Are morals dead?
- Hia Sinha
Are morals dead? Being the black nail polish wearing ‘always looking at the glass half empty’ pessimist that I am, my initial reaction was to scream ‘YES, THEY ARE.’ and be done with it. However, I realized that there’s actually another perspective to it and that it’s nearly not as black and white as it looks.
Morals, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, is defined as ‘relating to the standards of good or bad behavior, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than laws’. This means morals are something that have existed innately inside of us, rather than being stipulated by some kind of governing authority. For example, if a person saw a child fall and get hurt, it is their moral obligation to go help them. However, they won’t get punished or legally charged for not helping the child. This urge to help can be defined as our morals.
But where did the concept of morals even come from? About 150 years ago, Charles Darwin proposed that morality was merely a byproduct of biological and cultural evolution, a natural progression of things. Great philosophers like Socrates have said that morality is prudence, while Plato also maintained a virtue based outlook on ethics. Oftentimes, people believe morality as a whole to have been started by religions and their practices; urging people to live a sin-free life and consider others in all of their actions. The more plausible answer (at least, according to me) has been people referring to their ‘conscience’, which has existed for as long as humans have existed, as their moral guide and compass. So if morality is something that has existed arguably since we have become a social species, then why does everyone say that morality is dead?
Illustrated by Avani Gupta
Maintaining morals like being honest, being respectful, etc may seem easy enough to abide by. However, it is rarely ever so cut in stone. Stealing, in the moral as well as legal sense, is something that is definitively perceived to be wrong. However, what if I were to say that the person stealing was doing so to feed their starving family? Would it still be morally condemnable? Similarly, if a person lied to protect another person, is it still wrong? The list goes on and on, even more so in the ancient times; for one’s skin color and social status could easily determine your morality. On the other hand, there are millionaires, billionaires who ruthlessly exploit indigenous communities for monetary gain and are held as the standard of success. Something so obviously immoral as this is held in the same ‘unethical’ category as being an atheist. In our avaricious world, the end goal is always to earn a lot of money and live a lavish lifestyle alongside having more than enough to spend. Even if this is seen as immoral by many, and very materialistic, I perceive another point of view: a person wishing to earn buck loads of money may be doing it to provide their families a better life. Is it still unethical, even at the cost of several thousands of people who stand to be exploited?
As man transitioned more towards modernity, the boundaries of morality loosened to absorb new social outlooks. Some old ones were shed, for example, a race’s complacent superiority over another, the patriarchal urge to keep women invisible, or even what behavior defined a “crime.” Agreed, human tolerance increased to see the good in what was before perceived to be bad.
So, is morality dead? Of course not! Even though some modern behavior clashes with a conservative view, the truly moral person has not lost sight of what is right or what is wrong.
A good man soothed a hurt child centuries ago. A good man will still do that today. However, today’s morality is more subjective. Your morals may be right for you but not for everyone. They have their own right morality which is not wrong just because it's different from yours. So, to really answer the question, morals aren’t dead, simply evolving and accommodating more as the years go by. Morals existed on the ideas of harm but slowly, over time, have shifted to sin or social reputation, etc. What is truly dubious from a moral point of view is assuming that your position is the correct flavor of morality when others are wrong. Your morals may be right for you but not for everyone. They have their own right morality which is not wrong just because it's different from yours.