I owed someone £2.50 so I cut a five-pound note in two and gave them one of the halves. The human concepts morality and money have a parallel. They can be manipulated in ways that kind of make sense, you can see the logic, but don't stand up to scrutiny. People won't accept that half a note as payment, but they will accept something in the field of morality which is akin to this money cutting nonsense.
There was an era when coins had a more intrinsic value. There were made of silver or gold. Rather than carry heavy lumps of metal around, notes were created that promised to pay the bearer a sum of X pounds of silver. As time has gone along, a five-pound note has become completely artificial. It can no longer be swapped for a definitive amount of silver or gold. Instead we buy things rather than exchange one good with another using this imaginary money. Money can be created out of thin air as it is no longer something tangible that you can pick up and hold. The coins and notes are just tokens that represent money we govern. Money is now completely abstract, there is no physical money. Why do I mention this? Money is useful even though it doesn't exist. It enables us to trade easily. Morality has it uses too, despite not being concrete. Our sense of morality can give us confidence in our actions. It can guide us. It might prevent us from doing 'bad' things to others. It can be the inhibitor; its immoral so I won't do it. Or I feel I have a moral duty to do something about what I see going on.
We each create a set of moral codes. Some may have none at all, others a long long list with many intricate details. It is our own personal construct. We each devise a unique set of rights and wrongs. No two people share the exact same list and most significantly, no moral code is agreed upon by all people. Some forms of morality are adopted and considered important by more people than others.
Some have tried to think of one rule, one moral stance that might be universally agreed upon. The more heinous the act, the greater the number of those that might consider it to be wrong, immoral. It is as if we need a starting point to then build upon. Alas, no one seems to be even able to get this one judgement set in place. There is always a few that will consider the circumstance and the context. In some cases, even the most troubling action can have a justification.
As each day passes we adjust our list of moral codes. We add new ones and demote others. Those that travel to see how other cultures thrive have their morality and ethics tested the most. Many begin to see that what they had firmly held to be true and proper does not have to be so rigorously enforced.
In times of war, people can quickly cast aside their personal moral codes. We can be taught to kill and maim in the arena of conflict leaving behind the notion of do no harm to anyone far behind. We are much more likely to do something horrid if under the command of people that have the air of authority. People are more inclined to do terrible things to others if we are told to do so. Responsibility is deferred to those in charge.
Steal to save a life
Thou shalt not take without the owner's permission, unless it is to save a sick and dying person. What is the harm? we ask. They have plenty and we are without. We could gauge that a pharmacy has plenty of stock and therefore your theft will make very little difference. A big gain for your patient, a small loss to the shop owner. Will another ill individual go without? Will the chemist cease trading as the thefts become too frequent thereby leaving a community bereft of a fine local service? One way or another a theft deprives others. Less tax is collected, and less cash will become available to be distributed. We have a greater tendency to care for ourselves and those we like the most. Our theft yields a positive result for our clan. As each clan gets in on the act, mayhem ensues. More and more miss out and all find life a bigger struggle.
We are assuming that a one-off crime to save a life is 'get-away-withable'. However, there is the slippery slope. First stealing to definitively save a life. Then stealing something to assist someone who is ill but not in a life-threatening way. All the way down through, not feeling good and a tablet is an ideal pick me up, followed by simply stealing an item to boost one's ego. Our moral code has a justifier linked to an action. We might only steal if it is to save a life because we class any damage done as small in relation to the positive outcome. To watch someone die in front of you, with a cure so temptingly close by is hard to bear. Some may even say it is immoral to not steal and ensure a life is saved.
I want to present a good reason to state clearly why a theft to save a life is immoral, but I can't. One person gains, another loses.
Some societies will put things in place, community funded, to reduce the requirement to steal. In other places the tenth person that breaks into the shop that month gets clubbed to death by the store owner.
The answer to the question of whether it is right or wrong to steal to save a life is not found in the idea that things are either moral or immoral. Morality is an illusion. There is a cause and effect. The shop gets broken into and the shopkeeper will either let it be, take measures to track down the culprits or take steps to make it harder for the next person. We adjust according to what we want to achieve. Morality is like money, a nothing entity, all in our mind. Morality is data and money is a number that is represented somehow in a banks tally. We like the convenience of money and similarly like having a set of moral registers in our memory.
Saying that morality is wispy is not to say that we don't care for others, quite the contrary. We understand another person's desire to be unharmed. Most can see that some actions are nasty, hurtful and painful. A trip to the dentist can involve some painful, nasty treatments, but it is unlikely that we view it with any sense of morality. A father sped up on a ski run, intentionally, so that he could slide into his son and knock him over. The son was bruised and battered. The bigger picture showed that this action prevented the son from flying off into a steep ravine. Commentators can say that whipping someone that is tied up is an immoral despicable act. Yet, some pay good money to have this done to them. They enjoy it.
Is it immoral to be struck by lightning? We can be hit by nature, by a falling rock, or swept away by a tsunami, none of which seem to involve morality. When someone hits you, stabs you, drives recklessly over you or drops a nuclear bomb above your head, morality rears up. An "act of god" seems different to an action by a human being. The seemingly deliberate violence can have a random element. A glitch in someone's thought processes can be a cause of an outburst. Premeditation is governed by chaotic events inside and out. We think there is a difference between the morality of being hit by lightning versus being hit by an angry person.
Some accumulate money, some fabricate ethical standards by which they live their life. And lots like to be the arbiter of what is morally acceptable and what is abhorrent. As for hypocrisy, well it all depends on who is dishing out the piety.
If you replace morality with preferences then you can relate to the differences we each have in regard to what we think is right or wrong, good or bad and helpful or evil. We might prefer to see someone steal to save a life than have everyone be a law-abiding citizen in this instance. Our morality is nothing more than an opinion. Some will think something is fair, others disagree.
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