The System Affects Morals

The System Affects Morals

Circumstances have an effect on what we do. We can build systems that support and reinforce morality or we build systems that weaken and destroy morality.

Take this example from India. This is from an article entitled: – If no one helps you after a car crash in India, this is why.

Kanhaiya Lal desperately cries for help but motorists swerve straight past him. His young son and the splayed bodies of his wife and infant daughter lie next to the mangled motorbike on which they had all been travelling seconds earlier.

The widely broadcast CCTV footage of this scene – showing the suffering of a family of hit-and-run victims in northern India in 2013 and the apparent indifference of passers-by – troubled many Indians.

Some motorcyclists and police eventually came to the family’s aid but it was too late for Lal’s wife and daughter. Their deaths sparked a nationwide debate over the role of bystanders – the media hailed it as a “new low in public apathy” and worse, “the day humanity died”.

Why do people just walk away and do nothing in the face of such suffering? Are citizens of India evil and oblivious to suffering? Certainly not.

Then what’s going on?

In India if you assist a traffic victim the police assume you must be doing it out of guilt and they will likely arrest you and if they don’t you may wind up as a witness in a legal case. And in India, legal cases can drag for many years.

If that isn’t enough In India if you take someone to the hospital they are very likely to try to make you pay for their medical care.

There are efforts underway to change those rules and they are having an effect. India is re-writing its laws.

There are a lot of differences in our system compared to theirs. No one is likely to arrest you for calling an ambulance in an emergency or assume you caused the accident. If you take someone to the hospital they don’t try to bill you if you don’t know that person.

And the results are clear. When you encourage rescue, people get rescued. When you encourage people to not get involved, people die.

Are there examples where Americans are changing systems to encourage a lack of morality?

Absolutely, corporate and governmental decision making is increasingly divorced from any kind of moral code.

The sole concern of business is to make a profit for shareholders. It doesn’t matter whether or not you make a product, accomplish a goal, do good or even stay in compliance with the law. Money is all.

You can read articles where people discuss the idea that the only function of business is to make money. It’s an amazing experience. They hold the idea up of money (and sometimes greed) as the sole goal as if were a philosophical diamond, shining in the light. They talk about it as if they had found truth like King Arthur’s knights searching for the Holy Grail. As if it were obvious to any thinking human being that every other value was subordinate to money or to say it slightly differently, shareholder value.

What do we get when we train people to think only in terms of profit?

What’s happening now is what we get. Corporations that have no loyalty to anything that doesn’t make money. They evade taxes; refuse any responsibility for the communities and nations that have nurtured them. They have become moral free agents or more correctly amoral free agents. Like the superman of Friedrich Nietzsche, they are beyond the rules and expectations of lesser men.

I subscribe to another view. This is from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, EVANGELII GAUDIUM, section 55:

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

Corporations were created in nations like the United States to allow investors to come together to create great economic projects that could live beyond their creator lifetimes. They were not designed to be our masters or our destroyers.

Each system to encourage right actions and morality has to be based on an ethical system. If India can change its laws to encourage people to save the injured in car accidents, we can change our focus from simple profit to wider moral concerns that include a respect for law and an abiding loyalty to the United States.

James Pilant

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