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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #42 of 52: Developmental Psychology | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #44 of 52: The Indian Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen) »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #43 of 52: Morality Matters

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- What is morality and ethics, and, more importantly, is man a moral animal? Should man be moral? This is a very pertinent question, for, as you already know, contemporary Nigerians seem to believe that it is natural for them to be amoral.

Nigeria is a lawless place. Hardly any one lives by the law, unless they fear immediate apprehension by the authorities and punishment. In Nigeria, it seems that the belief is that Laws are made to be broken.

In Nigeria, just about all the politicians and bureaucrats are crooks, law breakers; I call them criminals in political office. We have a rule by criminals in Nigeria.

Given the sad state of affairs in Nigeria, it is appropriate to ask whether Nigerians ought to be left as they are: amoral?

Is morality a luxury that folks can dispense with at will and live in an amoral jungle where every body does as he pleases?

Philosophy defines ethics as the individual’s choice of morality, his idea of good and bad, and defines morality as what a group of people decide is good or bad. Ethics in personal and morality is social.

Every human society has ideas of permissible behaviors, what is right or wrong behavior.

What one society considers good behavior may be considered bad behavior in another? (Hence moral relativism.)

Society’s morality can be codified or not. If it is codified it is called rules and laws (constitutional or statutory). If it is not written down, but is expected behavior it is generally regarded as mores. Norms and laws are, together, referred to as the norms of society.

Norms is what is accepted as normal behavior in a group. In that sense, normality is derived from norms; a normal person, in effect, is a person who does what is in his group’s normative expectation. That is to say that the group defines normalcy.

This is what sociologists tell us. But reality is different from sociological construction of reality.

Is mental illness socially constructed? Is schizophrenia and mania (bipolar affective disorder) only a social phenomenon? Have you seen psychotics? The schizophrenic and or the manic see himself as god and try to behave as he imagines that god behaves: all powerful. Is the insane person a social creation?

I know many sociologists who believe that mental disorder is a social construct. Let us see. Society tells us to strive to seem important and decides that god is the ultimate symbol of importance and power and indirectly disposes those who feel powerless and unimportant to latch unto god in their efforts to seem powerful? That is to say that the psychotic’s grandiosity is a function of society’s reinforcement of such pursuit in people?

Society tends to accept people conditionally, mostly when they seem successful and ignore or reject them when they seem failures, and in this sense dispose poor men to see themselves as successful as god, so as to be accepted by society?

See, most Nigerians are neurotic; they want to seem important, fictional importance, by calling themselves engineer fool who has not contributed an iota to engineering science.

Does biochemistry play a role in the etiology of mental disorder, in the psychotic’s apparent grandiosity?

In other words, is reality a sociological construct or is it a biological construct. It is probably both?

If what we call reality is determined by our society and biology, can morality be considered self evident?

If there is no God, there can be no moral absolutes. Without God every thing is relative (cultural relativism).

Or does God exist, thus making morality self evident? Where is your proof that God exists? Religion? Whose religion determines morality? Christianity and Islam? Are those not formulated in Arabia; are they not Semitic religions? Hinduism and Buddhism? Are those not Indian religions?

Why should foreign religions tell Africans what is right or wrong? Do Africans have religions? If so, what are they? (See my essays on the religions of the world.)

Is there such a thing as morality in nature? If not, is killing some one good? If your answer is yes, could you volunteer to be the first to be killed? Can you practice what you believe?

Is there such a thing as natural morality or is morality a social construct? This is a critical question, for how you answer it decides whether you are a moral being or not.

Let us see what Western political philosophy said. Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) claims that in the state of nature human begin were selfish and lived mostly for themselves. Each person pursued his personal interest at the expense of other people’s interests. The result was conflict. People were perpetually at war with each other. The powerful killed the weak and a band of the weak killed the powerful and took his wealth. Thus, life was insecure for all. Life was nasty, brutish and short.

To ameliorate their personal and social insecurity, people agreed to form a civil society. They agreed to give some of their powers to ruler, to government who makes laws that protect all of them. In effect, people agreed to reduce their natural license to do as they pleased and live under law that restricted their freedom.

The benefit of curbing their freedom is social security.

Would you like absolute freedom and the risk of death from other equally free persons or would you rather have your freedom reduced, so that you have social security and live long?

Hobbes said that reason disposes people to choose reduced freedom and more security.

In Hobbesian perspective, morality is pragmatic. Morality is that which gives individuals’ social security. Morality is not self evident in nature; it is an artificial social construct.

The English utilitarian school (John Mill, John Stuart Mill, and Jeremy Bentham) essentially agrees with Hobbes (and Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Ricardo etc). To them, human beings are rational animals; as such, they prefer pleasure to pain. In pursuit of pleasure they pass laws that accentuate their pleasure and reduce their pain.

What is the right public policy? That which optimizes pleasure for the majority of the people in a polity, John Stuart Mill said in On Liberty.

Because morality is an artificial construct some persons can choose, and do choose not to abide by it. Criminals deliberately choose to live outside the pale of law. While most people obey the laws of the land, criminals disobey them. A thief takes from others because he does not believe in respecting others rights to their property and does not respect the law.

(But does the thief like it if other thieves stole from him? Of course not; the thief feels angry when other thieves steal from him. There is no honor among thieves. Thieves do kill other thieves who stole from them. The fact that thieves do not like to be stolen from makes the argument that no one likes to be stolen from hence no one should steal.)

Does morality exist in nature? What do you think? In the Republic, Plato gathered prominent Athenians to debate many issues, including why there should be justice and what justice is or is not.

(I really would like to see Africans debate intellectual issues rather than rehash what their white masters told them. I, too, went to Western Universities and learned from our white masters. But, I want to see us think through many things and decide what makes sense or not to us. I am really sick and tired of seeing Nigerians regurgitate what they learned from their colonial masters and in doing so fancy themselves educated. To me, a person is truly educated when he has thought through things and came to independent conclusions as to their nature.)

I do not see morality in nature. In nature, I see big fish eat small fish and there is nothing moral about that. The small fish obviously has the same desire to live as the big fish, so the big fish had no business eating the small fish.

Yet, morality is a necessary social phenomenon. No society, no group of people can exist without its members agreeing to behave morally.

If people behaved amorally the result would be anarchy and insecurity. Do you need and example?

Look at Nigeria; look at what the devil has made; an amoral place where folks do exactly what they want to do regardless of the law.

In a well functioning polity, there must be morality. I do not see how society can exist without laws.

In my view, the first order of business for society is to make laws (legislative branch of government is primary) and the second order of business is to implement them (execution, executory branch of government is next to the legislative), and the third order of business is to adjudicate them (Judiciary, some one must interpret the laws).

Laws ought to be implemented in a draconian manner. Whoever disobeys the laws of society ought to be hunted down, arrested and tried and jailed. There ought not to be sentimentality on this issue, for without laws and morality no society can exist. Society is the same as morality and rules and laws. Without laws there is no society.

Therefore, whereas empirical observation shows me that there is no morality in nature; logic tells me that there must be morality and laws in organized society.

In this light, the rulers of Nigeria, if that is what the thieves at Abuja are called, ought to pass laws and implement them in an impersonal manner. You commit a crime, you are arrested and jailed. No sentimentality should be wasted over this matter.

If you treat criminals with kid gloves, as they do in Nigeria, (the Inspector General of police, a certain creature called Tafa Balogun stole billions of Naira and was sentenced to a few months in jail; that was all; he was given a slap on the wrist; he ought to have been allowed to rot in prison; better still, his head should have been chopped off) there would continue to be criminals everywhere.

The average human being wants to live at all costs. If you threaten to kill him if he is anti social, his fear of death would dispose him to obey the law. So shoot a few Nigerian criminals every weekend and the rest of that thieving population would shape up. The fear of the hangman would make them begin to obey the laws of the land.

Generally, in human societies, only a few persons tend to really think about the nature of morality and laws and reach the conclusion that there is need for morality and laws for society to exist and voluntarily choose to obey the laws of their society. Plato made Socrates to drink the hemlock and die to show that laws must be obeyed.

The mass of humanity is like cattle and do not think; these animals need draconian application of the law, punishment of offenders, to get them to obey the laws of the land.

This is sound conservative view. I make no pretense: I am a conservative. I have a negative view of human nature. I think that by nature human beings are self centered and amoral and need the law and the hangman to keep them in check, to civilize them. If you remove the police, courts and prisons from society, most people would steal and engage in other anti social activities.

(Liberals have a rosy picture of human nature; they tend to believe that left alone that people are good and will choose to obey the law. The fallacy of liberalism is Nigeria where folks are not voluntarily choosing to obey the law. Conservatism assumes that people are selfish and would disobey the law unless you have the threat of the hang man hovering over their heads. In my view, liberal thinking is brain dead. Conservatives appear to be the only ones with realistic thinking. Conservative political ideology seems eminently empirical whereas liberalism seems what folks wish to exist that does not exist. Human nature is not pretty. Man is a fallen creature and needs supervision to do the right thing.)

I want a society of law and order. In that society morality must be clearly defined. Those who disobey the law should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Nigerians must become realistic and understand the need for obedience to law and start transforming their current lawless African jungle into a civilized law abiding society. In a country of laws, in a country where law is implemented and lawbreakers are punished there is security for most people. The converse is the insecurity that characterizes life in the thief-
Land called Nigeria.

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 01:41 AM


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