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Right and wrong

15 March 2009

Quite a lot of blog posts I’ve been reading recently have been concerned with morality.

Anja Merret of Chatting to my generation writes:

Where is the line that we knew we couldn’t cross over? Sure it was invisible, but somehow we did know where it was.  In recent years I just haven’t been able to tell where it is anymore.

On the other hand (hat-tip to Cori’s Blog: Some more on morality) there is P3T3RK3Y5:

let me say it again, you’re not being uniquely christian by opposing: gay marriage, abortion, or evolution. so if you’re not being uniquely christian – you’re being something else. what is that?

for me? the number one word i think of, when i think of this camp, is ‘fear’. be those phobias. or the ‘certain’ collapse of morality or society.

personally, i associate fear with cowardice. i think you’re cowardly if you succumb to fear, and you’re probably a bigger coward if you use fear.

… which implies that wanting to know where the line is is cowardice, and therefore somehow reprehensible.

Now we’re still discussing that, and what it means, but it does raise a number of questions in my mind.

I think that Anja Merret and I may belong to the same generation, so when she’s chatting to her generation, I get the feeling she’s chatting to me.

My generation is the “Make love not war” generation. We believed that killing people is wrong. Obviously not everyone in our generation believed that, or there wouldn’t have been any wars, and there were wars, in Vietnam, in the Near/Middle East and elsewhere.Some of us thought those wars were wrong, and said so. Militarists would no doubt have agreed with the thesis that the motive for opposing those wars was cowardice, and that fear was at the bottom of it. But is it really?

Last week there were three stories in the media that indicated a different ethos, and different set of moral values. A policeman was shot in Northern Ireland (which Anja Merret discusses), some school children were shot by a lone gunman in Germany, and a number of people were shot by another lone gunman in the USA.

Perhaps fear does play a part. Perhaps some people think that that is wrong because of the insecurity it brings to life, because you never know who might go berserk and when you might find yourself in the firing line.

Another blog, Emerging Africa, had a quiz on whether the most important questions today are about authority, identity, morality or something else, and 27% voted for morality — the votes were fairly evenly divided. I think morality is quite an important question because in less than two months we will be having a general election, and one of the front runner presidential candidates, Jacob Zuma, has impending corruption charges against him.

There are two ways of looking at such charges. One is that Zuma is innocent until he is proved guilty, and that the corruption charges are possibly an attempt by his political enemies to smear him. On the other hand we have people like the leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Malema, saying, “If Zuma is corrupt, then we want him with all his corruption.” In other words, the ANC is the party of corruption.

But if one voted for a party other than the ANC because one thought that the leaders of the ANC did not know where the line was, would that be an act of cowardice, submission to moral scruples based on fear?

Is morality really based solely on fear, and should we all press boldly forward to a fearless amorality? Was it Franklin D. Roosevelt who sad that we have nothing to fear but fear itself? And is that what he was talking about?

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