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Ethics chapter 3
Introduction

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

 

 

The degradation of love and the fallacy of reason.

Chapter 3

The one clear thought, one voice, of individual striving for a personal ethical life is, and always has been, the great hope of humanity to be more and not less, regardless of circumstances. So let us discuss freedom. Not freedom ‘from’ oppression, or constraint, or ‘the system’, but freedom ‘to’ think, feel and experience, live, choose and grow. We are none of us free from the society of others; we are, in fact, entirely dependent on others for our continued well-being and survival, never more so that in a modern, capitalist, consumer oriented society. Human kind and human society has grown through, and is dependent upon, co-operation. What marks us as different from a pack animal has always been our ability to think and to reason. More than that, though, is our ability to make moral or ethical choices despite, or within, the need to co-operate. That is true freedom. 

Freedom does not mean not feeling pain, confusion, doubt or fear any more than it means experiencing happiness, joy, contentment, peace or prosperity. Freedom is none of these things. Nor is freedom some notion of an independent, back-woods life amongst nature, fending for oneself, although what led to that choice may have been an expression of individual freedom. Excluding oneself from human society, living in the wild, is not freedom, merely the possibility of an expression of it. Thoreau’s great statement, ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived’, is an expression of personal freedom, but the experience was not, of itself, liberating as a foregone conclusion. Who knows what thoughts and torments he may have carried into the wild, and who knows how blind he may have been to the very life he wished to discover? 

There is a Zen story of two monks walking along a road. They came to a large puddle in the road where a woman stood, unwilling to cross and soak herself. One of the monks picked her up, carried her over the puddle, set her down on the other side and went on his way with his companion. After some time, his companion turned to him and asked, ‘Brother, you know it is forbidden for us to touch a member of the opposite sex, why did you carry that woman across the puddle?’ His companion replied, ‘I set her down on the other side of the puddle, why are you still carrying her?’ 

The monk who carried the woman was entirely free of the strictures of his religion, because ethically he never picked the woman up in the first place with all the hidden thoughts of attraction and lust that the rule was written to help others avoid, in so much as such thoughts would be a distraction from the spiritual journey they undertake in becoming monks. A vow of celibacy does not make for a chaste life. Rules, laws and standards do not make for a moral or ethical society, nor yet establish individual freedom or liberty. Freedom is from within. 

Freedom is not a life spent free of worries or concern, in fact the individual who seeks to understand freedom is an individual who will have to choose to suffer, and come to understand and accept that suffering is necessary and inevitable in understanding and expressing freedom. Blind faith is not an expression of liberation or freedom. Blind faith will fall into the first pit that presents itself and often, as with the Spanish Inquisition, cause untold suffering. Like good intentions, blind faith, the bliss of ignorance, is often costly and the very road to ethical perdition that bedevils human society at present, leaving all spiritual considerations aside. 

A true story that recently came to my attention. A local fellowship group is in the habit of publishing a prayer list. Each Sunday prayers for the people in the congregation are read out, published, and left on a front table to be taken away for individuals to pray about during the ensuing week. Over the past summer, families away on holiday or on the mission field were remembered in the prayers of this congregation and found their way onto the published prayer list. Systematically, over the summer, several of the homes of these families were neatly burgled. All the houses so burgled were left with none of the usual hurried chaos that often attends a burglary. It was clear that the thieves took their time in the knowledge that they had all the time in the world. The common link was quickly traced to the prayer list and the group must now rethink their whole process of offering prayers for their fellowship. The intentions of this fellowship group were laudable but naïve with disastrous consequences. Ethically, the group is culpable in the crimes that they would ethically and spiritually abhor simply because their thinking was not liberated but constrained by looking at the world through the eyes of their faith and not a wider or clearer understanding of the world in which they live. This is trammelled, not freedom, thinking, ethically, morally or spiritually. 

Those under oppression, whose ethical thinking was sharpened like razors by that very oppression, have written much throughout history. Quality of life is no benchmark for freedom, in fact, in the relative affluence of modern western capitalism, there is little to suggest that such comforts as it brings improves quality of thought or ethics, or understanding of freedom, focussing issues of freedom on quality of life rather than individual quality of thought and ethics. In fact, in suggesting that freedom and liberty are issues of quality of life, such thinking has bought into the myth of capitalism and is stagnant thinking at best. 

From the above it is clear that an individual can as easily be a slave in utopia as free, as many courageous stories testify, in the concentration camps of Germany during the Second World War or at the present time in East Timor.

 

© 2000 Keith Lindsay-Cameron. All rights reserved.