Morality vs Ethics – Round 1 – Race

There are two concept which I believe are at war in our society. The concepts are of morality versus ethics. In a discussion today about race and privilege a saw an opportunity to show the nature of and contrast between these concepts.

Morality is a process of making lists of rules and managing what I would call a kind of moral portfolio in relation to it. It is a process of self-preservation that only looks are far as one’s own self interest in avoiding judgment and feeling bad or guilty. It also involves a kind of jousting for relative moral position in relation to others. “Oh yeah? Well at least I’m not as bad as that other person!” It is not about investigation or understanding, but about self preservation.

This is why you hear people saying “I’m not racist, I have an ___ friend” or “I love my ___ neighbour”. It’s a desperate attempt to avoid being morally implicated. Doing this misses the point in an epic way. Everything is awash in a battle of aggressively trying to enforce extreme sameness (how come they can criticize but we can’t???), but from a perspective that everyone is starting out on a level playing field when actually it’s not that way.

An ethical view is one based on empathy and understanding. It desires to be as informed as possible, and actively seeks to fully understand someone else’s reality.

“Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.”

It does not come from a panicky position of self preservation and is engaged in actively listening and personal investigation. It realizes that the idea that I may have something called racial privilege or even lack of race-specific disadvantages isn’t about whether or not I’m a good moral person. It recognizes that being wrong about things is a normal part of human experience, that blame is usually not the point, and even if sometimes is unfair and/or about blame, that it’s still worthwhile to try to understand.

The morality model is far and away the majority model, even among those who have long escaped from other religious ideas. It is the by-product of a society built on competitive and abusive ideologies that convince us that those on the margins are ever ready to sanitize and debilitate we the “normal” (Political Correctness). We feel like we are about to be destroyed while our jackboot is on their throat, yet we can’t understand why they’re angry. I mean before they brought all their snark and anger and everything, things were just fine… right?

Morality says “I’m not guilty, why do I need to feel shame.”

Ethical empathy says “You don’t, but we’ve inherited some responsibility here.”

There’s a brilliant analogy that has been made by a man named Tim Wise:

“I want you to know that this has nothing to do with guilt. I realize that none of the people in this room and none of the people in any of the rooms to which I speak every single week in this country somewhere are the ones who themselves, individually or even collectively, are responsible for the creation of this system of inequality, of privilege, of oppression, of marginalization. And that is not the point. I know we didn’t create it, but we are here now, and we inherit the legacy of that which has come before. If you were to become the chief executor of a company one day, you would not be able to go in and call your chief financial officer on the phone and say, you know what, I want to look at the books I want to know how much we have, what our assets are what’s our revenue stream. I want to know all that because I want to take us to new and greater heights and so you ask the CFO to come in and give you the power point presentation, the spreadsheets, and she comes in with all of this technology and all of this data and gives you the presentation. Here’s our assets, here’s our revenue stream, here’s our outstanding debt. What do you think? You wouldn’t be able to look at that CFO and tell her, you know, I really liked your presentation. It was great to know we have all these assets and some really amazing income coming in, but the next time I ask you to come in and show me that, don’t bring me the debt material, all that stuff about what we owe, because, see, I wasn’t here when you all ran that up. That was that other guy. That was your last CEO. The debts of those older leaders, those are on them. Have them pay them. I am going to make use of the assets, oh yes. I am going to make use of the income, oh yes. But I am not going to pay the debts because they are not mine. You couldn’t do that. You’d be ushered to your car by security. But that is exactly what we do as a society, isn’t it? We say, the debts are not ours. Oh, the glory is ours.”


Posted on April 27, 2012, in Philosophical, Race, Social. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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