Friday, March 11, 2011

The Evolution of a Sort of Moral Code; A Belief in Ethics, If You Will.

Ethics and morality are slippery and always-controversial subjects.  I often avoid them for that very reason, but I find that I cannot always stand quietly by in the shadows.  I need for my voice to be heard.

I'm reading Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer, a fairly well-known medical anthropologist.  You may have heard of Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is about Farmer's quest for global health.  I don't mean the sort of global health that is tracking who gets sick and where so disease can be controlled and contained, I mean global health in the sense that the whole world, everyone in the world has access to such resources that might keep or make them healthy.

I just have a quick note (because I've only just started the book) about my thoughts on charity and morality, actually.

"The ends justify the means."  When Machiavelli wrote that, he was thinking and writing of governments and rulers, not the rights and freedoms of the ruled; in fact, I've heard it argued that he was thinking the opposite, and many commonly define his "ends" as a total subjugation of the people.  I believe that, whatever the original ideas behind the statement, it can be applied to my concept of charity and morality.  The end in this case is the improvement of living conditions and quality of life for a people, and the means are all the charities that funnel money and labor into this project, and all the donations by the well-off to those charities.

The first part (of two) of Farmer's book is titled "Bearing Witness;" the first part of the first part--a sort of prologue to the part--is an elaboration on that title.  Farmer says he is anxious about the title and a reason he gives is that he is apprehensive of misrepresenting the poor.
"Some of my anxiety has legitimate sources: the boundary between bearing witness and disrespectful (or self-interested) rooting is not always evident, even to those seeking to be discerning." 
This is his way of saying "morality" for its own sake is not morality.  I use "morality" here to represent many of the good-samaritan acts or charity projects that the well-off do for the worse-off.

I want to emphasize that I don't think that charity and such is "bad," I just think it's maybe not as truthful as we'd like it to be.

I'm having trouble forming coherent sentences, so I think I'm going to go to sleep now.  But as I read the book, I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say.  Thanks for listening!

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