Soooo, been having a bit of a boring debate with someone on Twitter. I say boring because I debate online not to convince who I'm talking to (that is a fruitless endeavour; anyone with a strong enough opinion to air it is usually unchangeable in that opinion), but to convince the audience. There's not much of an audience for private conversations on Twitter... and the character count is rather frustrating when dealing with complex ideas.
Figured I should air my thoughts here.
I was asked (not sure why) where my moral compass comes from. Mr Opposition claimed that law should dictate our ethical standpoints... unless he happens to disagree with it. It's a good job I'm not a perfectly logical brain; such an idea would have fried my positronics.
To believe the law is what decides our morals is a TERRIBLE idea. The law should be influenced by societies morals, not the other way around. If we were to just sheepishly do as the law says, there would never be forward motion. Just think about the laws that used to stand, or what laws were once lacking.
- Slavery was once legal in America, and indeed a large portion of Americans wanted to keep it that way (it was never legal in the UK, it just sort of happened).
- Wife beating was once perfectly legal everywhere (actually, I think it may have been much less legal in ancient Egypt than it was in say Victorian England), still is in some countries >_>
- Legalising homosexuality is a very recent thing, even in "modern" countries. Being gay (sexual activity between men... lesbians don't exist) was made legal in England and Wales in 1967, 1980 in Scotland and 1982 in Northern Ireland. It was illegal in America (depending on what state you happened to be in) until 2003!
Those are just the big ones that spring to mind. If a person was to accept what the government set down as law as their own personal morality then men could still beat their wives, slaves would still be working the fields and the gay community would be fined and imprisoned for loving/lusting after the 'wrong' person. It is BECAUSE people did not accept the government's dictates that these laws changed. It is BECAUSE people had their own moral compasses that they argued against slavery, for women's rights and for the right to shag whoever wanted to shag you back.
Law should NEVER be the deciding factor in how you act, even and especially towards the flora and fauna that share your air.
C.S. Lewis (a man I hold in very high regard, despite his ideas about where women should stand in marriage) wrote in "Mere Christianity" that the government was there to make every man's life easier, if it was making it more difficult then it was doing something wrong. If it is doing something wrong then it needs changing.
Easier said than done, to be sure... but it must be done, even if it is simply voting in a new party at the next elections. Watching the government hurt people, or letting people hurt people is not acceptable. What is even worse is doing the hurting because the government says you can or, horribly, that you should. Unfortunately, this is exactly how many people act.
"The law says so, so don't do/do it."
If you get right down to it, the government says to you, every few years; "vote for us."
Do you vote for the current government? Should you roll over and do that, just because the government says so?
My moral compass points the way I want it to point and should be helping to navigate the government and the law, not the other way around.
Now, what DOES influence the way that needle points?
Everything I see. Everything I hear. Everything I read. Everything I do.
My moral North is and always has been in flux. It doesn't often swing much, but it does shift, it does change. I am not arrogant enough to believe that my world view is perfect and correct. I am human, and as such I make mistakes, but I can learn. As I learn new things about the universe I have to shift my moral stand point.
Example; as a child I merrily scoffed meat (well, anything that was put in front of my face... which resulted in me eating an emulsion coated paintbrush once o.O Thanks for taking a picture before getting it off me, dad. ). As I grew up, as I learnt empathy, as I discovered animal biology and physiology, I became less inclined to eat at places such as MacDonald's and KFC. Then I became a vegan. However, new knowledge of ecosystems, of adapting farming practices, a maturing philosophy on life and death urged me towards Ethical Eating; Organic animal produce, free range foods, local produce, game meat. I would stoutly refuse to eat ANYTHING that did not fall under those remits though, or anything that had been near foods that did not meet my standards. Now I am more relaxed, not because I have become lazy in my philosophy, but because I understand more about food waste. 'Tis better that ham is in my belly than in the bin.
I swim in a very grey sea... well it's more like a quagmire, with the Island of Moral Truth waaaaay beyond the horizon. I might be in the wrong ocean. I might even be on the wrong planet. I have to keep swimming though. If I stay where I am, just treading water, eventually I'll drown. I don't mind drowning on the way, but drowning for the wrong thing is just... silly.
Don't hold steadfastly to your position, ignoring any new input. You don't know everything. You can't. You will always be learning (well, you should be), so let that new knowledge push you in one way or the other. You can never be certain if it's pushing in the right direction (can there ever be such a thing as moral certainty?), but it's worth finding out where it's making you go... you can always move on if it's the wrong place.