What Is Morality?

Note: I originally posted a version of this at FireDogLake.com, only to see it flagged as spam and my account deactivated.  I guess certain persons don’t like having their lack of any moral foundation challenged.  Oh well.

In my previous two entries, I discussed why it is important for people who call themselves left-wingers to have a solid moral foundation.  To sum up, one cannot call one’s self a progressive or a liberal and support the extreme right-wing policies of those in government.  To support Obama’s continuation and expansion of Bush-Cheney fascist policies, whether directly or by refusing to challenge him electorally, or by simply remaining silent in the face of ongoing crimes and usurpation of Constitutionally delegated powers, is immoral.

But what is morality, and how should the American left apply it to politics?

Every culture has its own ideas about what is right and what is wrong, and to be sure, there are often obvious differences among them all.  But when one digs more deeply, one finds common basic standards of right and wrong that transcend cultural differences:  Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t rape, don’t murder, and so on.  To ensure that these moral standards for right and wrong are enforced, systems of punishment for violating them are implemented, and we call these systems laws.

For example, it is wrong to torture people.  Both international and U.S. law render the act illegal, with stiff penalties written into our laws for those who commit this crime.  Why is torture wrong?  Beyond the practical reason that it produces little or no legitimate information – people under torture will say what they think their torturers want to hear, not the truth – there is the moral aspect.  Simply put, torture is designed to especially humiliate, and to dehumanize, the victims thereof.  Anyone who commits the crime of torture is subject to prosecution, as is anyone who orders or authorizes it.  There are no exceptions to laws against torture.  Nations that have signed and ratified treaties such as the Geneva Conventions are obligated to bring charges against torturers.  No one is supposed to be allowed to go unpunished.

Yet Barry Obama, the current U.S. dictator, has consistently refused to prosecute torturers from the Bush-Cheney regime, and has in fact authorized the ongoing torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, and probably the ongoing torture of Bradley Manning.  By all moral and legal standards, Obama is as guilty of the crime of torture as are Bush, Cheney, and their thugs.

Others have posted on the immorality of not challenging Obama in next year’s dictatorial election, only to be met with scorn, trollish flaming, and ultimately banishment from Democrat Party blogs.  The blog moderators, having no moral foundation, take extreme offense at the suggestion that morality should be applied to politics.  (One such moderator even wrote a post denouncing the application of morality as a “litmus test” as an act of futility).  In their morally relativistic world, there is no place for moral absolutism.  To do so would constrain the politicians they support to acting within the framework of an ideology, and we are told that this is a bad thing.

The flaw in this argument is that people make moral judgments each and every day – no one is exempt from this fundamental aspect of human nature.  Let’s pick a hot-button issue, say, abortion.  You might be for or against its legality, based on your personal beliefs.  Things you consider in deciding which position to take might include, but not be limited to:

Does the pregnant woman or girl have access to basic health care, including prenatal care?

Is the pregnant woman or girl carrying a child conceived in an act of rape or incest?

Is the pregnant woman or girl in a poor financial situation that makes it extremely difficult to support a child?

Is our nation’s foster care system adequate to ensure that a child will be placed in a loving home capable of seeing to his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual development?

Are there religious or other moral doctrines at work?

Based on these and other considerations, you might take a position on abortion that is in support or opposition to the procedure’s continued legality.  But at some point, you have to take a position – one way or another, no in between.  If you have taken a position, congratulations.  You’ve made a moral judgment.

Some people don’t like being told that they must base their political decisions on any concept of morality.  But human nature precludes us from being able to renounce morality as the basis of our political leanings.  Just as the far right has a set of depraved, savage principles that are evil in both thought and implementation, so the left has a moral duty to take positions that are the exact opposite of right-wing principles, to argue and defend them effectively, to fight for them even when we are told it is impractical to do so.

To reject morality is to reject the principles upon which liberal-progressive-socialist thought is founded.  To abandon those principles in the pursuit of power is to be absolutely no better, and certainly no different, than the far right.  We who are truly liberal, progressive, or socialist in our moral and political beliefs must challenge the immorality of supporting amoral politicians, and that means challenging Obama and the Democrats as well as the Republicans.  Otherwise, what are we if not hypocrites?