I am breaking a thousand rules right now by publishing my Ethics final online to my silly blurb site, but I am one to break rules because I am a menace to society. Feel free to read my work, comment on what I had to say and tell me if you agree or disagree. I am the only one who has read through it to check for spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes or anything that sounds off so if you catch a mistake just remember I’ve been working on this since 12:00. It is now 7:00. Don’t be too mean.
The question was: Who are we today in modern western capitalist societies? What institutions do you think play a role in who we have become, and what do you think are the moral consequences?
*SPOILER ALERT: This essay is a little over 1,800 words long. I wouldn’t read your published piece if it was that long, so I understand if you have better things to do like talk to your grandma on Facebook.
Picture a human being as a blank canvas. The influence of the culture he or she lives in determines what colors of paint are used and how the angles of the curves on the canvas are drawn. The end result is a picture painted by society and represented through the individual. For example, imagine three children from three different families are born into three different cultures. One society influences the first child to explore and always question everything before committing to it. Another society protects the other child from any information that is harmful and misleading, keeping him in secrecy of the dangers of the world around him. The last child lives in a community where everyone wants to be better than someone else. Three common types of people-curious, ignorant and competitive-live in one large scale society, but under different subcultures. Each of these human beings have the potential to be like the other, but from the moment they were born the values from each type of environment they lived in were influenced upon them.
The ethical climate of modern western capitalist societies is based on the kinds of people who exist in that society and results from the personal virtues those people have cultivated or neglected to cultivate. A person’s personal virtues is created from the society which the person is influenced by through socio-economic, political and cultural institutions. A person lives in fear of not living up to these standards influenced by others’ views of who we are and who we are supposed to be in modern western capitalist societies. I believe that to understand who we are in modern capitalist times we must not analyze our actions on an everyday basis, but instead identify the source of the kinds of people which make up society. We must also think for ourselves and make decisions based on our own reason and logic. The ethical climate of modern western capitalist societies is, therefore, solely based on each individual’s personal virtues.
Who are we today in modern western capitalist societies? What exactly plays a role and influences who we have become? What are the moral consequences, if there are any, of the socio-economic, political and cultural institutions which influence us? Answering these questions reinforces my thesis of the importance of who we are over what we do and is the first step to understanding why we must live by virtue ethics. The texts I have used to help support my claim are Erich Fromm’s “The Sane Society”, Zygmunt Bauman’s “Moral Blindness” and a few excerpts from Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature”. These three texts share a common theme of morality in society, specifically McKibben’s piece which directly discusses the affect humans have on nature.
According to the Merrian-Webster online dictionary, capitalism is defined as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”. Sounds a lot like the kind of society we live in today, right? That is because it is. Our entire system is run by private ownership and corporations looking to make the most money. I believe we function as a society which possesses an underlying desire for happiness, but each person has different means of attaining it. I vision happiness as having good health, a family and friends and a comfortable life. Some others see happiness as being wealthy, powerful and elite. The competition is unnecessarily animal-like and the means of attaining wealth and power are so preposterous that people are willing to go against any form of personal virtue they have.
Capitalism, according to Fromm, is a system where individuality transitions to conformity and it is based on people using other people to get what they want. The evil that exists in this system is the insensitivity to the suffering of others. To treat someone indifferently even if it is unintentional is cruel. Unfortunately this is what a majority of the population is and what we have become in today’s societies. There exist many people who are good-hearted and live by their personal virtues, but to some the influence that society has suppresses any form of honesty, courage, generosity and compassion one might possess. I have witnessed this in political institutions and the business world, especially in situations dealing with money and power. People using each other to get what they most desire is not uncommon and many will sit back and let it happen. Man’s sense of identity is lost in the midst of modern capitalist societies and, therefore, we cannot effectively use reason to rationalize the world and moral thinking. No longer thinking for ourselves, we are sheep following what other’s think is right and how other’s think we should be living.
How we should act versus how we actually act shapes our character and has an influence on who we have become. We did not become sheep all on our own. Socio-economic, political and cultural institutions have most certainly played a role in who we have become. Politics have become dirty and manipulative, teaching other people with power that it is easy to get away with being dirty and manipulative. We have had to adapt to the high standards of living society enforces upon us. As part of the working class of citizens who increase productivity and increase wealth, we become less and less human and neglect the sense of self, as discussed in “The Sane Society”. To make this statement relatable, I see this as balancing my time with making money at a minimum wage job versus doing something I love. As I work I gain wealth and I turn into a consumer in society, but it does not spark my creativity or allow me to express my individuality. It makes me a machine. This is what modern western capitalist societies have turned their citizens into – working machines for corporate and private businesses.
Are there moral consequences in response to who we have become? I am not sure this question has a definite yes or no answer. To try and answer this question, I will refer to “Moral Blindness” by Zygmunt Bauman. First, a moral consequence is a reaction to an action based on moral views. The word ‘consequence’ does not have a positive connotation. It refers to the negative outcome of an action based on your morals. It is hard to determine what one definite moral consequence would be if everyone has different beliefs and different interpretations of what “right and wrong” constitutes as. Human actions range on a wide scale from sneezing to murder, therefore, it is impossible for every action to result in a moral consequence.
In reference to “Moral Blindness”, the term adiaphora refers to human acts and deeds neither moral nor immoral. They are simply irrelevant things. There is also the factor concerning indifference to what is happening in the world around us – a moral numbness. We are at risk of losing our sensitivity to the rapid pace of the world around us. More and more today everything is becoming morally irrelevant. Especially in this day-and-age when technology is on the path of total takeover, it is easy to get lost on the internet and more involved in the lives of celebrities and pop culture. Many people check their social media websites before checking the current events around the world. This is where ignorance contributes to who are we today in modern western capitalist societies. Is not knowing what is happening in Africa or Afghanistan right now morally wrong? I would not categorize it as morally wrong, but by not knowing this information you are blinding yourself from global problems and not contributing to any chance of a solution. In that case, does it require a moral consequence? Possibly.
Lastly, not all humans are negative. Some are positive and their actions do not require consequences for their moral actions. I would not say everyone is evil like Zygmunt Bauman states in “Moral Blindness” because among the individuals who are insensitive and egoistic there still exists a balance of honest, courageous, generous and compassionate people. Because a mix of morally right and morally wrong people make up our modern capitalist societies, I don’t believe there can be any moral consequences for who we have become since it is impossible to distinguish a morally right person and a morally wrong person that fits the view of what the rest of the world understands right and wrong to be.
One issue that demonstrates how modern capitalist societies shape our character is explained in Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature”. Unintentionally, humans are destroying the place we reside in and if we do not stop eventually the world will be a dangerous place to live in. We can see the negative effects of the weather with its unpredictability and harsh conditions as each year progresses. To make a difference, we must change our habits, outlooks and technology, but is the human race ready and committed to doing that?
It is only until now that the government is starting to notice a trend in the depletion of the o-zone layer and the severity of global warming. Prior to, our society has blindly contaminated our own oxygen with chemical waste, pollution and destroyed trees and the natural land to construct buildings and other artificial structures. The population has duplicated this behavior by treating our land as a garbage disposal. What is happening now to the Earth is an example of one, big moral consequence. The definite moral consequences for this dilemma are the vanishing glaciers, the rise in temperature and the extinction of animals and other species. McKibben states, “When I say that we have ended nature, I mean not that natural processes have ceased but that we have ended the thing that has-at least in modern times-defined nature for us: its separation from human society.” (“The End Of Nature” pg. 195). Human society has interfered with something that never belonged to us and now we have to decide between the material world of our houses, cars and clothes and the natural world. There cannot coexist a harmony between both worlds. One world or the other will have to change.
In conclusion, there is only one question that concerns me the most. Will our society change who we are today despite the influence modern western capitalist societies have on us? Who knows. Hopefully, socio-economic, political and cultural institutions take a more positive role in influencing us in the future. Otherwise, we will be stuck in a declining environment of polluted air, rising sea levels and unusual hot weather. Especially in the example of the destruction of our natural world, you can see the importance of having a good character. A person with values and compassion for our Earth would never contribute to the destruction of nature. Our actions are the result of what personal virtues we have cultivated or neglected to cultivate in our lifetime. The ethical climate of modern western capitalist societies is, therefore, a reflection of the kind of people we are.