Morality isn’t a subject I am very comfortable discussing. It strikes at the heart of our deepest, most passionately held values. Whenever possible, I try to avoid using moralistic language, as it is commonly invoked to shut down debate on controversial topics. This is often demanded by the petitioner without any clear reason aside from social conditioning or intense dislike. Moral reasoning requires certain preconditions which no longer exist in contemporary America.
Looking at our moral landscape, I see the fallout of a catastrophe. Most Americans ardently cling to various moral values, which they stubbornly insist are universally valid, but lack the ability to articulate them in a rational way. If pressed to do so, the majority of them will fall back on divine authority and brook no argument. A smaller, but sizable number of Americans have reacted cynically against this irrationality and have grown skeptical of traditional mores. For these people, everything is permitted, so long as no one is harmed.
Philosophers, historians, and cultural anthropologists have done their subversive work. Educated Americans are now acutely aware of the plurality of moral systems. Morality varies across cultures and history. This leads to moral relativism: there are no universal moral truths, morality is purely subjective, arbitrary, or relative to social and historical circumstances. As a practical matter, any society needs a definition of justice, but the subject is hopelessly murky, best avoided, and not to be taken too seriously. This is the conclusion often drawn.
Strangely enough, this relativist attitude is often combined with the certainty that engaging in various behaviors, especially “racism” and “anti-Semitism,” is highly immoral. In this case, we can see the Foucaultian angle on morality: privileged elites set the “ground rules” of moral discourse which are used to buttress their own power and legitimize their rule. The demonization of the West, the thought policing, the ritual shaming of Whites are all part of its maintenance. Taken seriously, this view leads to the conclusion that our false morality is a sham and Whites would be better in casting off.
Moral philosophers have waded into this impenetrable thicket. A few claim to have discovered the principles of justice, but there is no general agreement in the field, only various schools with rival intrepretations of justice and the good. Ethics hasn’t progressed like the other sciences. This is powerful evidence in itself that the search for universal abstract moral principles, analagous to the laws of physics (the Enlightenment model), is a fool’s crusade that leads to nihilism.
A handful of biologists and zoologists (ex. Richard Dawkins) have weighed in on this debate and theorized that humans and other mammals have a basic set of moral instincts which have been shaped over the eons by natural selection. The Darwinian paradigm of morality can explain some of the variation across cultures and individuals found by cultural anthropologists. If moral behavior is a set of hereditary traits, we would expect it to vary in its distribution like height or eye color. Also, the slight variation across cultures and history masks the more pronounced consistency. This is the most powerful evidence against the moral relativists that morality isn’t purely arbitrary.
In light of all this, I am left with the impression that “morality” has a subjective and objective side. It is partially environmental, partially hereditary. I won’t hazard to pin down the precise ratio, but I believe we have moral instincts which are molded (or perverted) by our environment. Insofar as morality is at all “rational,” I share Alasdair MacIntyre’s position that it has to aim at some telos. This objective end can then be used to discern the virtues and vices – the substance of morality – that lead to the actualization of the ideal moral type. Moral reasoning is only possible within the context of traditions that aim at some end. Anything else results in an irrational shouting match.
But we’re immediately faced with the problem that there are multiple ends to choose from. Christians, for instance, aim at the salvation of the individual soul. Aristotelians strive after “human flourishing.” Epicureans pursue individual peace of mind. Progressives are motivated by their vision of colorblind nirvana. In choosing between moral systems, we plunge into the world of extra-moral, mythic, aesthetic criteria.
Racialists are also motivated by an aesthetic vision of the ideal state. The moral disgust we feel at the sight of multiracial couples (they shouldn’t be doing that) conflicts with our acute sense of order and cleanliness. I will mine this subject in a subsequent post.