14 December, 2008Ogethics comments of a day ago rely on the inevitability of core values to maintain our direction and visceral response to what takes place in our universe. Unfortunately, this has not proven to be the case throughout our cultural history. If we are what we know, then what we are is constantly changing - at least in the Western cultures. There was a period in our existence when it was perfectly acceptable to watch the sun rise in the East as it revolved around the earth as the center of the universe... and what planets we saw were part of a fixed structure that never changed and were supported by glass spheres (well, you can't see them, can you?) Religiously, there was an era (thankfully short) when it was beneficial to burn women at the stake - as a favor to them - as directed by God. Augustine rejected earthly existence as just a false pretense to obtaining heavenly reward - and everything material was to be rejected or interpreted as semblances of godly manifestations.
We are, after all, subjects of our environment(s) - logical, physical, spiritual and (yes) ethical. The root problem is that our ethics evolve alongside our cultural movement; in ALL directions. The Bush Doctrine calls for a "clearly ethical tenet" of spreading democracy throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. Unfortunately, this ethical stance has no provision for a democratic process which elects a regime that denies women's rights. Obviously, be careful what you ask for.
The fact that "there is nothing that can corrode moral character in me but myself" discounts the seemingly core universal precept that we are organisms that react to perceived ethical situations based on our accumulated experiences. HOW CAN THIS NOT BE TRUE?
The total sum of who we are as a civilization, over the millennia, is what we know - and what we know CONSTANTLY changes, and will continue to over the coming millennia. To say that we "own" a set of values that are constant throughout the ages, and can always be relied on to 'come back to' in times of trouble, angst or turmoil denies the periodic occurrences of "The Dark Ages" in all their manifestations - Visigoths, Huns, Heathens and Nazis. They seem to reset our value gauges as they slowly 'get out of whack' over generations. If that represents a core moral ethic, then so be it. But it cannot name them and cast them in granite to administer to the coming ages.
All we can rely on is that general sense of unease or blatant outrage (at Rwanda, for instance) and say "Well, that's just not right..." and begin the slow and plodding trek back toward whatever the current generally acceptable "center" is that does not offend our sense of humanity. Some times it's slow and imperceptible, but unfortunately it's usually a result of bloodshed, genocide or injustice. You may find its' sense in the word "uplifting" or "disappointing" - those indefinable ebbs and flows of hope or anguish we experience - September 11th, 2001; Mother Teresa; the rise of environmentalism, Caylee Anthony, the Obama election, and a 'zillion' more. But to say it is an immutable universal truth that endures throughout the ages may discount the evidence that we are what we are ONLY in the light of the spotlight that illuminates today, the recent past and the near future. That's all. Nothing more.
More information about text formats