We live in a world that places high expectations and even higher demands on its inhabitants. Whether you’re a plant, an animal, or even a single-celled organism, you still need to maintain stable amounts of vital resources. For simple creatures (if you wish to call them that), those needs primarily include water, nutrients and shelter. Humans need more than that.
Society places certain demands on us that go above and beyond our individual survival. We need abstract concepts like altruism (helping others genuinely), accountability and self-control to help us coexist and improve the lives of others. Only the internalization of these concepts, in my opinion, creates a valid sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.
But, there’s a twist. How can you tell the difference between something morally just and something completely unjustified? There are always moral institutions (which, in themselves by default, are corrupt), such as religious and political ideologies, that can provide the foundation for an internal morality. But, true morality has to be honed from within. In other words, we have to do the work for ourselves individually.
How would we go about it, though? Usually, we learn from conditioning and trial-and-error. For the more complex concepts, like accountability, we learn from shifting perspective from our own to that of the other affected party. And, often enough, the specifics of absolute and relative rights and wrongs lie in the details of our actions.
Albert Einstein once said he refused to believe in a God that punished his creations and went on to call that image of God the product of human frailty. Divine reward is pointless, in my opinion, because the motive behind saying or doing something is just as important, if not more, than the action itself and has consequences that affect real things in the real world.
Do you feel like you’re about to do something that feels wrong? Do you think you’ll regret it later because it involves another person? Don’t do it.
Often, the sex question creates moral boundaries. I like the idea of sex for pleasure, but I also agree that the other person’s consent and proper protection is necessary.
If you see that drunk girl at the bar, don’t take advantage of her even if you are drunk. It violates her dignity and destroys your honor. However, I do approve of consensual relations. What couples do within the confines of a relationship is completely their decision and nobody has the right to interfere with it.
The true test, though, is owning up to and taking responsibility for past mistakes. You need to scrutinize yourself or else society will rain down mercilessly on your errors. It can be as simple as apologizing in person for something and true character, especially unmotivated by reward, often gets rewarded.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, but always make sure to watch yourself. Dignity is something that is slowly earned, yet easily taken away.
Andrew Blitman is a senior majoring in marine affairs and biology.