It's impossible to live an ethical life

I spend a lot of time in dark places. It’s my interest in how to build civilization. You kind of have to look at all the things that are out to destroy it, like young men between 18 and 25, actual despots, bad memes like the idea that power should be passed on as a birthright. Anyway, looking more in the present, how could you live ethically?

Anything you buy, you know it’s either going to affect someone in the future because of the waste created, or has already affected someone in the past because of cheap labor, resource extraction, or worse. If you go out in the woods and live like a hermit, you are dependent on the military and police to defend those woods and the laws of the country surrounding it. The “greenest” cars are not much better than the worst ones.

In the past, you could at least write about ethics, you could try to solve ethical dilemmas and suggest ways of living to deal with them. But those became religions, and the idea of continuing to ask questions and grapple with the dilemmas is nearly dead.

that’s enough negative. There are ways out of this, and some of them are happening, but I’d like to hear from y’all first.

In a similar vein, I’ve always loved learning about history. So many cool adventures and accomplishments groups, societies, individuals, it’s all really quite amazing. But you know of late when YouTube puts so much of that out, and with careful attention to sources it’s easy to find trust worthy rational stuff. So we get older, think we’ve heard all the stories, it’s fun to find new stories and to see how accumulating evidence changes our ideas of old stories.

All that is fun, but on the flip side is how despotic leaders and nations and empires have been. The brutality and avarice and gluttony has if not always, sure seems like most the time, lead to self destruction.

Many people almost seem to worship the great leaders, the Napoleons, who were megalomaniacs and brought an awful lot horrors and destruction into people’s lives.

Recently I listened to James Mitchener’s Caribbean fun, exciting, but it leaves on wondering if we’re addicted to war and self-destruction because that same spirit of plunder and disregard permeates the entire American experience - and foreshadows our inevitable self destruction at our own hands.

Good point.

In the early '50s, 60s we were starting to learn that our impact upon Earth’s systems was increasing exponentially and beginning to stress Earth’s ability to provide for us. The warning was crystal clear, either we slow down, or we would speed our own destruction. Why?

Simple, we were changing our atmosphere in a way that increased it’s insulation ability and that was going to warm Earth beyond the parameters it had operated under these past ~ten thousand years of climate optimal. Not to mention the preceded by millions of years worth of a slowly moderating global climate engine.

We were over stressing global fresh water resources.

Expecting our oceans (and atmosphere) to absorb ever increasing amounts of destructive pollutants.

Populations were getting too big, farm land was limited, urban sprawl too destructive.

Consumption of raw materials equals destruction of life sustaining biosphere.

etc., etc.,

Oh the simple bottom line was that we need to learn to be happy with a bit less. That was the deal breaker that no one wants to accept. Our children will pay the price, fortunately even they only have one life to lose, so it could be worse, eh? Worse than destroying the biosphere as we know it, which will take a couple hundred years to fully unfold, and then the healing starts. Earth’s has lots of time for repairing damage. Unfortunately for us, all of Earth’s species are expendable.

My ultimate M.F. game is imaging: What If, WWII hadn’t happened, how much different, and quite probably better off, we’d have been.

Too many technological advances too fast. Made people drunk with power and absolutely blind to destructive consequences, no matter how obvious they were.

Life for the well to do, would probably be a bit more “difficult” but they’d probably be a bit saner and healthier too. Besides, what’s wrong with having to do some work. For instance, in my case, wood stove heating season started last week. Right now it’s small fires to kill the nip in the mornings. It requires constant attention in one form or other, it’s just how it is. Or dealing with water which includes water hauling and rain harvesting and even snow management in the spring. There’s something good and satisfying in taking care of oneself and being out there. I know I’m no pioneer and totally depend on society and town, still I’m carrying some of my own load and I’m just rambling now.

I know science and progress wasn’t going to stop, but war sure does drive astounding changes that have turned out to overwhelm or sensibilities. We’ve been fools in Earth’s game of survival, where there’s only one chance to get it right.

Had we gained our knowledge and powers a little slower and for little less destruction goals, I think we’d be living a slower but, way healthier and sustainable day to days.

Plus our children would have an actual future of hope and progress in front of them. Instead, our legacy is more like a wounded old bomber with no place to land.

Actually it’s worse than that, isn’t it? Too many powerful people with utter contempt and disregard for others, let alone their welfare.

As for living an ethical life while living a pragmatic life? - that is a challenge.

guess it’s time to walk Maddy and I’ll chew on it, and ask Maddy about that one.. :wink:

If you have never checked out Dan Carlin’s history podcast, it’s awesome, he did a series on WW1. We wouldn’t have had 2 without that. We wouldn’t have had 1 without a long build up and increasing tech in weaponry. That was when nations were still led on horseback by royalty and battles were brief. That era of world wars kind of wiped out the average person’s lens on the previous culture that existed for hundreds of years before that.

To me, that history is a big part of how ethics changed from something you could work out by talking to your neighbors, or just looking out over the land you lived on, or think about your own direct experience of your king. You can’t do that anymore. Cities are designed so even if you go to them, you don’t come in contact with the factories and the surrounding millions who work there. You see the baseball game, or the play, or the concert, not the people cleaning the toilets. If you are the toilet cleaner, it’s much clearer, but you don’t have the voice, the platform, you are literally beneath it.

You forget, I grew up in a German household in Chicago in the 60s, regular visits to the DAVIS Theater and their German speaking movies, plus the NewsReel out of Germany about Germany and Europe.

Our Dad let us know during our high school years that the second World War was inevitable and simply an extension of the First World War. All about money honey. As for those 60s, that’s when liberal type Germans like my parents openly discussed that question of their generation.

How could such and intelligent liberal nation turn so hateful and totalitarian?

I don’t think anyone ever came up with an answer, then it seemed it to simply become a rhetorical schtick, then it disappeared from the consciousness.

And now I’ve lived to watch exactly how easy it happens. And silly me always used to think all people loved learning, cared about others, had a conscience, at least at night in bed alone, but how wrong those notions are.

I’ve discovered most people are intellectually inbred, and fearful rather than curious. Thus says guy who graduated '73, during a singular golden era, that seems impossibly long ago.

I did forget that. Not sure I even ever knew it. I kind of hoped someone would present a good argument against me here, but in a sense, it’s always been a tough road to stay on, the ethical one. You can go crazy thinking about the consequences of every action, and if that leads to inaction, then someone gets hurt because you DIDN’T do something. But that’s not really what I’m saying. I’m saying the incentives to do good are now so abstract, it’s hard to find them, let alone live them.

I think most people are curious, caring, and have a conscience, even when no one is looking. It’s dealing with the rest that makes it difficult, and now those few have a lot of power. I’m glad I witnessed the Summer of Love, but even that was at least part marketing. Some came out of that disillusioned, but others went on to do the long slow work that had always been going on.

Here’s one way. Hahn is a Buddhist monk from Vietnam. He had no plans to write books or travel the world, but then the world came to his home and started burning villages and handing out weapons. He influenced MLK Jr to speak out about it, among others.

People think it is impossible to establish a system of ethics without referring to good or evil. But clouds float, flowers bloom, and wind blows. What need have they for a distinction between good and evil? There are people who live like clouds, flowers, and wind, who don’t think about morals, yet many people point to their actions and words as religious and ethical models, and they praise them as saints. These saints simply smile. If they revealed that they do not know what is good and what is evil, people would think they were crazy. Thich Nhat Hahn

Hang on Lausten, I have been thinking about your challenge. :blush:

Okay, there’s another dimension, it’s also about how do we feel about and deal with our own hypocrisies, failings, past and present transgressions or failings in personal honor (that would be the living by a code of ethics).

I want to be good and kind and giving towards others, but situations are dynamic.
All of a sudden nice situation rages out of control. When you’re giving becomes expected, or when the one, suddenly morphs into overwhelming expectations with one + + showing up.

The reality that “In the end each of us needs to save ourselves.” and I am responsible for myself first and foremost, So it’s a balance, because I’m not an island either but yes, at the same time, family does have a right to their expectations. And so on and so forth.

Suddenly, I’m visualizing that kayaker, rolling with the flow, doing what needs to be done stay afloat, getting battered by a bit of splash and rocks but, keeping on, keeping on.

There’s that wonderful Sinéad O’Connor line: “Be good, but not too good.”
First I heard it, home run, yeah babe, you nailed it. Still think so.

It’s also about owning our own bullshit. I think most who make it to their 60s have memories of behaving totally out of line, big mistakes perhaps big sins. I can take comfort that none of mine are malicious in nature - just as an a-hole when I should have done better. But sins none the less. Now what do we do with that? Do we live and learn? Or pretend it away and ignore?

There’s a some old WWII movie, where the one guy goes on about the cathedral in his heart and the cove of candles, one for every memory and person that mattered, with one that he was going to light and keep burning for the person being addressed. I thought it was beautiful and it sort of got absorbed by my subconscious.

It feels a bit like that for me, more like shelves full of nooks and boxes, once in a while we pull one out and the memory comes back, like it was now, most are good, but there are some uncomfortable ones, and a couple that scorch like hell itself. It’s good to revisit, remember, to own it, but then the pragmatic persons needs to fold it up and stick it back into it’s nook, or it will consume ya. I don’t want to self destruct, I want to live the adventure so gotta own it all, but remember in the end my life is about me. I came into this world alone and naked and so I shall leave this amazing Earth and body I was allowed to exist within for my three score and some years.

(Oh, Lausten there’s hint to the American God’s mystery spot. The all consuming mother of sex. Does that ring a bell. :wink:)

hmmm, actually, guess it was one of his American God’s and not a ‘mother’.

Here’s my brief history of ethics. I’ll start with the 2001 A Space Odyssey moment when a smarter monkey defended its tribe with a weapon. Was that ethical or unfair use of technology? A couple million years later and language has developed, city/states, and there are people who can sit around and think and decide what is right. Empires rise and fall, use slave labor, but some strides are made in values. The end of that ancient time comes when the Barbarians or Vandals or Goths or whoever cross the Danube and walk into Rome.

China, Baghdad, even the Americas were doing better in some ways for a while, but hardly ethical by modern standards. Education increased but so did colonization. The ideas that were born in Greece have spread around the world, but the jury is still out if they are better than the ways of living with less comfort and less impact on the land.

I don’t think we’ve improved on that debate. If anything, the people with the resources and the leadership positions have figured how to obscure the debate, so we are offered choices like organic food or high mileage cars but we have limited ability to change the underlying systems that lead to those poor choices.

Okay guess that’s all fair enough.
Guess I was thinking locally and not globally. :wink:

Which is definitely part of the discussion. I think we have many opportunities to be ethical locally, and maybe that’s how it’s always been. If I have a nice Jeep that I drive into the mountains and go camping, I also have the opportunity to pull someone out of a snowbank now and then. It’s sort of that “put on your own oxygen mask first” thinking. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves and nurturing our local community, we can’t do as much for others.

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Sounds like you’re setting the bar very high.

Living without ever causing harm to anything else is impossible. Changing the world is impossible. You have to focus on “smaller”.

agreed, I am. But then, what does it mean to be ethical? If it means setting your sites on something larger than yourself, something you can’t achieve in your lifetime, then yes, it’s always been impossible. But I think the modern world has made it hard to even set your sites on making the world better. It’s harder to rise from commoner to leader, harder to develop a moral story that gets heard, harder to even learn how you impact others by your day-to-day actions.

The ethics you’re talking about seem to focus on causing as little harm as possible. I don’t think it is harder to do that today, although it might be harder to see much “feedback”.

How would you define ethics?

Hey Guy,
How would your trump define ethics?

The standard definition works for me, but there’s many different kinds of ethical stances. Yours seems to be about reducing harm as much as possible. I don’t know the name of it.

1: ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation

2a: a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral valuesthe present-day materialistic ethican old-fashioned work ethic—often used in plural but singular or plural in constructionan elaborate ethicsChristian ethics

b: ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a groupprofessional ethics

c: a guiding philosophy

d: a consciousness of moral importanceforge a conservation ethic

  1. ethics plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (such as rightness)debated the ethics of human cloning



Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that “involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior”. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value; these fields comprise the branch of philosophy called axiology. Wikipedia