Finding Direction: Moral Decay Is Rational 2.3.3

Perhaps our definitions of “better” can show us what we admire and wish for.  Perhaps they can help us recognize our unconscious goals.  Is our goal power and privilege?  Do we consciously or unconsciously expect obedience and service from others?  Is the right to make demands, give orders, or command attention a sign of being “better”?  Perhaps what we admire is actually Decay.  Theologians and philosophers often argue against admiring moral Decay and recommend admiring moral Growth instead: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, justice, humility, courage, moderation, wisdom, generosity, good temper, truthfulness, friendliness, modesty.

However, Decay is often “rational.”  Doesn’t it make sense to get as much as I can while I have the chance?  As Lynn White argues in “The Tragedy of the Commons,” it is entirely logical that my two cows should eat twice what my neighbor’s one cow eats as long as the grass is still available in our common field.  Why not take that advantage if I can?  If I own an oil well, shouldn’t I pump it out as fast as I can to get the most, the fastest, and before my neighbor drills into the same pool of oil?  Why not cut down my forest or catch as many fish as possible in order to ensure a profit this quarter?  Shouldn’t I pay the least amount possible for milk or for your labor?  If I can avoid the expense of putting a safety guard on my milling machine, shouldn’t I wait for the accident to happen?  What do I gain from sharing?  What good is the “common good” to me personally?  Shouldn’t I take advantage of you before you get a chance to take advantage of me?  Look out for Number One–because no one else will–right?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

Friendship is “the promotion of the other’s good for the other’s own sake.”  Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Greek philosopher


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