December 20, 2005

I had always thought it best to avoid discussions about morality but fortunately the advent of the internet has made it possible to get involved in moral debate without the danger that fist fights will break out.

The problem is not so much that morality may or may not be universal but rather that we civilised people are such morally compromised individuals and, this is the important bit, we are in denial about it. While we might say that morals are universal, in practice we all have our own very personalised moral framework which enables us to conveniently ignore any areas in which we may defficient. This helps explains why moral debates always seem to lead to somewhat immoral behaviour (ie fistfights).

If our moral framework or code, is designed to accommodate our immoral behaviour it becoms nothing more than a ‘prop’ for immoral behaviour. The existence of alternate codes which is readily apparent in any moral debate involving more than one person, is an afront to us: Not because we don’t like the immorality that the debate has exposed in the other person but because we don’t like immorality that the debate has exposed in us. Naturally we want to stay in denial about this and so shift the anger from our internal conflict onto the other person (and create an external conflict).

The other thing an incomplete moral code does is it allows us some space to vent pent up feelings. One of the characteristics of civilised people is that we are all highly wounded individuals and we all have a strong need to act-out our trauma. An incomplete code can help to create ‘auslanders’ or sub-humans for whom it is acceptable to direct hatred toward – just as hatred was directed at us during our childhood.

Right now is the approproate place to give examples but if I were to do that I’d probably give examples of people who are my ‘auslanders’ and insult a potential reader. There is also no need to do this because your subconscious was probably very quick to prompt you with an example of some other person who fits the above description least you should start applying it to yourself.

This all came up for me recently because of a debate on the Derrick Jensen discussion list. Derrick has attempted to form a solid basis for morality out of caring for the landbase. It’s based on the simple premise that if we destroy our landbase we ultimately destroy ourselves. He certainly got no argument about the premise but the problems began when people very excitedly started trying to develop a moral code from this. Being human any code that was developed would have been imperfect anyway. The desire to see the earth preserved would have coexisted alongside another desire to hurt the auslanders who are hurting the earth.

And fair enough too I’m thinking, let’s immolate the bastards who are destroying the earth, they’ve got it coming!

Isn’t it normal to have an element of punishment in our moral codes? Or is that civilised thinking? Is that acting-out too? Is that normal by civilised standards.

In the end no one can agree on the details of a moral code because we’re all needing something different from the code – so let’s go back to the keyword in the premise which is ‘caring’:

One of the other things that came out of this moral discussion was that people seemed to feel compelled to come up with a justifcation for caring behaviour. It’s like our culture can’t take something seriously unless we can prove it was done for gain. We make fun of ‘do-gooders’ and have to rationalise self sacrifice as having some long term benefit. We even have a habit of reducing caring for others down to being a mere survival trait.

I’m not saying it isn’t a survival trait but we need to think of caring for others as being about more than what we get back. If we search ourselves deeply enough we find that performing caring acts is something we don’t need to rationalize and that it is done for it’s own reward.

But I’m not happy with even that either. Having the word reward in there still sounds like civilized thinking and caring is deeper even than that. I think we perform acts of caring in the same way that we seek out the company of friends or in the way that we do something creative. It’s an innate part of our character and something we need to do to feel fulfilled. Or something that leaves us empty if we don’t do it.

I don’t think we need a moral code because there is a voice in all of us that tells us to care and this is much better than a moral code. A code can only serve to take us away from the voice. Much better I think to get people to listen to this inner voice, more commonly known as a conscience, than to insist on morals codes, which as we know can be altered to suit any set of circumstances. I mean, even Hitler thought he was doing the right thing.

I think that civilized people can get back in touch with that voice. We still are to one degree or another but we have learned to distrust the signals our sub conscious mind (and our body) send us because they contradict the needs of civilization – the need for status, the need for our bosses to make money through our labour, the needs of the superrich to maintain a society that serves them and the needs of our parents to act-out their own trauma on us.

The voice is also blocked by another voice. The voice of fear. Fear that says we might not have enough money or enough food or enough commodities, or that we might get hurt again or that we better crush the other person before they crush us, or that we should keep our defenses up.

The voice is blocked by one more thing still; the compromises that society forces on us. We’re all compelled to interact with large institutions in this society and apart from the fact that they compell us to aquire money so that we can eat and have shelter they also distance us from the consequences of our actions. It takes a lot of effort to ensure that in the process of merely surviving in modern society we don’t end up supporting environmentally damaging activities or sweatshops or endangering our own health. It’s virutally impossible to prevent every item we buy and every act we perform from being damaging to someone or something.


Unless we start to detach ourselves from the institutions of society – and this surely is a moral imperative. If we ‘dropout’ (or maybe I should say ‘rise out’) all sorts of things become possible that once were not.

We always want to believe that the things we do are things that we want to do and I was amazed at how much distortion this can introduce to our thinking. For instance: we usually have to spend the best parts of our lives working so naturally we want to believe working is the best thing we could be doing. Unfortunately to do this we need to also believe that the whole system that our work lives plug into is an inherantly good system. In actual fact the system is inherantly bad – it’s destroying the planet, it’s destroying our community and it’s destroying us. Once we decouple ourselves from the system it’s much easier to see what an uncaring system it is. The alternative approach is for us to face the truth and admit that we’re part of an uncaring monolith and then we’ll discover that detaching from it is suddenly a lot easier. It doesn’t really matter which way round we do it so long as we start.

Once we start to doubt the system we also start to shed the beliefs about status and the fears about not having enough and then we discover that we can hear our consience again – and once we start to pay more attention to our conscience there’s no turning back from caring for others There’s also no turning back from healing ourselves either – which is what we are actually doing in all this.

Whats really interesting about all this is that is that despite the list of things that get in the way of us listening to our conscience once we remove one of them it becomes easier to work on the others. It’s important to be aware though that detaching from civilisation and it’s institutions is the most crucial aspect of the process – even if it is only a mental detatchment at first.

So is there any point in creating a moral code to save the environment? Any code created within civilisation will be highly flawed and if a person is living in some way outside of civilisation, and is therefore in touch with their ability to care, looking after the environment will just be a matter of common sense. I’m starting to see that creating a moral code is a civilised act itself and with the way we use them will end up as nothing more than one more coercive instrument. Much better I think to provide opportunities for people to ‘rise out’ of society. Much better to create opportunties for people to heal and to start listening again to their urge to care. Much better in fact to endeavour to heal ourselves so we can stop inflicting our trauma on those around us and they – especially our children, they’re going to need all the help they can get to look after this broken planet after we’re gone.

Surely then if there is any moral imperative in this world it is to turn our critical gaze on ourselves and heal the hurts we find there. Perhaps making the world a better place, like they used to say about charity, begins at home.


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