the black slaves - who were created to be slaves. And a quarter of a million people would lay down their lives in an effort to keep them as slaves.

Even today.

There is this huge gap in wealth. Globally, the top 0.1% of the population owns 81% of the global wealth. 99.9% of the population shares the remaining 19%.

And so a call goes out that morality demands that we take some of the wealth being hoarded by this top 0.1% and use it to aid . . . um . . . people in about the $20,000 to $100,000 per year range. The people in the $0 to $1000 per year range can just go off somewhere and die.

All, of course, bought and paid for by the people in the $20,000 to $100,000 per year range, with their campaign contributions and their votes.

Of course, we are told that there is a moral principle involved here. The redistribution of wealth from the very wealthy to this middle-range group is morally required.

But we can ignore the people in the $0 to the $1000 range, in the same way that the people in France ignored the slaves in Haiti, and the people in the United States ignored their slaves (and the Native Americans) when they had a moral principle at stake.

They are just so easy to ignore.

If we don't talk about them, it is as if they do not exist. We can't have moral obligations towards THEM because . . . well . . . who are you talking about again? You say that the money should go to aid those in the $0 to $1000 per year category FIRST? That the people in the $20,000 to $100,000 per year category might even be obligated to PAY a portion of their income to provide aid, rather than receive the new set of government benefits of free college and medical care being promised to them on account of their relative (compared to the top 1%) poverty?

One studies these events in utter disbelief that so many people can so conveniently ignore such a blatant inconsistency. And, yet, it sits there as obvious as a lone tree in on a lone island in the ocean.

Perhaps it would not be so mind-boggling if the people involved just admitted, "Our goal is to take from others and to give to us. Whether those others are wealthier than us or poorer, it does not matter. What matters is merely our power to take from them and to profit thereby."

But, instead, these are cases where people claim to be acting because morality commands it - because it is the right thing to do. Morality insists that people are born free and equal. Morality insists that those who have far more than they need be made to give up some of their wealth to aid those who need more than they have. EXCEPT the slaves. EXCEPT the people of the earth living on $0 to $1000 per year.

(Particularly owing to the fact that we have obtained a great deal of our wealth by taking from the people in these countries. It is not like our business and political leaders have seen it as an inviolable duty to see to it that these people got paid a fair price for their resources and a fair wage for their labor.)

Where did these exceptions come from?

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