Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Evolving New Standards for Human Behavior

Homicide is a punishable offence in almost all countries, and has been so, for millenia, in most cultures. The Reason why it is proscribed is not very evident.
Is it because murdering a fellow human is an intrinsically immoral act?
If yes, why is it considered immoral?
After all, no one was ever convicted for murdering chicken, cows and sheep. It was and is perfectly moral to kill and consume these creatures. But if the animal happens to be a human being, all hell breaks loose.

The answer to this can be found in the memorable Christian precept -

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

This simple, yet profound, statement stands out as a perfect guide to human behavior.
The Reason why we desist from Murder is because we wouldn't relish the prospect of others murdering us.
The Reason why we don't bat an eyelid before maiming a chicken to death is because we very well know that chickens don't pose a threat to us even if they were granted the right to kill their masters.

Hence, Morals are products of circumstances and expediencies, and it would be foolish to think of them as an invariant set of rules.
Morals are relative and their suitability varies with time and location.
A few examples -

The Primitive man contracted sexually transmitted diseases upon leading a promiscuous life, and drew the inference that it is immoral to be promiscuous. But we know better. The cause behind the STD's is a virus and not the wrath of God. If we still hold on to the primitive notion that promiscuity is immoral, we are being foolish.

The Practice of Respecting Elders is another universal moral that has been challenged lately, and rightly so. In the good old days, when education was limited to the act of learning to read, write and count, most of the learnings were derived from experience, i.e on the job. Hence, it would be quite natural to expect a fifty year old person to exhibit greater wisdom and maturity than an upstart of twenty. This would hold in most cases, as there never was much difference in the education received by the father and son and more pertinently, the nature of their respective jobs, as in - the learnings to be derived from various jobs used to be roughly the same. Hence, one's wisdom was directly proportional to the number of years spent on Mother Earth! Ergo, it made ample sense to defer to the judgment of elders.

Today, thanks to advancement in various spheres of human activity, education is more specialised and as a result labour is more specialised! The Education you receive almost invariably determines your occupation - something that was never the case before the twentieth century. Moreover, the opportunities to learn vary from one job to another.
Besides all this, the Digital Divide between the youth and the middle-aged accentuates the disparity.
Having the right upbringing and the right exposure, being at the right place at the right time matter far more in determining the course of one's intellectual development than the amount of experience. Therefore, unconditionally deferring to the judgement of Elders is an outworn Moral that must be sent to the dustbin, where it belongs.


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