moral imperative

For the greater good — mine.

The rise of modernity has brought with it a moral shift from the universal laws of good and evil to the taste-based judgment of individuals. Our world grows ever more dizzying with the complexity of the threads of modern contingency, and individuals feel ever more alienated from the happenings around them. The plight of a neighbor is no longer as present in mind, since actions are more divorced from knowable results and meaning. For better or worse, the low-level functions of human beings will naturally lead down the easy path of enjoyment and aversion to non-enjoyment, outside of a moral system dictating that there is a correct way to behave. Of course, people still have ideas of  right and wrong. If you ask any given person living in a coastal urban area about what is a good thing for a person to do in life, the results won’t be that startling. Much like the Simpsons after season 10, the concept of “doing the right thing” has been quietly replaced by an impostor with the same name and appearance, aping the mannerisms of the original with middling success. Helping others will probably come out as part of our urban sophisticate’s answer, and everything still seems pretty normal.

When examined, this answer leads to to this conclusion: being a “good person” is a desirable trait because it feels good. Things are getting a little odd in this world of morals – but they’re about to get a whole lot stranger. We are told that being a happy person is the moral imperative. Follow your dreams! Find true love! Have a fulfilling career! See the world! This is definitely an incredible deal — these are all gratifying things that you already wanted to do, and it gives you the added bonus of making a good person. Of course, her moral prescriptions for living the life of a good person don’t even require thinking about right and wrong, meaning you don’t need a moral system to guide you to such behavior. The less easy truth is that while such things are certainly not bad things to want, they aren’t the final boss of moral goodness, either. In the mind of people like our friend, who is actually an intelligent and kind hypothetical person, the moral imperative to do what is objectively right, whether we would otherwise like to or not, has been replaced by the wholly redundant moral imperative to stimulate the enjoyment-seeking and novelty-seeking firmware that is our animal nature.

This modern doctrine’s Achilles’ heel made manifest is the fact that a system of right and wrong based on the feelings of people necessarily inherits the pride, prejudice, and desire for self-gratification that are inherent to the feelings of people. Even assuming the moral conclusions drawn from this relative system are the same as an objective one, the execution is different. As soon an opportunity arises demanding the right thing to be done, a moral relativist will, by the rules inherent to such a system, falter as soon as his egotism or prejudice are challenged. Of course, moral objectivists are prone to the very same human frailty, but not because of the very rules of their moral system. If we are to believe that we ourselves are moral lawgivers, then we are just self-canonized saints in the Church of Me. All experiences start and end with the individual, and absent of a meaning beyond our limits, the unexperienced experience of other beings is beyond our limits. We are the alpha and the omega of our own existence, bounded in a nutshell and counting ourselves kings of infinite space.

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