Where Do You Get Your Morals?

Where Do You Get Your Morals?
Paul Johnson

Let’s start by considering two people who we would agree are moral and two who we wouldn’t consider moral and see what shakes out.

Mike and Marv are two moral people. Mike goes to church regularly, and has been brought up getting his morals from the church. It’s the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments that he lives by.

Marv goes to church regularly and feels that his morals mesh well with the church-taught morals, but feels that it’s important for him to know “why” some things are moral and others are not.  He says that understanding “why” helps him better decide the morally correct decision in areas not so well defined by the Bible.

Mike says that his Bible tells him what he needs in order to make decisions, and if he can’t find it, he can always seek guidance from elders in his church. He would never consider deciding on his own without considering his religion.

Now let’s consider Billy and Bobby. Billy is devoutly religious and knows that he’s doing the wrong thing but just “can’t help” it when he’s doing immoral things. He knows that being gay is wrong but he can’t help his homosexual inclinations, though he suppresses them as best he can. He also knows that the man is the king of his domain and his wife better just succumb to his demands or he has the support of God in his brutality.

Bobby was raised in a religious family but feels that his church is persecuting him and his friends for being gay. He says if God made them gay, then the church has no right to condemn him.  He wishes he wasn’t gay but he feels he is who he is and is healthier for accepting the facts.

Which of these people would be better able to make moral decisions and which would have difficulty?

Obviously, Mike admits that he is unable to “make” moral decisions on his own and must rely on moral decisions defined thousands of years ago and rewritten countless times. Mike has never exercised his moral decision making process. What kinds of decisions does he make on a daily basis? Basing his morals on his book, how often does he apply the wrong moral to a situation? Of all the Mikes I’ve known, there aren’t any that I would trust to make a moral decision on their own.

Marv would certainly do better at making moral decisions as he has demonstrated a desire to understand the issues and has a demonstrated experience at making moral decisions.

How about Billy the wife beater? He can justify every awful evil thing he does by following the letter of the religious laws while not understanding or caring about the intent. How would you feel about having someone like Billy on a jury?

How about Bobby? Does his religious upbringing make him better at moral decisions? Since he has abandoned them, I’m inclined to say no.

How about if we take someone who is really awful and who confesses to not having a religious moral compass? Stalin comes to mind. He was responsible for millions of deaths and murders. We certainly wouldn’t want him making moral decisions for us. We know who he is.

Mike, on the other hand, frequently makes moral decisions involving people around him. Mike may even be a president of some third world county. Then again, so may Billy. Their religious decision making process is not only broken but outright destructive. We would be less inclined to accept Stalin but could be worse off still with either Mike or Billy.

The defining difference between someone good at making moral decisions and someone bad is the obvious criteria, knowledge and experience.  Dogmatically following a religion’s moral decisions makes us really lousy at making moral decisions. Only when we understand the premise of the morality we find in our religions or elsewhere, can we be good moral people.

In other words, you don’t become more moral by going to church, but you certainly could be less moral.

Capital Punishment and Justice

Capital Punishment and Justice
Paul Johnson

So, it’s just a coincidence that the Bush Administration has decided to wait until now to prosecute bad guys #1, #2, and #3, all responsible for 9/11. (By the way, I thought Bush was responsible for failing to protect us from 9/11, but that’s another story.) So, if we ignore the unreliable nature of tortured confessions, and ignore the totally unethical and deceptive Bush Administration, and ignore all the questions about how Saddam (oops, I mean Osama) has gotten EVERYTHING he demanded from the US, ignoring all these things, if we find the bad guys guilty and everyone really believes it, how do we punish them?

On another note, there has been new evidence discovered around the finding of the latest dead victim of the Nevada UNR serial rapist. The charity fund to help find the poor missing girl is now redirecting their efforts from finding the girl to exacting “justice”.

In yet another news story, there have been hundreds of deaths every year caused by greed in the medical industry. Back when our country was young, and for thousands of years before that, when someone killed or crippled a friend or neighbor or customer through greed or stupidity, we felt obligated to ensure that the victim and his family were taken care of.

So, what is justice? I should remind you that justice is not, in any way, the same as revenge. Revenge is a lousy moral trait. No amount of killing or suffering will ever bring back someone’s ability to walk or live and breath.

What is capital punishment? It’s nothing more than revenge, plain and simple.

Electrocuting someone to death doesn’t bring back loved ones, it only causes more pain, suffering, and death, and not just for the hopefully correctly convicted convict, but for his friends and family as well. And why should we care? Because we’re better people than that.

The Death Penalty does not exact justice, but only revenge.

Pay attention to the number of people on death row and in lifetimes of incarceration who have recently been  found innocent. Imagine how many have already been put to death who were also innocent. In these cases, the “justice” in the form of revenge, has become murder, cold blooded murder on our parts. That’s not something we want to be a part of.

So, what is the purpose of our penal system if not for revenge? I suppose everyone can answer that. Our penal system is supposed to serve two purposes, first, it acts to discourage wrong-doing through fear of the consequences, and the second is to protect society from the bad apples.

In the first case, the term penal system is incorrect. What we really need to call it is a re-education system. The best way to ensure that convicts, innocent and guilty alike, turn to crime when they leave the penal system is to fail in our efforts to rehabilitate or re-educate them.

In the second case, the penal system isn’t intended to reform or re-educate criminals, but to prevent them from doing further harm to society.

In neither of these cases is “Penal System” the correct solution. No wonder it doesn’t work.

So, we seem to have a pretty good handle on what “Justice” is not. But what, exactly, is it? How, exactly do we reform our penal system into a correctional system?

Looking at the three examples in the beginning of this essay, we have three overlapping solutions to three very different crimes, and yes, malpractice is a crime.

#1. Will fear of death prevent religious zealots from trying to infect the rest of society? I guess that’s pretty obvious, but needs to be stated. Punishment, especially the death penalty, does not discourage the mentally unstable. This is true not just of religious fanatics, but applies equally well to any crimes done out of emotion. In other words, the only crime that punishment will discourage is crimes done by high-society aristocratic spoiled kids getting their kicks. This will not discourage emotionally driven people, and will obviously not discourage desperate people.

Putting to death religious zealots will only breed more religious zealots.

#2. What is justice for the doctor who is performing so many operations that he can’t keep them straight and ends up cutting off the wrong limb? Just as in the past, this greedy doctor should be responsible for the victim and his dependents for life.  What about cases where the perpretator has no means of supporting the victim and family? Then a life of servitude is in order. Serve that family in any way you can, and if that means going door to door begging for food for the victims, then get to it.

Will a million dollar punitive damage settlement be fair justice? Perhaps, if that’s what will make the victim feel fairly compensated for the loss of his sight, or hearing, and if the family will feel fairly compensated for the loss of a loved one and the loss of decades of care, help, and income. But, really, would you trade your eyesight for a million dollars? How do you put a price on something like that?

Keep in mind, that this corrupt industry is trying their best to limit their need and inclination to provide restitution to those they’ve harmed. This is immoral in so many ways. Yes, we need to reform our medical industry.

#3. The serial rapist currently preying on the girls and young women of Reno’s UNR campus is not discouraged by fear of death. He is encouraged by his belief that he will not be caught. I guess if we had the cops that are currently busting people for smoking pot, or watching adult movies, or prostitution out there on the streets dealing with real crime, then the criminal would be much less inclined to rape and kill, but he would still yearn for it and would eventually succumb to his weakness.

When caught and convicted, will the correction system be able to rehabilitate him? Was Willie Horton on the path to rehabilitation? I’m not a psychologist, but I know that some people are not able or willing to rehabilitate. Can a jury decide this? I suppose not. Since I’m not a psychologist, I couldn’t decide, and nor could all but a very few jurors. However, many jurors are driven by emotions, especially in cases like this. Decisions based on emotion, are what got us in this mess, it’s obviously not the solution.

In cases where the bad apples must be separated from society, rehabilitation should still be a regular part of the incarceration, but keeping the bad apples out of society has to be the primary focus in these cases. For those who we are unable to keep out of society should then be considered candidates for a more permanent solution. Is that solution Capital Punishment? I don’t think so.

In conclusion, what do we do with the people responsible for 9/11? I suggest we start with impeachment. If we fail to impeach, will that encourage criminal behavior by future presidents? Maybe in some cases, but it’s not a solution in itself, either.

What do we do with the three 9/11 suspects delivered by Bush? Maybe we could start by apologizing for being so un-American and torturing them and refusing them legal council. Then, if they truly are guilty, we could rehabilitate them and use them as poster children on anti-terrorist propaganda to broadcast to religiously fanatical groups here and abroad.