- Capitalism and Alternatives -

An offhand reply

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on March 18, 1999 at 16:28:35:

In Reply to: hedonism and morality posted by Copenhagen on March 17, 1999 at 17:28:33:

: Gee at some time posited the Qn: Why buy a new car when that money could go to help the third world? (or something like it)

SDF: Now the question begged here is one of "is that money what would help the 'third world'"? What would a relatively small amount of money do, to alleviate the plight of countries whose entire yearly GDP would suffice to pay the interest on their debts to the IMF? If you believe what organizations such as the Institute for Food and Development Policy argue, then what the rest of the world needs is something on the order of "agricultural self-sufficiency," which means that "helping the third world" means allowing countries to feed their own people instead of using them as corporate conduits for food destined for Trilateral nations. (This probably means ending foreign policy strategies of rabid anti-communist US military intervention, too.) So maybe what the "third world" needs is to be empowered to take care of itself, something sounding more like "forebearance" than "financial charity".

: It is a fact of western society that while we consume large amounts of goods the third world nations suffer under the tyranny of starvation, pestilance, slavery and god knows what else. Why is it this happens? Gee i think (though i cannot find it) suggests an inherently selfish nature. I am not sure this is a fair representation of mankind.

SDF: Here's a radical idea. Why not investigate the infrastructural causes of starvation etc., rather than concerning oneself with pompous and unprovable declarations about "human nature"? Human behavior is malleable, capable of being manipulated by circumstances, and how this is useful to us should be our proper object of concern.

: Morality is i think an innate response to suffering, based perhaps upon a sympathetic empathy with others. Morality is not neccesarily human/human. So if a person sees an animal suffering they will (at least if niot 'psychopathic' or 'odd') feel a similar 'moral sympathy' towards the animal that is suffering.

SDF: This prompts the question, "what distinguishes morality from empathy?" Is there an important reason why we should use the word "morality" rather than words such as "empathy" or "altruism"? We should concentrate on how morality is NOT merely the expression of an inner state, what IS morality if it isn't such an expression, indeed, this above topic is the central issue of metaethics.

: The thing to be remembered about morality though is that it is not a description of an inner state, it expresses an inner state (The so called 'boo-hurrah' theory of morality). This is why we find it so hard to define exactly what the ambit of morality is, because it is not open to a description, we can only point out what it is we find objectionable.

SDF: Yes, now your opinion on what a description of morality SHOULD look like...

: As morality is an expression of an inner state, it tends to require that there be some sort of stimulus to evoke a moral reaction. An immediate stimulus will certainly evoke a reaction. When a stimulus is removed the intensity of reaction is correspopndingly reduced.

: As evidence of this, consider the situation of a woman who during the moring sees a starving dog upon the round and is filled with a moral sympathy. Indeed so outraged is she that she goes and tells the owner that he had better stop mistreating that dog or she is going to make trouble with the authorities.

: Later that evening the woman arrives home (with a newly acquired dog). She sits down and opens up her TV guide on the left hand side of the page there is an advertisement concerning the starving children in Africa. She turns the page and reads an article concerning the wild antics of a tv star. Why is it she does not elicit the same reaction to the starving children as she does to the starving dog?

: As i said the stimulus is removed. She does not have to deal directly with the starving child, cannot hear its moans and cries for help so her moral reaction is reduced.

SDF: Yes, but some people recognize that the situation you describe is in fact the stimulus they need to act, that people are not stimulated to behave communally, so they must act...

: But there are other reasons also as to why peole lack 'moral integrity' in these situations.

: Consider the fact that we live in a consumerist society, not a moral one. Our aims, (or at least what society tells us should be our aims) are basically to make as much money as possible in as short a period of time. Money to acquire more goods, more power, money for the sake of money even. Basically we are supposed to find such activities pleaasurable and necessary (and many people apparantly do, though i would question their moral integrity...).

SDF: Well, the aims of capitalist society, of life within businesses, have been oriented toward the accumulation of money, because the logic of investment requires businesses to put as much padding between themselves and financial bankruptcy as is materially possible.

: Consumerist society does not, as a general rule teach us altruism, it teaches us selfishness. We do not live in a society so much as we live in a collection of individuals who are all pursuing their own goals- ie a self interested society.

: Self interest does not promote social well being, it just promotes the self as the most important thing. Consequently people try to amass as much for themselves as they can with little interest in the consequences that their wealth creation has for society as a whole.

: The consumerist society also plasters us constantly with advertising saying buy this or buy thta or that this product is superior to another; tells us how we can have fun; tells us not to think too much; values more the creation of a book than its reading (for the creation is adding wealth, where reading is not); Witness here the sad state of universities that have become in effect 'production lines' for corporations rather than institutes of learning. It makes it too easy to forget in this hedonistic flurry, about the 'real world'- altogether too easy to forget our moral responsibilities.

SDF: It's likely that the "sad state of universities" is a symptom of their financial destitution rather than of their drive to accumulate, at least here in the US. I remember hearing on Pacifica Radio that financial aid in the US in the late 1990s is about half of what it was in 1980, its peak year. The University of California, of course, was driven to financial despair (and severe damage to its academic reputation) between then and now, by 20% across-the-board budget cuts accompanied by a tripling of student "fees". If universities have become the handmaidens of corporate production, it's possibly because they don't have the money to become much else. And BTW, what precisely is supposed to distinguish a production line from an institute of learning? Aren't workers on a production line learning something, i.e. how to produce?

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