The Botereid

Saturday, April 23, 2005

the need for new taboos

I don't want to propose this in a reactionary sort of way. I start with that because at times this proposal feels nothing but presented in that kind of way.

The more I study ethics, the more apparent it becomes that in all probability there is no solid foundation for it. I will write more on this later. What I'd like to focus on is the fact that I believe society intuitively knows this, or at least that it acts on the fact that it's true, and that what we hold most sacred is entirely and justifiably vulnerable.

Morals change. There's nothing to be done about it. The extreme moral positions of one generation become palatable to youth who say, after comparing them to more deeply-held moral principles, "how can it hurt?" I point to mores concerning civil rights, sexual freedoms, and gender equality as evidence. I think all of these moral changes are completely justified.

What is hard to swallow is that this system of moral change seems unavoidably recurrent. What was wrong yesterday, is right today. What is wrong today, may be right tomorrow. For examples of these latter mores, pedophilia and incest.

I have three points I would like to make about this intuition before signing off.

(1) This is a disgusting slippery slope argument. I expect that this would be the common objection to my feeling, with some people going so low as to suggesting that I am equating, say, homosexuality with pedophilia. Well, I am in a sense: I am equating them in the way that homosexuality used to be generally regarded as wrong and is now considered permissible. Pedophilia could follow the same pattern. It doesn't mean that I think, "Well, then, pedophilia must be OK" or, as more people will assume, "Well, then, homosexuality must be wrong." This just isn't the case. I also equated civil rights with pedophilia in the same sense -- this doesn't mean that I think interracial marriages are the exact same thing as child molestation.

The problem with this is that I don't think it follows that you okay homosexuality and we slide into pedophila. They're not the same thing. Where they are similar is that the former went from wrong to permissible and that the latter may follow the same pattern. But if it does, they still won't be identical -- they will have merely changed moral status through the same social mechanism.

(2) This is the first slip in a long slide into conservatism. This is a product, in a way, of (1). I'm still pretty liberal, but I feel that this could be the kind of realization that drives one into the arms of conservatism. I don't expect that I'll ever be a retroactivist -- trying to turn back the clock -- because I accept far too many new mores. But I can see myself digging my feet in when another set of new mores comes attacking my own, being held aloft by my grandchildren's generation.

(3) I'm not sure it's unavoidable. This is the ultimate fruition of (2). Civil rights and sexual freedoms were won in courts and legislatures, so I find those to be pretty flawed methods of protecting current mores. But does that mean we do nothing at all? When a generation begins to fight en masse for the next set of mores, if I disagree with them, I'll surely want to battle back. How? After all, as I said, laws seem ineffective.

This is where the title of this post comes in. It seems that the most effective means of moral persuasion over future generations is to institute some set of taboos. Clearly, traditional taboos are not enough. I believe it's because the traditional motivations have rotted. Society has had enough of religion, for example. Perhaps what we need then is a new sort of motivation for taboos, a new way of persuading others that a certain set of actions is impermissible. What could it be? I just don't know. The rise of widespread ethical discussion? The conquering of what we today consider wrong via reasoning? This seems like the most appealing solution. I'll post in a few days on why this may be depressingly incapable of solving the problem.

the blog

Obviously I haven't blogged much in the last few months, and perhaps this (the middle of reading week) is the worst moment to take it up again, but I am doing just that. I'm doing it for two reasons.

(1) Counterintuitively, I'm doing it to spend less time on the web. I'm taking the advice of a friend (and experienced blogger) and seeing a daily post as a way to complete a web session, rather than as the reason for one. That way I can have a sense of accomplishment, and more easily move on to more important things.

(2) Hand-in-hand with this, the blog is moving in a different direction. I haven't spent much time reading political news recently (mostly for time, partially because of the post-election deflation of interest), and I'd like to focus this blog on the things I find more rewarding in life: philosophy and poetry. The latter I've talked about a bit on the blog, but there will be more now. The former will be my central focus, however. I want to use this as a forum for hashing out interesting philosophical ideas. This will most likely make for incoherent philosophy and a boring blog, but so be it.