Any working ethical system that actually works for human morality will entail trade-off’s. There are cases where different moral values conflict. You will encounter them often. You will have to make choices. What’s interesting is that when talking to most normal people who I’ve worked with, they’re extremely reluctant to discuss or recognize the need to make these kinds of trade-off’s. This may be a more specific case of the general aversion to moral awareness and the need for judgment both of your self and of others that it entails but I think it’s something else. Even when discussing specifically moral subjects on which people are happy to stake out positions, still no one recognizes trade-off’s have to be made.
I wonder why? A few hypothesises:
- Trade-off’s are socially costly/risky to discuss vs applause lights statements like “we should do good thing X we all agree on”
- Trade-off’s require a greater degree of ethical thought/development than simple black/white rules
- Most people either have no coherent moral framework or in some cases are developed enough to have a simple singular conception of the good. Very few get past that stage to the point where they have multiple competing values which they trade-off against each other.
Normal people value loyalty, practically and morally. They’re usually wrong to do so. My loyalty hierarchy at work goes like this:
- Loyalty to my ethics
- Loyalty to my clients
- Loyalty to my firm
Where a course of action contradicts my ethics, I will not do it consequences be dammed. Where I can tell a client what they want to hear, helping my firm get contracts but harming the client, I won’t. What’s interesting about this kind of ethical thinking is that it works just as well if you remove the word “loyalty”.
What loyalty means is acting differently towards someone because of your relationship or history with them. This is a good strategy for rent-seeking, but wrong morally and bad for the collective. You should treat people equally and fairly. This means telling people you’re “loyal” to that they’re wrong and standing against them in meetings when necessary, even if they’re your boss. This means firing or demoting low-performers, even if they’re your friends. Doing otherwise may be better for your career in most places (most firms are dysfunctional), but it’s not right.
Our society limits people’s scope of action to their lives. We ban post-death trusts, or at least do not give them the protection of the legal system. We do not allow the creation of corporations/organizations without a terminal human owner. We limit the ability of the past to control the present and future. No hands from beyond the grave.
Are we right to do so? I don’t know. Social questions are difficult. Every decisions spirals into a fractal of consequences and interactions, the tiniest change in initial circumstances creating a different fracture, different patterns and colours. (Not all effects are chaotic. Some things have predictable effects.)
Morally, I do not see why those who exist should have more rights than those who do not. Why the will of the living should matter more than that of the dead or unborn. Existence is morally arbitrary. The reasons we privilege it are practical, not pure.
Some people are uncritically in favour of the fat acceptance movement/narrative. Some are against. I think both are wrong. The fat acceptance movement has two independent messages. The first is that people who are fat should not feel ashamed, be discriminated against or be seen as less than thin people. This is correct. The second is that being fat is not bad for your health. This is incorrect.
I was sitting in my companies quarterly wrap up meeting yesterday. The procedure is standard. People give presentations. They highlight something the firm has achieved. Then everyone claps. Me included. The atmosphere is good and the company culture is strong. Still, something’s wrong.
One of the presentations was a bar graph of our revenue over time. The presenter talked about how we had our highest monthly and quarterly revenue ever. Everyone clapped. The bar graph had no axis or labels. It was literally just one bar higher than another. I felt that I was doing something wrong.
Clapping puts you in a mood. So does cheering or chanting. Your behaviour affects your thoughts just as your thoughts affect your behaviour. By engaging in collective behaviour that makes you feel like part of a group, you become part of the group. By engaging in positive behaviour, your mental state becomes more positive. Both of these states make you less able to think, to see reality and spot bullshit.
I’ve always tried to avoid loosing myself in groups, to stay away from collective madness and control my own thoughts. I suggest you try doing the same. Most people feel an incredible pressure to confirm and be liked. If you reject that instinct, you become far more free and far more effective.