Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Morality is a funny thing, everybody seems to base it around different things. Everybody seems to have a very different idea of what is right. There is a current trend in fiction towards grey vs grey morality. The basic feeling is that if you look at matters from all the different points of view possible that it is difficult or even impossible to ever call any particular action morally right or wrong. The tendency is to point out that there are no absolutes, that no one group is any more evil or good than another and thus that the whole question of morality is moot and pointless.
Because according to the shades-of-grey idea, there are no absolutes.
To my mind, this is wrong.
The point of grey vs grey morality is that every side in a conflict has good and evil points. This is true, but it doesn't render morality moot, instead it does just the opposite. It establishes that the absolutes of morality apply across all lines.
For example, there is a particular show which I can't use well as an example without spoiling it horrendously and thus will be discussed without naming the show. The story is basically a masterful rehash of the Salem's Lot storyline. Vampires come into a small, isolated town and proceed to take it over slowly, person by person. Eventually, the humans learn what is up and start hunting the vampires.
The vampires' motive is to simply have a place where they can live without being constantly on the run. A place where they can feel safe. The humans' motive is to survive.
Neither side has a bad motive.
Unfortunately, there is no ability to co-exist between the two groups. The vampires must feed, and feeding eventually results in death followed by possible conversion. Though the specifics are not mentioned it is implied that the vampires can't simply feed around on a whole lot of different people in order to avoid killing any one person. The suggestion is that they've tried to do that in the past and it hasn't worked.
The eventual vampire plan is to either kill or turn everyone in the village (there seems to be some genetic switch that determines which humans turn and which just die), so that there is nothing left but vampires. In order to keep feeding those vampires, they'd send groups out to the nearest big city to kidnap humans for feeding. If they don't feed, they die.
Cohabitation is impossible and this would seem to give humanity every right to defend itself.
But the manner in which it is done is exceedingly brutal in places. One character's wife died, I forget whether he let her die or not, and he kept it secret from other people, pretending she was in critical condition. This let him privately document her case as she started to become a vampire. And then she woke up. Within the basis of the setting, vampires wake up without realizing what they are. The wife woke up to her husband, probably had a few moments of happiness and thinking she'd gotten better, and then had her mouth duct-taped closed while her husband proceeded to carryout experiments on her, recording the scenario and commenting coldly.
She spent the next few hours having limbs broken or removed until they heal, hydrochloric acid injected in her system, various poisons, electric shock, exposed to the sun and fire. All the time she was screaming and crying piteously. On the one hand, we know that she is now a blood-thirsty, undead creature, but, on the other she has no idea what she is and only really knows that she is being tortured by a man she was formerly married to fairly happily.
Likewise, there are some humans during the purge that follows that elect to pull some of the vampires out into the sun and let them burn to death slowly rather than decapitate or stake their hearts. Basically electing to consign the vampires to a slow, painful death rather than ending it mercifully and quickly. Others would do things like chopping limbs off first, running over vampires with tractors and deciding whether or not they're still alive.
The necessity of killing the vampires is clear, they kill faster than humans can reproduce and the only thing that keeps them in balance is low numbers and the fact that they have numerous weaknesses. When aware of the vampires' presence, humanity can kill them fairly easily. However, the manner of execution was very cruel. Unnecessarily so. They didn't go about killing the vampires out of necessity and regret. They were seeking vengeance and acting out of hatred.
On the other hand, there were vampires that quite clearly cared for and loved the others around them and who just wanted to live. There were even vampires that refused to hurt anyone else and opted instead to slowly starve death, or perhaps even be killed by the other vampires.
This show and scenario is shown as an example of grey vs grey morality and therefor an example of how the world can't simply be painted in a black or white brush.
The thing is, the morality of the piece is not grey.
Morality is never shades of grey.
There is always a right and a wrong thing to do. And the choice is in the hands of the individuals making them.
Grey vs grey morality stories are different because the characters themselves aren't always consistently choosing what is right.
Stargate SG-1 is another series that is supposedly leans toward grey morality, but again, the morality is not grey, only that there are existing motivations besides pure morality.
People want morality to be grey.
A grey light does not burn.
If morality is grey, that means that they cannot be legitimately called immoral for one reason or another.
The idea of grey vs grey morality is basically a way to absolve a person of behaving in a morale manner. If people believe that morality doesn't really have any solid bearing on things, then it is easier to make a choice against that morality. It is a way to remove morality from the list of values and thus give themselves an easier time with whatever decisions that they had made.
But again. Morality is not grey.
Killing another person, even in necessity, is wrong.
When you kill someone, you remove all the possibilities that lie before them. There is no telling what could or could not have happened because you took that person out of the equation of existence. Even assuming an immortal soul, as I do, you've prevented that soul from acquiring experiences it otherwise would have. Even if reincarnation is possible and the soul comes back, the experiences it would have in the next life can never be exactly the same as the experiences they'd have had if they hadn't been killed. Those unique experiences have been stolen...destroyed. Unique, priceless experiences that would have led towards countless other priceless, unique experiences.
It is an ultimate form of theft, the theft of existence.
Morality is not grey.
There is right.
There is wrong.
And if it looks like you're having trouble which is which. It is only because you're having trouble justifying to yourself making a decision that you know to be immoral.
This is where the grey vs grey comes in: the values, the motivations and the choices.
Not the morality, but the fact that good people aren't always moral.
You can sin and still be a good person. That's the reason why there is forgiveness and redemption.
Morality is hard.
There's a reason why one of the most famous quotes from the New Testament is "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone."
The next thing people try to use to absolve themselves of the responsibility of being moral is the concept that they did not have a choice but to do something.
There is always a choice.
The results of those choice aren't always results we want and because we've decided that a particular result is something we can't have happen that we have no choice but have to perform an action that would be considered immoral.
I had no choice but to steal the that money, because I was going to starve otherwise.
No, you have a choice.
The choice might mean you die, but that is still a choice. Note that stealing the money could mean that someone else dies other than you, but that possibility is far off from the hungry thief's thoughts and stomach.
We only say "I have no choice" when we mean "I think the other choices I have are worse than the one I'm making."
But if we admit to ourselves that we are making the choice based on getting as much of what we want as possible, then we admit to making a deliberately immoral choice, even just a small one.
Then comes the next big thing with absolving ourselves of morality and trying to ignore the absolute nature of right and wrong.
"It's not my fault, because..."
This is especially prevalent in the last few decades.
"It's not my fault I ran them off the road, I was suffering from road-rage."
"It's not my fault, I'm an alcoholic."
"It's not my fault because of racism."
"it's not my fault because I'm poor."
"It's not my fault because my parents are bad."
"It's not my fault..."
"it's not my fault..."
"it's not my fault..."
All of it more shallow attempts to absolve ourselves.
Nothing can really take away our choice. Free will isn't that easy to get rid of. Even when we're manipulated into making a choice.
We. Made. The. Choice.
Not the manipulator.
Our anger doesn't make our choice. We do.
Beer doesn't make the choice. We do.
It might be hard to make the choice, especially in the face of mental, physical and social problems. But we can make the choice.
Choice is always there, only we ourselves are not always strong enough to make that choice.
Everybody has quirks, personality issues, problems and other things, severe or otherwise, but some people overcome them, and others say "it's not my fault."
Another baggage that morality has received is confusing moral issues with issues of societal prejudices or taboos.
Morality, down to its base, is about respecting other people and doing what you can to avoid hurting them. A number of behaviors that are considered immoral aren't actually on that axis at all.
Premarital sex, promiscuity, homosexuality, drugs, gambling, "kinky sex", acting, various religions and practices.
(Note: the sex practices listed do not include adultery...adultery is a sin...you are breaking a promise that you made to someone and, in doing so, harming the intimacy between you and them and harming them as well....hence it is no longer just a thing to do)
All have been pegged as "immoral" at one time or another, or still are. Drugs, gambling and promiscuity are, at worst, unwise. The rest are generally neutral.
These activities can lead to immoral activity, but some of that is because of the societal pressures applied and any belief and activity can lead toward immoral behaviors. Because that choice is always there waiting for us.
It's just another way of absolving ourselves of the choice again. Or in this case absolving someone else.
The person isn't at fault, they're sluts or drunks or druggies or belong to some cult or whatever other slur or insult we can think of to apply to someone.
If we can just get rid of all these bad movies, we won't have people committing crimes. Or get rid of the gays, or this race or that, or that religion, or football, or video games, or dancing. Once again...it's an attempt to take away the responsibility from the person and pretend that the choice and the fault is not in us.
Such thinking tends to lead to the people thinking that way towards making immoral choices. Not only immoral, but immoral and useless choices. For example, the idea that getting rid of video games will solve a lot of our problems. It's useless because the fault isn't in the games, it's in the ability to make a choice that is wrong. So getting rid of the game is useless, the choice to be or not to be immoral has existed since we were given Free Will.
So there it is.
I'm an old-fashioned moralist. Despite the fact that my books include heroes that are of the type that a lot of old-fashioned moralists would say are immoral just on the face of what they are.
Morality is an absolute.
Only how we value it varies.
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