Can moral principles be equally valid in different cultures? Do such principles need the citizens/inhabitants to allow it to shape their behavior? Or is Morality an absolute set of laws that exists independently of cultures and nations? Can Morality – our sense of Right and Wrong – be a regional or local concept? These haphazard questions form the premise for my scatterbrained post tonight.
Let me try an example. A Facebook friend is donating money to an animal charity, to enable them to buy food, shelter and medicines. Many are commenting on her updates, hailing her actions as noble and admirable.
Now I live in the center of the metropolis of Dhaka – where high-rise corporate offices overshadow vast shanty-towns and people off to the Bellagio for their $100 dinners roll up their car-windows so the smell of sweat from rickshaw-pullers doesn’t waft in. Airplanes carrying coughing men and limping women fly over the many urban slums where essential immunization doesn’t reach children. Suffice it to say, rural areas are uniformly poor.
In this reality, I can’t help thinking that my friend might have spent the money on half-fed street children or on the many charities trying to take basic healthcare into the slums. I feel like it’s a higher level of moral behavior than giving medicines to canines. So, you ask, why must the two be mutually-exclusive? Why can’t this friend do both? Well – because our resources are finite. If I spend it on ice-cream, I don’t have anything left for charity. And vice versa.
But isn’t that like saying we should all stop buying stuff and send the savings to kids in (say) Africa or Syria? Almost. Not quite. My scenario deals with two readily accessible, means of charity within one’s community. Whereas sending money / relief to Africa / Syria is a difficult undertaking beyond one’s own community.
Given this situation, is it okay to conclude that the act of giving to an animal shelter is subject to a different set of moral principles in Dhaka than it would’ve been in Tokyo or New York? Can the same act be absolutely moral in one region – but of dubious moral value somewhere else? If yes, does it apply to prostitution, gambling or abortions?
Just thought of another example. In Bangladesh, we don’t have a lot of ‘original’ books. What I mean is that most books I read – in university or at home – were pirated and reproduced locally. And I was left with no choice but to study from those. While choosing to educate myself (to whatever extent) was a moral choice (the alternative being an unproductive citizen) – it was immoral (and also illegal) to have bought pirated material.
Now does the fact that people in my position have no other option but to opt for piracy – somehow alter the (im)morality of my actions? Seeing there was no practical alternative, is the act of piracy in a developing nation somehow a necessary evil? If not for pirated books – the nation would be illiterate (much more than it currently is i.e.).
Two of my perplexing questions are whether a lack of resources/options can alter the paradigm of Morality and whether Morality has geographical boundaries. We know that varying intentions of the same act can alter the morality of it. For example, hunting for game and hunting for food have unequal moral values; Shooting for self preservation (defense) and shooting just to kill are judged differently. Prostitution for pocket-money and prostitution to feed a child can’t be measured by the same standards either. Thus it can be established that when there a only a few alternatives – the morality of a particular act may vary (based on intention).
Consider this, is it moral for people to download movie torrents when they can pay a perfectly reasonable price to catch it at the theater? Where there are no theaters? Can anti-government protests in one stable and another highly-volatile country be judged in the same light? So, if people in a particular region / country / neighborhood face limited alternatives – can different criteria for morality apply to them too?