Wednesday, April 14, 2004
I. THOU SHALT LOVE THYSELF WITH ALL THY POWER, THY WILL, AND THY MIGHT, FOR THOU ART THE ONLY ONE UPON WHOM THOU MAYEST ALWAYS RELY.
Replacing any god with the true center of anyone's life, oneself, these ethical imperatives start at the real source of one's scale of values. The imperative to love oneself is not an endorsement of indulgence and bacchanalia. Alcohol abuse leads to diseases of the liver, promiscuous sex can kill, excessive eating leads to obesity, and so forth. You can't say you really love yourself if you inflict yourself any of these problems. The corollary proposes the reality that, in the end, no one loves you as much as you love yourself.
II. THOU SHALT MAKE TRUE IMAGES OF THYSELF, TO REVERE, CHERISH AND KNOW FULLY.
Lying to others about yourself through false images, false impressions, a false facade, is the beginning of lying to yourself about yourself. You can be proud only of the true self you are, which in one way or another is sure to have commendable traits, as well as drawbacks. Learn to know yourself as you really are and to respect yourself.
III. REMEMBER TO SET APART TIME FOR THY RECREATION AND JOY, FOR THOU HAST ONLY ONE LIFE IN WHICH TO REJOICE.
The Protestant Work Ethic deserves to be challenged. It is not a source of joy. Do you live to work or work to live? If you work hard, is it because it fullfills you or is it for some other reason that does not give you joy? Are the things you get through the fruits of labor really sources of joy to you, or are they what you think you are expected to have? Remember: you have only one life! Enjoy it for yourself, the true self mentioned earlier.
IV. BE MINDFUL THAT THOU CANNOT LIVE ALONE FOR LONG, THUS RESPECT ALL THOSE WHO NURTURE THEE.
In the Mosaic decalogue, this applied to parents. In reality, it should apply to all who are in the nurturing chain. We are not islands, we are social animals.
V. THOU SHALT NOT DIMINISH THE LIFE OF ANOTHER FELLOW HUMAN, WHETHER BY TAUNT OR PREJUDICE OR DEPRIVATION OR THE TAKING OF LIFE, FOR EVERYONE IS IN THE NURTURING CHAIN THAT NURTURES THEE.
I have expanded and made more explicit the most common ways in which even civilized human beings are likely to rob one another of life. Whenever we make life miserable for someone else, for even one second, we have stolen a possibility of joy that is irreplaceable. That second will never come again, that chance at some semblance of happiness is gone forever. We have killed that person for one moment.
VI. THOU SHALT RESPECT THE SURROUNDINGS THAT SUSTAIN THEE AND THY FELLOWS.
Biblical adultery, which was the object of the item at this location in Moses' law, was ultimately about maintaining an unquestioned lineage for the purposes of inheritance. I have expanded it to deal with a respect for not merely personal property but all things in the environment that allow us to live.
VII. THOU SHALT RESPECT AND HONOR THOSE THINGS THAT ENABLE THY FELLOWS TO SURVIVE, THEIR PROPERTY, THEIR FAIR AND JUST WAGES, WITH THE SAME RESPECT THAT THOU SHALT CLAIM FOR THAT WHICH IS THINE OWN.
The opposite of stealing is to respect what others need to survive.
VIII. THOU SHALT HONOR THINE OWN REPUTATION BY BEING A TELLER OF TRUTH AS BEST THOU SEEST IT.
This needs little commentary.
IX. THOU SHALT ENJOY THE FLESH OF OTHERS, RESPECTING THEIR OWN DESIRES AS WELL AS THINE AND TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY CONSEQUENCES THEREOF.
We need a positive imperative about sex, a principle that will allow us to enjoy our sexual side, so long as we respect others and live up to the duties that may arise as a consequence (parenthood or disease).
X. THOU SHALT REIN IN DESIRES THAT GIVE RISE TO HATE, THEFT, DISRESPECT OF OTHERS, DESPOILING OF THE EARTH THAT SUSTAINS THEE, AND THE DIMINISHMENT OF LIFE.
Here I take the ancient notion of coveting as a source of much mischief and expand it to cover any desire that, unbridled, leads to disrespecting nature and fellow human beings -- including greed, envy and prejudice. To raze a forest merely to make more money, to wish an accident for a neighbor who has a car that is better than ours, to derive one's own self-respect from a pejorative view of entire classes of people, these are instances of what this imperative is intended to prevent.
Now I have come down from the mountain.
Copyright © 2004 by Cecilieaux
Sunday, March 14, 2004
A common argument wielded by many theists, that no ethics are possible without a deity, need not hold true. Indeed, the argument is a curious inversion of the Marxian notion that religion is a tool of social discipline.
Without any god it is possible to arrive at what I call the Ethics of Survival. This is a stance of moral philosophy that begins with me, the individual who is essentially alone; no one is intrinsically and reliably for me, in the sense Rabbi Hillel wrote of, so I must be for myself.
Inexplicably, I find myself alive. In considering what behavior is good and of the sort I should strive for, and which is bad, and to be avoided, I have no god, no tablets of law, nothing to guide me but my meagre intellectual resources.
Now, since ethics, or moral philosophy, is the discourse about human behavior, a moral philosophy requires at least one living human, as dead people do not exhibit observable behavior. Survival itself, therefore, is the essential element of any such philosophy: we cannot behave well unless we are alive.
Thus the first ethical principle: all behavior that enhances my survival is good and desirable, whatever detracts from it is bad and to be avoided. This is a universal norm.
In invoking universality I do not mean to proclaim an absolute principle. Rather, I mean that, with very few exceptions (primarily insane people or people under unusual amounts of stress), life is universally valued by human beings. Many of us may not know the best way to preserve or enhance it, but we still value life, our own to begin with.
Now, then, I value my life. But I cannot survive alone. Oh, yes, ever since Rousseau the noble savage sustained by beasts has plagued human discourse; yet in reality, human beings need other human beings to survive.
I would not have reached my first year without a certain hospital in New York where I was saved from near death at 11 months. Most newborns are utterly incapable of caring for themselves, a condition that continues for years.
Most adults are in a similar situation. We don't all provide for all our needs individually; most of us today couldn't keep our current style of living without a society around us. There's enough anthropology around to tell us that this is true almost axiomatically for all human beings: we are a social species.
So here's the corollary of the first principle: my own survival is linked to the survival of others, whose survival is linked to still others more, who in turn are linked ... on and on, to the point that my survival is linked to the survival of all humanity. The moral order that begins with my survival demands behavior that enhances the survival of all humanity.
John Donne said first:
"No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less ...
... therefore never send to know
for whom the bells tolls;
it tolls for thee."
Some may well object at this point, that most people seek survival when they look out for themselves, and therefore, that they live by this ethic instinctively. My response is that they may well think they are, but that is true only in a very limited, ephemeral sense.
When I behave to promote only my survival, others be damned, I am really being shortsighted.
Suppose I decided not to pay taxes that pay for public schools on grounds that I, personally, do not need schools any more. I expose myself to the risk that one day, a half-literate driving an ambulance will be unable to read the map that takes my infarcted body to the cardiologist I sorely need, causing me to die at an earlier age than might have otherwise been the case.
Telescope it further, owning an SUV, for example, has endless moral ramifications. In the immediate, superficial sense owning an SUV may not seem involve a moral question. But when considered in its global context ... we can start from the proven poor safety record of these vehicles, to their polluting effects, to the wars that continue to be fought in order to control the non-renewable resource they consume voraciously: oil. If I buy an SUV I make a choice to consume and despoil more than is my fair share.
This is, in sum, an ethic that makes sense in and of itself. This is moral philosophy without a god, afterlife nor, the quintessential boogeyman, hell.
Doing good and avoiding evil because it makes sense.Copyright © 2004 by Cecilieaux