For me, morality and ethics starts with the basic admission that everything in the universe is interconnected – we do not live in isolation and every action we take has consequences. Consider a situation of buying a bunch of bananas – by choosing to buy a bunch of bananas we have many affects on our world – we affect the shop by giving it money, we affect the suppliers by the money they receive from the shop, we affect the workers who grew the bananas, we affect the fish in the sea because of the pollution put into the sea by the ship transporting the bananas here. We affect the delivery vans, companies and workers who transport the bananas from ship to shop. We affect the viability of other shops and the jobs of those who work there by choosing to buy bananas in one shop rather than another. We affect the environment from the oil extraction process to help transport goods to us. We affect our own health by eating the bananas and so staying healthy and this affects our families who have us around longer, our ability to work from less chance of sickness and so our employers. These are just a few of the many aspects of the web affected simply by our decision to buy a bunch of bananas today. As I said – everything is interconnected and every action we take has consequences. There is a web, a unity, a whole.
The second basis of morality is the acknowledgement of the law of cause and effect. Everything we do has consequences. All actions have an effect. Nothing happens by chance because everything that happens is based on a prior cause. When we act negatively we are likely to reap negative consequences but if we act positively we are likely to reap positive consequences. And the more we act in a positive way the higher the probability of positive consequences, the more we act in a negative way the higher the probability of negative consequences. If we punch someone, we are likely to get punched back and maybe end up with a criminal record, which affects the rest of our lives. If we are kind and generous to people, we are likely to have many friends and people will be more likely to be kind to us. It is similar to the Buddhist notion of Karma. The other thing to remember is that how we act forms habits in us and shapes our brains and therefore our future actions – if we want to act well and morally in future, we need to get into the habit of acting well now. If we do bad things now, our brains will be moulded to do bad things by habit in the future. The good news however is that we can “rewire” our brains at any time….although it doesn’t happen overnight.
There is no need for a divine agency to punish and reward us when we choose to do good or bad things – we punish and reward ourselves because everything we do has an effect. Yes there are people who do bad things and escape consequences we think they deserve, but they still have to live with the guilt, they still have to live with the fear that their actions will be discovered and they will be punished, they are still turning themselves into bad people by the effects on their brains. This also doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is our own fault (hence why it’s different from the idea of Karma) – things can happen to us for a variety of reasons and probability plays a big role. We are affected by our environments actions, not just our own or other people’s and that is important to understand. However, the decisions we take, our own thoughts and actions, have probably the biggest affect on the kind of world we live in and how it treats us.
If everything is interconnected, and it is, then all things are part of one great united whole. When we behave in harmony with this whole, our lives will go well. When we behave out of harmony, our lives are likely to struggle more. And if harmony is our aim then surely the highest expression of harmony is to do no harm to other living things that are part of whole too. Life is not black and white and often we are forced to choose the “lesser of two evils” however, when we stay mindful and always act in a way where we have thought through the consequences to ourselves and the web as a whole, we are more likely to act morally.
If everything is interconnected in one big web and everything we do has consequences on that web, then the world we live in will be determined by our actions and will in turn help to shape us. If we want to live in a positive and happy world then we need to act to make it positive and it is for this reason that being involved in society, in causes for social justice and environmental protection are so important – our actions will create the world we live in and every action we take ultimately does affect society around us and makes it more moral or less moral.
Sorry its a bit disjointed but I had a load of thoughts on this issue which I wanted to get written down and will probably explore this topic more in future posts as I think through it in more detail. What do you think?