Thursday, September 17, 2009

Modern Day Morality

I remember seeing disclaimers on books that informed me that if the book had been sold without its cover that it was a pirated book and the author and publisher had not received a share of the profits. I never saw a pirated book and so I always have wondered how prolific the pirated book trade really is, outside of college campuses where the work is done with copiers and not the actual book. Still the image of a torn book helps make it fairly revealing that the book is stolen, a violated product.

The same is not true with so many stolen items today, but in particular I am thinking of online products. Computer piracy is so prevalent that the lines get blurred on what is and is not stolen, what is and is not illegal. I do not know what all the rules are for burning tracks from a CD onto a computer, when it is legal and when it is illegal, etc. Even if I did it is harder to see it as a bad thing. We do not have the torn and tattered book to remind us that the song we are listening to was gained without proper compensation. We have no tangible reminder of the damage that is caused to others. I think on the primary reasons for computer piracy is that the seemingly victimless nature of the crimes. It is hard to see how a pirated version of Windows hurts anyone, except Microsoft, and they are some big "evil" corporation. The "evil" helps to further justify the action. Or so what if some millionaire singer does not get their royalties because of the song I illegally download.

Is there a decline the morality of our nation today, or are the temptations and grey areas just more obvious than they were in the past? Is the danger of the Internet generation that separation makes it hard to remember there are people at the other end of things. Stab a person you can feel them there, shoot them you can see their face, lob a missile at them and you may not even know they are there. Grab someone's purse and you can feel their resistance, rob a store at night and you likely know the person you are stealing from, even if it was just while casing the place, hack into someone's bank account online and you likely only know their name so you can use it to further the theft. Each step away makes the victim seem less real. In our Internet age we forget about the people around them, we objectify them, and suddenly morlaity is less defined.

In the end I tend to be a relativist when it comes to morality. I know what I value as right and wrong, but I know that at least some of those values are really a personal choice and not somehting I would feel everyone has to value in the same way. At the same time I think people do need to employ a certain broarder nature to their ethics. One of Kant's principles for ethics was that any ethical stance needed to be one that a person would want universalized. So if it is ok for me to pirate stuff from Microsoft than it is ok for others to pirate my work and not pay for it. Should I publish a book at some point I would then be fine if some people copied it and I did not recieve royalties. I should be ok with the logical consequences of my actions.

I do not know if the world is truly worse than it was years ago, but I do know this, the world today would be better if we all had a better sense of ethics. The world would be better if we thought not just about what is right and good for us, but what we would want if we were on the other side of things. The world would be better if we remember the divine spark within us all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ignorance is (not) Bliss

The first assignment I had as a soon-to-be philosophy major at Beloit was to write an essay. The question posed was whether it was better to be ignorant and happy or wise and sad. I went with ignorant and happy, because in the end, wisdom should lead towards happiness as well. If knowledge does not lead towards happiness, then it loses some of its value, at least to me. By the same token, ignorance that leaves us unhappy is bad.

Recently my wife and I took a group of youth down to the Twin Cities to work at the Fair, go to the zoo, and shop at the Mall. The less exciting part of the trip was heading to Hamline University to use their showers. What we had neglected to mention to people, or have people plan for was that the showers not private stalls. All of the youth were wonderfully mature and handled it well. Afterwards my wife and I were talking about it, and both of us realized that we assumed that showering under such circumstances was easier for teens of the opposite gender. Neither of us had solid reasons we could point to, but both of us, in our ignorance assumed that the awkwardness that we remembered and encountered was somehow less for the other side.

I find this to be a great example of how our ignorance did not create bliss, but in fact probably only worsened things. When it comes to things like, shame, one of the main things that feeds it is the assumption that we are less for feeling it. If we all have the assumption that we are the only ones feeling awkward about something, like showering in a public locker room, then we further deepen our shame, making things all the worse.

I do not have a grand solution to the showering dilema, but I do think it raises some good questions for all of us. How many people struggle and suffer in silence on other things, believing themselves to be the only person who struggles with such problems. If we did not focus so much on our precieved weakness compared to others, maybe who would realize just how strong we really are. If only we got past our ignorance, had the courage to share with each othter, we would all realize how weak we all are, and by extension just how strong each of us truly is.