The Questionability of Ethics

While reading a great book or watching a well-made film, you might have come to the realisation that even the most heinous act, depicted in a certain way and described with the right words, can be transformed to take meanings of beauty, righteousness and desirability.

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What mastery — of both meaning inferrers and creators — to be able to see hidden layers in phenomena. In the way Japanese masters of verse believe that only by removing one’s self from the object of examination, may one find its true beauty. In the way political writers recognise forces of power to be dictating our thoughts and actions. In the way adultery and intrigue between French philosophers and Mexican painters influences and underpins their brilliance; their creations.

Yet our daily life decisions seem to be made on a basis of prescribed ideas of right and wrong, put forward by transcending human experience and overarching religions (we call them corporations now) that have fuelled wars since the dawn of time. Right and wrong — those ever-changing concepts. How restrictive.

Part of our socialisation, the becoming of (mis)informed citizens of the world, is the power to know and recognise what is good and what is evil; what is meant to be and how it’s meant to be. And women are feminine and men are masculine, and one day you realise your wrong is someone’s right. How do we expect to understand the complexity of life, when we constantly dichotomise it? Where does self-righteousness end and guilt begin?

Despite your life’s philosophy, your religion’s holy book, your mantra, your constitution, both written and unwritten rules of conduct define our actions as legal, normal, kind, expected, better. Is a higher intellect of ethics present in the minds of spiritual influencers? Or is there an understanding that since the concepts of righteousness and sin are changeable, what is left is simply acting from a place of love, understanding and forgiveness? Does the mastery of artists and philosophers give them an insight on the palpability of ethics or are we simply left in awe from their higher power to create, ready to forgive and forget that they are flawed humans, like us all?

Words have the power to transform the effect of actions, many times fuelling more reactions than the actions themselves. If a human action can challenge and change ethics in the mind of others, how much is the concept of ethics a human creation with no deeper connection to the universe or God?

And I guess you can say ethics are mundane, only to be conceptualised by humans for humans. If you are willing to accept that all ethics are a social construct created, intertwined and reproduced by social systems and the people who comprise them, then sure. You can stop reading now. But if you have ever wondered whether some ethics are more ethic than others, maybe it’s worth sticking about. What happens when societies clash? When different codes of ethics clash? The republicans and the democrats; the catholics and the protestants; Westerners and Islamic State. Are they all wrong, because there is no universal truth or is the side that lobbies for peace, abolishment of exploitation, civil rights, equality, potentially more right? And if all ethics are socially constructed, by what standards can we recognise that equality is better than inequality?

In its fullness, in its perfection, the deity underlying existence has brought little more than absolute misery to the lives of the many. A contradiction duly noted historically. The rhetoric moves on to the question of the concept of misery as a challenge and/or a punishment. But what if it’s simply a misunderstanding? If the answers don’t clearly lie with the divine, perhaps the explanation lies in His removal.

Do we live in a world without God? If the creating force is itself perfect, then our creation must lie in the absence of perfection from our essence. But if we were indeed the creation of an unflawed energy, then imperfection should be impossible. Maybe some answers are hidden under the false assumption that God intended to create us; to love us, protect us and consequently save us.

Maybe we just reside in a world of chaos. And if chaos is all that exists then our answers must lie with anarchy.

But I find that too frightening to even think about. What would humans do without prescribed ethics, when we are daily subjects of atrocities in the name of ethics subscribers?

Perhaps we would be liberated.

Perhaps we would come together and instead of fighting over whose God is the most loving, we would just agree to live harmoniously, stripping ethics to core values that would allow everyone to simply live. Interesting how the concept of utopia for many is underpinned by the abolition of rules, while the world around us continues to take measures, be they counterterrorist, financial or even diplomatic. And our minds are as free as our bodies to explore the layers of ethics in seemingly unethical actions. Like our bodies that have been conducted, transformed, socialised and moulded to the ideals of the existing power.

What mastery — of both meaning inferrers and creators — to be able to escape that, to challenge the status quo. The essence of art.

  • This piece is influenced by the work and life of Matsuo Bashō, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera, Vladimir Nabokov, Michel Foucault, Simone Weil, Noam Chomsky and Roland Barthes.
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