“MYOB” ethics

“How does one arrive at your theory of ‘selfish, unfettered power’ from the question ‘is your choice harmless to others, and does it make you happy’?” Tom Gualtieri asks, in defense of his two-pronged moral compass.

On Gualtieri’s view, if doing something makes you happy and it hurts no one, it is good. If it doesn’t make you happy or it hurts anyone, it is bad. Suggestions to further modify behavior are vain, an attempt to impose one’s likes and dislikes on others.

The issue of monogamy’s superiority to polygamy occasions this declaration of principles. If you push monogamy on society, you are unjustly affecting moral superiority to force people to conform to your preference for monogamy. Polygamists choose polygamy because it makes them happy. They’re consenting adults. If it harms no one, monogamists should mind their business. So says Gualtieri.

Logically extend this to any moral question or public policy. What stake do you have in your neighbor’s savings that he gambles away, leaving his family in want? Who are you to judge the incapacitation of a coworker whose skill you used to rely on, but diminished over time from so many weekend benders? What concerns the prude if a woman wants to temporarily sell herself into bondage, and your son is willing to pay her?

There are three flaws with Gualtieri’s simplified ethics I can think of. First, Gualtieri ascribes too much social autonomy to individuals. Morality aside, cooperation in society requires some degree of self-sacrifice and conformity to norms. These norms form the basis of trust in daily interactions. This is especially true of living in a country as uniquely blessed with a robust civil society as America.

Sin existsSecond, blessing individuals’ desires as long as they don’t harm others permits them to harm themselves. The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” We can and often do choose against our best interests. There is no moral presumption in saying polygamy is bad. Objectively it is bad. It indulges the basest instinct of men for sexual variety and all but guarantees tiered status to wives and children.

Third, and most importantly, Gualtieri doesn’t account for the fact of sin inherent in human nature. He thereby offers no answer to sin. By prioritizing desires, he encourages living in sin, ignoring the dark corners that can lead one into. Man is flesh and blood, and his sins are consumptive in nature: greed, gluttony, lust, pride, etc. While he fattens his flesh, sin consumes his soul.

How does one arrive at “selfish, unfettered power” from Gualtieri’s seemingly libertarian formulation? He claims for the individual the right to define his own morality, none being objectively better. Therefore, to each his own, right?

Wrong. Again, man does not live in isolation. As we have seen, people’s idiosyncratic desires and fantasies of will are not confined to their homes or to their heads. In practice, they reach out beyond the individual into society, forcing the rest of us to conform to their skewed moral categories, or sheer lack thereof.



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"There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by sword. The other is by debt." -John Adams 1826


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