Thursday, January 02, 2020

Discussing Morality

This post relates to the podcast I am wanting to start in a few months.

I very much value public input and comment. This is not like a movie or television series where avoiding spoilers has a high priority. This is an honest attempt to generate an improved understanding of morality among a larger group of people.

And, I am not the master of all virtue and wisdom. I hope to tap into the virtue and wisdom of others to make the best podcast available.

Towards that end, I have been thinking about how to introduce the podcast -an “episode 0” that will be about a 5 minute “trailer” that will get people interested in the content.

So . . . How does this sound? Comments welcome . . . encouraged . . . strongly encouraged.


Fact: We all depend on other people for the best things in life.

I recently enjoyed a week in my home, alone with my cats, reading, writing, and not talking to another human being.

However, I was it in a house that other people built, reading material that other people provided, delivered to me across an infrastructure that other people build and maintain, eating food that other people grew and delivered, secure in the knowledge that other people were standing by ready to help me if something went horribly wrong.

At the same time, some of our biggest threats come from other people. We and those we care about are the potential victims of theft, rape and other forms of violent assault, enslavement, and murder.

It is no coincidence that these threats all fall under the general category of “immorality”. We consider these things “wrong” precisely because we have reasons to want other people not to do them to us and those we care about.

Deciding what these things are and getting people not to do them is not easy.

How about we simply arrest and imprison anybody who engages in vandalism, theft, assault, rape, slavery, or murder?

Two things.

First, now we face a new threat - the threat of being falsely accused and imprisoned.

Second, what if we need to conscript people to build a dike before a flooding river destroys the whole community, or to fight an enemy intent on conquering and enslaving us? What if funding some infrastructure will make everybody better off, but most people want to enjoy the benefits without contributing to the costs? What if we set up an institution for identifying and arresting thieves, rapists, and murderers, and somebody hijacks it to use it to enslave others and adjust those who would oppose him?

When we succeed at harvesting the benefits of living with other people and minimizing the threats, we live together in a peaceful and prosperous community. When we fail . . . whole cities end up as piles of rubble filled with bloody corpses. When it fails, even a little, somebody - possibly you, possibly somebody you know and care about - ends up murdered, raped, injured, exploited, robbed, or otherwise harmed.

Here’s an example of morality gone wrong.

In the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent declared a crusade against Catharism. The Cathars believed in two gods – one good and one evil – which was contrary to the Catholic belief that there was only one God. The town of Beziers was one in which the citizens supported and sought to protect its Cathars – so they refused to turn their Cathars over to the Church. The crusaders laid siege to the town. They managed to get in through one of the city gates and commenced to slaughter its residents – about 20,000 people of all ages.

Why did this happen? Naturally, when there are a lot of people involved there are a lot of different reasons. There was a desire to protect people from eternal torment in hell by protecting them from a heresy that would result in divine punishment after death. There was a Catholic Church who did not want to share power with a different group of spiritual leaders. There were nobles seeking each other’s lands. There were citizens of Beziers who simply wanted to protect and defend their friends and neighbors. There were crusaders who were told that 40 days of service would erase all of their sins. There were obviously a few people who just like killing and, for whom, a chance to walk down a city street slaying everybody one sees and have all of one’s sins erased at the same time was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

There was, above all, a failure of morality. The institutions that people adopt to harvest the benefits of sharing the planet failed, and the result was widespread theft, rape, and murder.

Any student of history knows that its pages are soaked in this kind of blood and violence. The Crusades, the 30 Years War, the English Civil War, slavery, thousands of years in which women were mere property – moral failure is all too common.

Moral failure is all too common - even today. And people suffer and die as a result.

So, I think we are due for a serious discussion about the demands of morality. And I want to invite you to join me.

And it has to be a discussion. I was not granted with perfect wisdom and virtue. Several times, I have thought I have known some important answers, only to have somebody step up and prove to me that I was mistaken. Consequently, I am in no position to preach the truth of morality. I have, on the other hand, put a great deal of effort into understanding the issue, and I think that I am in a good position to facilitate such a discussion. Perhaps we can contribute something to harvesting more of the benefits of living in a community with others, while reducing or eliminating some of the threats.

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