When Morals Attack!

Let’s say that you’ve lived most of your life accepting one belief system as being true. You know that there are things wrong with it, but for the moment it suits you fine. Years pass, and this morality you’ve practiced collapses. You find yourself in the somewhat remarkable position of having to develop an entirely new morality for yourself. You do this, and it works–well, with few contradictions. Then you willingly give up this new pattern and things collapse again.

You don’t have the energy to create an entirely new moral base, or you simply aren’t smart enough. Instead, you take lessons from the second experience and come up with a hodgepodge of beliefs that constitutes you. One of these lessons is that you will not lie to get things you want. Years pass, and though you find yourself a more honest person, the things you want still escape you, even when you try to be honest in order to get them. What question does this situation imply?

Why a duck?

I don’t know anyone whom this happened to.

Oh sure, people’s ethical codes can change as they change. But sudden “collapses” of this code which requires people to essentially start over from scratch?

The only thing I can think of that would cause such drastic changes (aside from head injuries) would be people falling out of or into a religious belief because they are going from ethics which are spelled out for them to having to make their own value judgments, or vice versa (or a lateral move when changing religions, possibly), but in most of these cases (and every case that I personally know of) the changes take place gradually over time.

And even if, for sake of argument, someone went from Godless Humanistic Homosexual Liberal to a Republican Southern Baptist Snake Handler overnight - not just SAYING it, and not really putting any thought into it beforehand but actually having their whole code of ethics shift from the one extreme to the other - those people would probably not have the drama that the OP seems to imply because they are making those changes using their own free will presumably to better themselves.

Maybe it implies there’s no honest way to get what you want, or at least, you’ve never found it? I admit, I had a little trouble figuring out what you meant.


One of the lessons learned in the situation is that lying doesn’t often get you anywhere. So you give up lying, as you said, to better yourself. Now, you’ve given up lying, presumably because by telling the truth you would be able to get what you want. And no matter how honest you are, you just can’t. I suppose you could then question the value of your moral beliefs–how doing the right thing doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, but there have to be other questions involved.

I know that this thread is disjointed, but I present it as a question because I’ve often wondered: why is a life filled with constantly doing the right thing in situations so damned mediocre? Moreover, why does it seem unfulfilling?

Thanks for responding. Encourage others to visit. I like new ideas. :slight_smile:

Maybe morality is doing the right thing even if it doesn’t get you “what you want.” Whoever said there must be an appropriate reward for you for doing the right thing? (Well, religions often claim this, I suppose.) If you question your morality, I think you should do so on the basis of “would my morality create a good world if everyone followed it?” rather than “does my morality get me what I want?” BTW, what was it in particular that you hoped to gain by becoming more honest?

“The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” anonymous
“The world is not fair, it’s round, mostly.” CatBiker

Gambit… you have it all ass backwards here. You are connecting ideas that don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other.

Morality isn’t about getting what you want, unless what you want is to like yourself.

Next, having a mediocre life could, but probably doesn’t, have a damn thing to do with always doing the right thing. (It might apply if your standard of “doing the right thing” is determined by the Amish) You are making it sound as though the only thrills or excitement that life has to offer are those which are morally wrong, and that simply isn’t so. Or if you find that it is, then you need to re-think what you value in the way of excitement in life. Life can be dull, uninteresting and unfulfilling without moral questions ever coming into the picture.

Finally, let me impress this fact upon you: fulfillment does not come from simply “not being bad”. Nor will * fulfillment * arise from doing bad things that are exciting. If you feel excited when you behave badly, do not confuse it with fulfillment.

With all due respect, Gambit, you sound very young and very confused, and like you have a long, but not unique road of discovery ahead of you.

Life is a great ride, make the most of it. And you can do easily while adhering to a fine moral code, trust me.


Ahh, but Gaudere, wouldn’t that mean that what you want is a “good world”? Ethical thought and action must have a goal in mind or else it risks becoming whimsical.

“No wind is a good wind when we do not know where we are heading” - Seneca (I think)

The spirit of the moment is rarely a good long term ethical guide since we will all find ourselves in moments of want and the cost of ethics. Not that I think that is necessarily what you meant, I suspect that what you meant was “Ethics does not have to have a selfish goal” (i.e. the respect and admiratio of ones peers or superiors, wealth, etc).

However, to be realistic, we are all human beings and as such we follow carrots very well. I personally feel that being ethical is a cause for my personal success. I can point to specific times that being ethical has resulted in the “course of fate” turning in my favor. Certainly, this is an enticement or at least a reassurement that it is all worthwhile. Of course, how you define “personal success” will make all the difference.

Ethics doesn’t have to, no, unless pleasuring one’s self is good (but not absolutely good, please you hedonists!) in which case selfishness is good all over again.

How do you put this with

As well, many people attributed God’s favor to their success in battles, farming, and so on. This sort of ethical thought leads one down the path that poor or otherwise unsuccessful people are immoral.

But this seems a little off track. Any Star Trek fan knows what to do in a no-win situation: bend the rules as far as you can without breaking them. Its possible that you can’t get what you want because, lo!–you can’t get what you want.

Satan, two of my friends and I had moral systems crash on us in our early twenties, and all of us were and are atheists. One person went the way of “nothing is really wrong or really right”, one went the way of “anything which promotes technological advancement of the species is right” and then there’s me, who’s state can be found in any number of posts here. (of course those above are huge simplifications, but when they begin to analyze any particular action that is the general course they are heading in)
I’m not sure Ayn would approve, but hey, it ain’t her life. Interestingly, one of us went from the so-called “weak” atheism to agnosticism in the process. And it was the technological guy, which still amuses me to this day.

aynrandlove: A fool or a zealot might come to such a conclusion, but it is hardly a given. I list ethics as a cause for personal success not the cause. Any individual’s (or group’s for that matter) personal success (or lack thereof) is going to be due to numerous factors and not just ethics.

For example, a construction contractor is honest in his dealings with customers. He doesn’t underestimate his bid in order to get the deal and then go over budget. He attains many contracts. Is it because of his ethics? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. Is the local construction market is swamped? It could be that he is getting the jobs simply because their is ample work. However, if a customer tells him that he is impressed with his reputation for not underestimating the bid, then he can conclude that a factor is his ethical business conduct.

Similarly, an unsuccessful constuction contractor, who conduct unethical business practices may be unsuccessful because of his ethics or because of a downturn in the local constuction market.

That should read:

I list ethics as a cause for my personal success not the cause for my personal success or as a factor or the factor for anybody else’s personal success.

I wrote that too quickly.

I thought a “good world” was a goal. :wink: More specifically defined, as I wish to live in a world that allows for the health, happiness and fufillment of the maximum number of people (as I desire for others to allow for my health and happiness and fulfillment, by the principle of reciprocity I should do the same; besides, I rather like other people), I will act in a manner that would result in this if all persons acted that way.

Yet it remains to be implied…is it a necessary cause? If not, then I would agree that there isn’t much of a problem there. And you seem to feel that it isn’t necessary to act ethically to achieve any measure of success.

OK. Just liked to clear that up for myself.

I disagree. The ends don’t justify the means, and so the effect we hope to achieve by any particular course of action does not determine the ethical valuation of that action. Unless the ends do justify the means, in which case I simply disagree and leave it at that.

[Edited by Gaudere on 02-28-2001 at 07:23 PM]

Damnit, not one thing was supposed to be bolded. If any mods feel its an eyesore, please, by all means…

Ahh, but aynrandlover, you missed the most important sentence to have that quote make sense.

The spirit of the moment is rarely a good long term ethical guide since we will all find ourselves in moments of want and the cost of ethics.

I am not saying that the ends justify the means. I am saying that without an end in mind how can we ensure that we will stay true to our ethics? If you value honesty, but do not hope to achieve or try to achieve anything through honesty, then what hope is there to be honest when the choice is honesty vs. some intense want? Would you lie to attain $1,000,000? Why not if being honest has no personal goal in mind? Keep in mind that “goals” is a VERY wide concept. For some it might be selfish (i.e. if I am honest I will get more building contracts since people will trust me), it might be more spiritual (i.e. honesty contributes to the karmic good), it could be just about anything but it must be there or else the valuing of honesty will survive only so long as it isn’t put to the test.

And that is why I say only a fool or a zealot would make such a claim in seriousness. The fool will not recognize that we all can be victims of circumstance, or that we are all human and therefore subject to occasional fraility. He will be a self-loving person, who has likely never faced a true test of their being and as such does not understand the stain that a true test can put you under. I would say that as a teenager I was this fool, fortunately I grew up.

The zealot will feel that the ethical souce is required simply because … well, they are a zealot. It speaks for itself by definition. Let us take a religious person who feels that god is involved in our lives and is the source of all goodness. If they are totally convinced of this how can they not think that one who lacks success has been seperated from the source of goodness (presumably by their own fault)?

Gaudere: That was exactly my point. Your claim was that ethics need not have its own reward, but is not seeing your dream of a “good world” the reward if it is what you desire? I believe we agree, I was mainly just ribbin’ ya. :wink:

I think we do agree, Glitch; however, there are desires for wholly selfish rewards and desires for somewhat less selfish rewards, and I kind of oversimplified the issue in my first brief post. We don’t want to make morally equal the desire to protect and care for all people with the desire to torture and murder all people–yes, both motives will have a reward and a goal, but one reward would come at the expense of others, and the other would not. I don’t want to run into the all-too-common confusion between “voluntary” and “selfish”. All acts we (sanely) decide to do are “voluntary”; at least at some level we must desire to do them out of the hope of some good or less-bad outcome. Even if you choose to do something you hate because you are held at gunpoint! Simply because you are acting on your desire out of a hope for some sort of “good” outcome does not make the act selfish (unless we want to use a definition of “selfish” moved far beyond its normal bounds). Soo…true moral action, IMHO, is not wholly concerned with rewards that do not consider the well-being of others–like “will being honest make people love ME” or “will doing the right thing make ME more money”, etc. Those things are nice bennies, if they happen, but relying wholly on them as a motivator for your morals will result in a rather mercenary outlook.

It’s good to know that even half-assed thoughts will get serious treatment on the SDMB. Though the decision to close threads is up to the moderators, the posts so far have given me a new way to consider my question. Gaudere can pull the plug on this one anytime he’d/she’d like. :slight_smile: