28 May 2013

Emergent Morality

Two independent links appeared today, reinforcing the same point: that you can’t discard moral laws in favour of reasonable utilitarianism. Not “you shouldn’t”, “you can’t”.
First, Charlotte Gore . Her workplace has banned electronic cigarettes. They haven’t given a reason, but the assumption is that the reason is that smoking is immoral. Smoking was not immoral 30 years ago, but a determined, rational, effort was made to dissuade people from smoking because it is unhealthy. The result of 30 years of evidence-based pressure is that people now have a mild superstitious revulsion of smoking, or in plainer words, smoking is immoral. Smoking in an office is particularly immoral, because it is something that has generally not been permitted for a long time, and has been actually illegal for a few years. Smoking an e-cigarette is not unhealthy*, and not illegal, but it is the same activity as smoking a cigarette, and so it is immoral. Giving up smoking is an act of willpower and self-denial, and is morally praiseworthy, and simply to change the way you smoke (to not be unhealthy), rather than performing the morally admirable act of giving up, is a moral weakness that should be deplored.
This despite the fact that making smoking immoral was something that was decided, within my memory, purely for health reasons.
Second data point, via Razib Khan. He links to an article on Nature retelling the by now well established fact that the healthiest weight to be is what our expert advisers call “slightly overweight”.
Khan understands the underlying dynamic well, though, because his own blog post is titled “Obesity as morality and health”. Again, public health educators are in the morality business, whether they want to be or not.
And while all this health advice is leaking into morality, and starting to become fossilised as moral standards independent of their original underlying health-advice origin, as in Charlotte Gore’s workplace, we are all absolutely required to remember one essential fact of morality: anal sex is not immoral. It is not immoral because people used to believe that it was immoral, and they were wrong.
If, hypothetically, homosexuality had been approved by the Church for the last thousand years, and the sacrament of homosexual marriage had had special music written for it by Bach, Mozart and Rutter, I think we would by now be well down the road of anal sex being banned on health grounds by smug lefties. “Promoting homosexuality” would probably already be prohibited from state schools, along with cigarette machines in pubs and cheese-rolling competitions.

I don’t have strong feelings about homosexuality either way. (Well, I strongly don’t want to participate, but you know what I mean). My point behind the above is that the political weight behind gay rights, particularly now, is driven above all by the desire to hurt, piss off and humiliate conservatives and traditionalists. There is no other basis on which a person can, at the same time, support both encouraging people to have anal sex on the grounds of personal fulfilment, and banning salty sandwiches on health grounds. (Don’t miss the cartoon on that story!)
I would tend to agree with Peter Hitchens that the tactically sensible course for conservatives when asked about gay rights is to shrug and carry on talking about important things instead.

*I don’t know if that’s completely true, but whether e-cigarettes are harmful or not, the real point is that it is felt they ought to be harmful

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