A fair amount of my posts have been about ethics, even though I usually don’t discuss the theoretical thinking behind the moral. There’s no doubt that we need to become saints in order to succeed with everything, but ethics is the theory and we shouldn’t apply all of it to our lives.
Many people are concerned with buying a few fair trade products, like coffee, or use public transportation, but then fail to intervene when they see injustice on the bus. When that happens we have helped people on another continent, but failed anyway. I think nearness plays a role, and showing moral courage is more important concerning your family and neighbours than a coffee picker in South America or inuits in Alaska.
Ethics is often about the right deeds and about becoming better people. Virtue ethics may seem controversial today and many consider it an insult to be called a paragon. Virtues are habits or qualities that help us live good lives. There are problems with all theories, but I like the focus on habits in virtue ethics. We are not born either good or bad, but have both possibilties. We can practice on making the right choices. It’s doesn’t really matter what we think about Muslims, skin colour, homosexuals or gender equality. We can still learn to treat people fairly.
Selfishness and altruism are extremes, but both could be negative. Most people pay attention to their bookkeeping and balance. When they help someone, even if they volunteered their services, they expect something in return. When I went to school we had a lot of group/project work and sometimes I ended up doing a lot of the work alone. This is also how some people’s idea of a relationship is, but it’s not exactly fair. We want cooperation, so there is an expectation of some sort of mutual exchange, like friendship or loyalty. You don’t necessarily get that with altruistic deeds and it could also be hard living up to an impossible ideal. Altruism is important in Christianity, and Jesus was the ultimate example, but I am not sure I want to try turning the other cheek. I don’t live in a world where that would be good advice.
I think we tend to get too focused on things that happen far away. I’m not suggesting we should forget about the rain forest, CO2-emissions, a fair salary for the workers at coffee or bananaplantations, or the exploitation of women and children, but we could accomplish a lot by just focusing on local affairs, and if governments stopped interferring. We could be more consistent because many want to save the Amazonas, but at the same time they support the social apartheid economy in Brazil. Our governments support an absolute monarchy like Saudi Arabia, while the democracy we imposed on Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Libya hasn’t done much good. We have a responsibility for what happened after the Arab spring. We can talk about it and tell our governments what we think about their irresponsibility. If we don’t we have to rely on media, in which case we’re doomed.