Morality is a complicated issue, as old as humanity itself. It changes constantly with time, with new ways of thinking, with new religions, new political and social movements, etc. Philosophers have debated about morality for thousands of years, and they never really agreed on its definition. Philosophers who don’t agree, there is a shocker!
So, what is moral? How do we define moral? If you ask religious people, they will say morality is defined by God’s will and commandments. If you ask non-religious people, atheists, or agnostics, you very well may get as many answers about morality as there are people. No wonder there isn’t a standard and universal definition for morality. This subject has brought some questions I want to ask to you, the reader.
Would you kill someone? Allow me to be more specific; I am talking about cold blooded murder. I am talking about taking a life because you felt like it. Would you be judge, jury and executioner? I mean would you walk up to someone and kill them? I am sure most people will say no or never. The answer is noble, and I commend anyone who would say no!
Now, would you kill someone to save your child? Would you shoot someone who is about to stab your son or daughter? Would you kill someone who has killed someone you love? Would you kill someone who raped you? Would you kill a pedophile? Would you kill a mass murderer? Would you do any of that?
I am certain the answers to those questions aren’t as clear anymore. The lines have suddenly been blurred and for good reason. The answers shouldn’t be so easy, otherwise you might already be a killer, which is never a compliment. When we are detached from a situation and far from it, nothing is easier than to give a straight, well-intentioned and well-prepared answer. When we are in the thick of the action, then the answer isn’t as easy or clear anymore. I have found it’s profoundly difficult to pass judgment on someone who was in an impossible situation, especially a situation I was never in.
Another question: would you steal? Of course not. However, would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving little sister or brother who hasn’t eaten in 3 days? Would you steal a blanket to stay warm during the winter? Would you steal money to get your parent a new kidney they so desperately need? Would you steal from an oil company, that makes billions while polluting our air, land, and water? Would you steal from Jeff Bezos who recently bought a half a billion dollars yacht while his employees are overworked, tired, and deprived of any sort of medical insurance? I wonder.
On the other hand, would you steal your grandmother’s pension? Would you steal from someone who isn’t in a better situation than you? Would you steal from a child? Would you steal from an organization that assists sick and/or people in need? Would you steal for the fuck of it? Would you? I wonder.
I remember reading this article about morality, good and evil, published by Time magazine. It was a rather visceral hypothetical situation. Imagine this scenario: it’s 1940, in Poland. Germany has occupied the whole country and they are rounding up people to send them to the concentration camps, the ghettos or to simply execute them, whatever option pleases the soldiers and their commanders. The Nazis are going from house to house looking for Jews, communists, regular Polish citizens, and any other person they arbitrarily considered an enemy. You have a 4-year-old child and a 3-month-old infant. You and your other family members, close and extended family, hide in a hidden basement. You can hear the Nazis’ voices and their boots ringing on the floor on top of you. They are screaming, breaking everything in the house, and they are searching for secret passages because they know people live in the house. You can feel their anger, that hate emanating from every move, from every boot hitting the floor, from every word uttered while they clench their teeth. You are praying and you simply want them to leave as soon as possible.
Everybody is silent in the basement, even the infant. After a few minutes of a diligent search, they give up and they prepare to leave. They go up the stairs, to the next floor so they could search the other apartments. Suddenly, the infant in your arms starts crying and he/she won’t stop. Everyone tells you, the parent, to shut the baby up otherwise the Nazis will hear you and then, it’s all over; you all die. Yet, the infant, won’t stop. The stress in the basement got to him/her and he/she is crying. The infant is doing what infants do; they cry. There is nothing more natural than that.
Hearing the tiny sobs somewhere in the house, the Nazis come back, and they start searching even harder and they are getting angrier by the second. If they find the small opening on the floor, you all die. Then someone tells you, the parent, to shut the baby up or they will do it for you. To be clear, in this case, shutting the infant up, means smothering the baby to stop any sound from coming out of its mouth. To be even clearer, it means killing the infant. Someone just told you to kill your own child, so you don’t all die.
Moral question: what do you do? You are the parent. You cannot even consider hurting your child. Your instinct is to protect that child with every ounce of your being. But the whole family depends on the baby not making a sound. So, what do you do? Would you kill your own baby to save everybody, or do you let it cry and then the Nazis find you and kill the whole family? Or you let the other person kill your baby? If you fight the person, the struggle and the baby crying will alert the angry Nazis on top of you. So, do you fight your family to save your baby while knowing with certainty you will be condemning the whole family?
By the way, you don’t have time! The fucking Nazis are getting closer and within a few seconds, they will hear you. There will be no quarter; everybody will die, or they will be sent to the ghettos or concentration camps, which is a simple delayed death, preceded by famine, exhausting work, possible rape and/or medical experiments done by psychopathic Nazi scientists (google Josef Mengele).
Quite the horrific conundrum, wouldn’t you say? I pray you never have to make such decisions ever in your life. After reading this fucked up hypothetical scenario, I remember getting sick to my stomach and it stayed with me for a few days. I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation, even if it was hypothetical. What would I do? It also made me question my own morality. I am not even a parent, but I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do for my own kids.
That’s morality for you, right there. So many questions, so many different answers, depending on who you ask, the time and space. Our parents’ morality is different from ours, as it should be. Our morality will be different from our kids’. I wonder about people and their conception of morality, right and wrong, good and evil. Some people who were “regular”, law abiding citizens, did some horrible stuff during war time. They killed, raped, maimed, and some of them even enjoyed it. Now, what about the people who kill during war time to protect themselves and others? Are they bad people or did they do the necessary to survive? There is nothing more dangerous than a human being with a gun.
Jean Jacques Rousseau once said that we are good from the moment of our birth and life and society corrupt our good nature. Is he right? Or is it the other way around? Go figure.
So, how far would you go? I guess one could never answer that question before they are put in that situation. My life has never been threatened to the point I had to kill. Could I kill if I got no choice? I am sure I would. I can see people uttering the famous sentence “you always have a choice to do good, Freeman”. Yeah, when you live peacefully in Canada, a place where no one ever comes after you, it is easy to be virtuous. The choice is easy, and some people don’t even choose that easy path, they go for the worst decision and they hurt others. However, if I were to live in the middle east or in central America where drug cartels make their own deadly rules, I am sure, my answers would be different.
There is no telling what a person could do when pushed. Pray you never get pushed that far.
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day!