Ethical standards and choices are spun into the fabric of the times.
There was a time when hunting bears and stags for their skins, flesh, fat and bones provided for life’s essential necessities, there was a time when watching a heretic burn at the stake, was good Christian’s family entertainment, there was a time when sequestering an adulterous wife was a man’s right, there was a time was when a man seen cajoling his children was considered unmanly, there was a time when throwing the night slop into the street from the above window and the rubbish in the stream behind was the way it was done, there was a time when conquerors slaughtering rebellious villagers in their territorial advance thought the indigenous people were better off for it, there was a time when refined, law abiding or derelict Europeans alike came to America and thought it was the way of the land and the will of god that there will be black slaves and white masters, there was a time when well intentioned doctors in search of new knowledge and methods dissected screaming live animals in theaters for everyone to see, there was a time when the starved peasants of Ireland ate their famished dogs and some say their dead infants. In all these times, there were no ethical dilemmas, reasoning was kept simple, the rule was that of the fittest and necessity prevailed over moral discourse.
Men are born with various dispositions and their social, religious and economic rearing and current conditions encourage or disfavor one trait or another, so surely one coachman chose to handle his horses with good care while another beat them or a master preferred to treat his staff kindly while another was avaricious and brutal. Ethical choices can only be seen within the social frame of the times or even a situation. Different times, different moral rules and ethical issues. At one time an ethical choice may have been to dismiss or to keep an unmarried pregnant house servant, at another to eat the flesh of those who died in the plane crash as the only means of survival. There was a time when very few powerful people, ecclesiastics and royalties, in the name of God and lineage, made all life and death decisions that of war and conquest, set all moral standards, solely, to their own benefit and without considering the welfare of others. The Earth and its life were for the taking and ethical choices were not within an average man’s grasp or concern. Leave it to God’s will, Allah, Christ, Sun God, Manitou, the King’ will under God! The power is the will. Which one is the true faith, the righteous? Each one entitled and the enemy of another. Ethics and the discussion of right from wrong amounted to absolute obedience to any higher power however ruthless and the Ten Commandments for good measure.
Sounds almost too familiar, because it has not changed much! Today, few still make life and death decisions for all, with greed and carelessness. We elect a president and a few hundred others to represent us at the Capitol, we chose a few more on the local level. Politics is a lucrative career, that comes with many benefits such as pensions and valuables connections and politicians aren’t likely to jeopardize the income and the status by making decisions unpopular with the powerful friends and corporations who helped them get elected. Many of them lawyers, they make laws to appear righteous. But laws often do not walk the path of ethics, and are usually out of touch with the common man. They are a mean of enforcement for the courts and they gnaw away at the needs of the people, more often than they protect them. The politicians make promises they do not keep, they wheel and deal, and make empty speeches, because it always comes back to their career, money and a small group of very powerful who behind the scenes run the puppet theater.
There is no place for Ethical Values in politics, no room for right or wrong, no more than for the very rich and powerful who have bought them. Blood diamonds are still displayed on the wrists and around the neck of the wealthy and the meat from endangered species is served on their tables.
When we make the right choices, we cut the corporate umbilical cord
It leaves us to think that we do not have the power to halt the advance of Global Warming, or change the course of events, to end conflicts in the Middle East and prevent the shortage of water or the crash of the economy, the loss of our job, but we do have the power. The power lays in each one of us, millions of us, in our lifestyle, in our daily choices. When we make the right choice, we cut the supply line. Our addiction to car and home energy has locked in guarantied markets to oil giants here and abroad, and hence the very lucrative business of the wars that must be fought to keep our oil coming, our addiction to a fat, dairy, meat, and sweet diet has masterminded the monstrosity of corporate animal farming and its infamous pollution, its disproportionate use of (tax payer subsidized) water, our addiction to couch entertainment has bred unethical news broadcasts sold out to the will of corporate advertisers who want to keep us dependent on sensational ( mostly bad) news and spend fortunes on advertising pharmaceutical drugs and pushing their pet political candidate, our addiction to cheap trendy and disposable consumer goods has opened a life threatening flood of products manufactured abroad (where wages are a fraction of ours) by American corporations who do not care about us, our livelihood or the environment and who pay minimal taxes if any. It has become very difficult to find US made products and times are sad when our President gauges our economic recovery in terms of consumer spending, rather than production and manufacturing.
Our modern life of democratic rule, tolerant society, advanced science and extravagant consumerism has engendered a capitalist dilemma with complicated moral issues and a labyrinth of new ethical issues. Ethical standards vary through history to reflect the “present” times. The average individual is bombarded with everyday choices to do the right or the wrong thing or somewhere in between, choice about diet, about exercise, about a business decision, an investment, about household chemicals, about recycling and energy use, about charities and organizations, about medical issues, about education. I catch myself throwing away a glass jar that should be set aside for recycling. I also find it hard to give up my super cleaner in favor of the gentler phosphate free stuff. I convince myself that using organic, cage free eggs causes the hens or the environment no harm, because most baked goods aren’t as tasty without eggs. We make these seemingly small choices everyday, but they add up day by day to create landfills big as mountains, to the pollution of our waters and rivers and to the earth and air contamination and to the unspeakable cruelty of industrialized animal farming. They are ethical choices. While the Ten Commandments were in principle reasonable guidelines, our modern notions of respect for individual freedom and constitutional right, our search for equal opportunity and happiness as well as the wheels of fortunes in a global consumer economy have compounded our choices and obscured moral issues.
To treat others as you wish to be treated, to harm nothing or no one, human (or animal) are basic principles but now we have to be concerned with ecological impact, energy preservation, corporate responsibility, financial and professional choices, detergent, food and health choices. These daily choices affect our present circumstances, the lives of animals on this planet today, tomorrow and shape a design for our near and forever future.