Thursday, June 20, 2013

Moral & Ethical Dilemmas Vs. Relativism

Various events and issues of discussion bring morals and ethics back to the forefront.

Mr. Snowden's revelation of the PRISM project and other activities by a Department of Defense agency (the NSA) against US Citizens rings of violations of Posse Commitatus, the use of the military against their own employers (US Citizens). Some with more flexible views of the US Constitution may even interpret such activity as violations of the Third Amendment.

The activities also bring allegations of violations to the Fourth Amendment, despite a US Supreme Court ruling many years ago that determined your account data with a telecommunications company belongs to the provider, not to the customer.

Further information on Mr. Snowden indicates he may have leaked more than just the PRISM program's indiscretions. He may have revealed other classified data as well as the conduct of other programs that do not target US Citizens in any way.

There are moral and ethical lines. Sometimes one must cross one in order to better serve another moral or ethic of greater value.

The case of Bradley Manning does paint a stark contrast to Snowden's leak concerning the PRISM program. Snowden viewed PRISM as violating the Fourth Amendment and Intelligence Oversight laws. He viewed privacy and the constitutional protections against unlawful and unwarranted search and seizure over any potential good such a program supposes to generate. It was an ethical and moral dilemma that required an amount of courage. Snowden, as a former military service member and current contractor working within the Department of Defense, took an oath to support and defend the US Constitution. To him, this program violated that oath.

Manning, however, disclosed intelligence necessary to national security. In doing so, he placed US Citizens at risk. He also caused severe harm to not only current national security by the ability to maintain it in the future. His actions may have led directly to the death of human assets and Soldiers. It also crippled US Diplomatic missions. Those missions are intended to be the first line of national defense, the efforts to achieve peaceful agreements necessary to avoiding military conflicts. There was not a feasible ethical or moral dilemma. His dilemma was one of moral relativism. The leaks were not done due to serving some higher oath or some moral code. He did so to serve flexible and relative values, subject to his whims.

Meanwhile, after various gun-violence incidents, several have come forward in favor of repealing the Second Amendment in favor of banning civilians from owning firearms. Their claim, to blame the tool not its wielder, is that guns create the violence. They tend to ignore all of the data that clearly demonstrates that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens actually reduce the incidence of violent crime.

Many of the same individuals then picket in favor of abortion clinics and the right to terminate life. They wish to ban guns based upon the perception that they kill people. Then they walk door-to-door with petitions to strike down legislation that bans late-term abortions such as those done by convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell. Morally, there is no difference between the insane jackass who shoots up a school and a doctor who kills newborn babies because their mother didn't want them. In both cases, it is murder.

Of note: this is not a discussion of early term abortions. These are abortions done in the second or third trimesters. Kermit Gosnell was doing abortions after 20 weeks. In many cases, the child was born alive. He killed the kids after they were born. Since the Gosnell case, other abortionists conducting late-term abortions have been investigated. Several more are facing indictments under suspicion and allegation of doing the same.

The point is that, to these moral relativists, the value of human life is relative. For them, there is no intrinsic moral value. It is all relative to the socio-political message they wish to propagate on a given day.

Concerning the value of life, a dilemma takes on a different scenario or vignette. If a police officer must shoot a 16 year old before he can harm or kill another person (say he has already killed one and maimed another, is armed, and is about to do similar to another victim), that is a dilemma. The officer values life. But he must choose between taking one life or allowing other lives to be taken. Chances are, the perpetrator will continue unabated.

The same dilemma faces Soldiers at war. Soldiers do their best to preserve civilian life. They place the lives of others above their own. That is not to say they don't value their own lives. They do. In fact, their love of their own lives is one of their motivating factors to do what they do on a daily basis. They just tend to value the lives of others even more. So, when a 12 year old boy starts throwing hand-grenades at US Soldiers, Local National Police, and unarmed civilians in line to deposit their paychecks in the bank, what should a Soldier do? There is no time for a deep philosophical debate. The Soldier must act. It is one life versus many. The age of the child who is attacking is not considered in the moment. It will haunt the Soldier for years afterwards. Soldiers do not kill kids. This kid was a direct threat to other people, including other kids. It is a moral dilemma. It is a hard decision to make. That 12 year old received two well-placed bullets to his little body. Lives were saved.

The difference between a morally or ethically relative decision and a true moral dilemma is obvious in those examples. Some times the lines are not so clear. So how do we recognize the difference?

This is not an easy topic to discuss. Emanuel Kant wrote a long book that largely addresses ethics and dilemma. However, Kant strongly supported moral relativism over morality. Conversely, Kierkegaard used his perception of existentialism to bolster morality over relativism.

A moral or ethical dilemma does require one to assess or judge right or wrong based upon relative moral or ethical values. The difference is that these values remain consistent. The value placed on, say human life, is not changed to fit some agenda or whim of the day.

Most world religions have similar core values. They may weight some over others. However, Jews have the Ten Commandments. Christians have the same Commandments then add the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Divine Virtues, and the two rules professed by Yeshua bin Josef. ADF Druids hold to 9 Virtues. They all boil down to simple moral values. Value faith and natural law. Value life. Honor your family. Don't steal or envy things others have lawfully acquired. Don't lie in order to harm another unjustly. Be charitable. Love your children. Hurting people for no reason or for selfish reasons is evil. Harming somebody because you have no choice in order to defend the property or life of another is regrettable, but not evil.

Relativism is based on weighing those values, actually changing them, based upon perceptions. They would value a new car over the life of its owner. They want the car. So, in their view, somebody having worked hard and earned the car is "unfair", because the relativist has not done so. So, out of that skewed and immoral view of "fairness", they see it as ethical to kill the car owner and steal the car.

Relativism leads drug addicts to value the influence of the drugs over life, property and welfare. They intentionally risk their lives for that "high". They value that sensation over the property of others, willing to default on debts or even steal in order to acquire their drugs. They seek the high over their children, seeking the chance to "get high" over supervising and teaching their kids. They teach their kids this same relativism through their poor example instead of demonstrating a moral compass. Why? They place a value on the drugs above social mores and values and natural law.

This formula, after applying Occam's Razor, pretty much applies to all moral and ethical questions. It comes down to weighing those moral values, seeing the difference in both the act and the collateral effects (consequences) and making the decision. Moral decisions are not made to be easy to live with. If they were, then ethics and morality would be relative, flexible, and to be ignored. That would negate any essence of any wrongdoing. It would negate the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice, fair and unfair.