Ethics - Escaping the Boundaries of Time

Posted by A.C. Ping
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“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

'How ought we to live?' - the central question in Ethics.

And the three feeder questions that one can ask when addressing ethical issues -
1. What is right?
2. What is good?
3. What is fitting?

At the heart of the disagreement between these three questions is time and following logically along behind - the nature of life itself.

You see if we begin from the position of life being only short term (<100 years) and that what we should be doing is maximising our utility then logic dictates that we should be orientated to Utilitarianism - or the question of 'What is good?' - in terms of a good outcome.

Take for instance Coal Seam Gas mining. CSG is all about drilling down into the coal seam which has taken many millions of years to form, and then fracturing it with a mix of chemicals under high pressure, which in turn releases the gas which has been trapped in the coal.

Sounds great eh? A good source of fuel that is more environmentally friendly than oil and will provide a power source to drive electricity generators hence allowing us all to live the way we are used to.

What's a good outcome?
That all people would be allowed to have access to cheap power and hence be able to work, study, and live in a way that promotes maximum utility.

The only negative being - shhh!!! - that in fracturing the coal seam which has, as I mentioned, taken many millions of years to form - we may just accidently pollute the water table and hence pollute and poison the land resulting in - some say permanent damage.

What's right?
Here we're talking about principles and values remember. So - an appropriate value would be to protect and maintain the natural environment. That we have a responsibility to pass onto future generations an Earth in at least as good a state as we found it. Inter-generational equity is what we are talking about - that future generations have equal rights with us.

So, CSG? Yes, well err... The right thing to do would be not to risk damaging the environment at all.

Remembering that,

"A Value is not a Value
unless you are willing to pay a price
to uphold it"

In this case - the price would be cheap gas, jobs, tax income for the country.

What's fitting?
So, what's culturally fitting? Is it generally accepted that we rape, pillage and plunder the Earth of her resources so we can live better? Well, yes actually...

So, short term we'd have to go with YES CSG creates a good outcome, NO CSG is not the right thing to do, and YES CSG is culturally fitting.


Let's see what happens if we shift the time frame?

At some point the two lines of the graph depicting - short term $ benefits and long term environmental costs will intersect and suddenly the GOOD outcome changes.

And here we logically find ourselves faced with the question of the nature of existence.

You see if you believe that you are only here for a short stay of < 100 years - then - bugger it - exploit the environment for all it's worth, hunt and eat whales, support an oil based economy etc etc - just as long as you don't have to suffer.

If you believe though that you might be re-incarnated, or even that you 'live on' through your children and their children then - oh? - you might even consider investing in solar roof panels, supporting socially responsible companies - even if it costs you more, and - heaven help us - standing up for ideals!

Problem is you've got to convince yourself that it is worthwhile doing even if you see that the majority of the population AREN'T!

"If you shape your life according to nature,
you will never be poor; if according to people's opinions,
you will never be rich."

So - Ethics - and escaping the boundaries of time.

1.    Take the time to work out what it is that you actually do believe in - what you Value most - noting that this will be intimately linked to your view on the nature of life itself
2.    Ask what you would do if you knew you were going to live forever
3.    Decide if you're going to be a talker or a do-er
4.    ACT!

"To accomplish great things,
we must not only act,
but also dream;
not only plan,
but also believe."
Anatole France

In peace and love always.

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