Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Conflict of Ethics


Brought up in the east and exposed to both the eastern and the western styles of behaviours and attitudes, I experience ethical conflicts about many issues. Here are a few of them.
Note: This was written over several days and I notice that I have wandered away from the topic and rambled about other issues too such as difference in ethics between countries and cultures, etc.

In India, I was told by my grandmother to give money to beggars and if there were simply too many, to give to the old, the leprosy patients, the handicapped, the pregnant women, the little children and not necessarily give to the young, the able-bodied and strong appearing beggars. I was told that giving them will help me get ‘Punya’, get into heaven; I will get help when I need it if I help others now, etc. Also that these people are suffering from poverty and helping them will better their life. Ignoring them and moving on leaves many people with a sense of guilt.
Giving to beggars is also extolled in Hindu Dharma and also mentioned in books on Islamic faith, Buddhist and Jain faiths. Begging is not considered a crime or shameful but many famous saints, seers, sanyasis begged for a living. Many famous beggars include the God Shiva, Buddha, Saints and Seers, Philosophers, Devotees of God, etc. Many famous mythological kings begged for alms at some time in their life. Begging is therefore not strongly associated with negative images in India or in the east.
A few argue against giving to beggars, by giving reasons such as : these beggars are not really handicapped but pretending, they are thieves, they are lazy and refuse to work, they want easy money, that begging is actually an organized and profitable business, run by clever and evil men.
As far as I know, many people give to beggars than not give. This may explain why there are thousands of beggars in India.

In Toronto, Canada, there are few beggars. Many people do not give them money as they believe that the government is giving them enough; if given money, they will spend it on drugs; they ought to get a job and stop begging. The people who ignore pleas of the beggars on the road without a qualm are those who generously give money to organized charities.

I am constantly torn between giving or not giving. Many who ask for a buck look like they are on drugs and they appear so pathetic I want to give but also worry about their spending it on drugs and harming themselves. Depending on which side of the argument wins, I either give or not give that particular time .

Feeding free birds & animals in the cities:
We see in Toronto, several signs in parks which say do not feed the birds and animals. This is of course to stop interfering in their natural habits and see that they do not become dependent on humans and lose their natural food gathering/hunting instincts. But people, especially of Asian origin think of feeding as a kindness and not feeding as a sign of cruelty. In spite of explaining it is difficult to change their ways, especially the older folks.

Animals in the wild:
Do you all remember a debate going on internationally about the fate of a polar bear cub Knut, in 2007 in Germany? This cub had been abandoned by it’s mother and some people wanted Knut to be looked after by humans and saved while some insisted that it should be shot than cared for by humans as it was against animal rights? In India, it is unthinkable for any ‘decent’ person to even think of killing a baby bear for animal rights ! While in the west, there are people, who are equally ethical but think that the right choice is killing this bear !
These incidents indicate how highly valued compassion and kindness in the east (or at least India) while other values trump kindness and compassion in the west.

Hunting and Fishing:
I am a non-vegetarian eater and eat everything like all sorts of meat(pork, beef, mutton and chicken), eggs and fish. However I have this dislike and guilt about hunting and fishing especially for sport. I keep thinking of the pain the animals and fish feel, the intense fear when they are being chased by the hunter, the pain of being alive and wounded and running away. I also shed tears thinking about the mate or cub/s of the hunted animal waiting in vain for the hunted victim to return. I have still not understood how people, who are ‘decent’ otherwise, can hunt and fish and not put themselves in the shoes of these hunted animals and fish. I do not have a conflict of Ethics here …I am clear that it is unethical….but to me the wonder is that the hunters and fishermen do not feel conflicted about this issue.
You may wonder how come, I who eat non-veg food, use products made of animal parts can feel so guilty and upset about hunting and fishing. My excuse is that I am not hunting or fishing for sport i.e. killing or causing them to suffer pain or fear solely for my pleasure. Each Saturday I see this program on hunting and fishing on Canadian television and wonder how the people can go about hunting and fishing without qualms.
Commenting on a related topic, I am not happy about the animals in the west who are on farms which confine them in small spaces their entire life till they are killed for meat. I am referring to poultry and pigs kept in small spaces. There is no conflict of Ethics here…it is clearly unethical. Other similar issues which to me are clearly unethical are the use of animals for sports such as fights like cock-fights, dog-fights, etc. I am not sure to what extent the animals in circus and animals in shows are ill-treated but if they are ill-treated and kept in unhappy circumstances, it should be stopped. I think wild animals especially lions, tigers, etc who are in circus, prefer to be free and in the wild than in captivity in limited spaces, in noisy surroundings, etc. The same for nocturnal creatures who are made to endure lights in cages (owls), nocturnal creatures in zoos in day time, animals out of their natural environments like polar bears in the Tropical country-zoos, etc.

Respect :

In India, children are brought up to respect adults i.e. elders (parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, teachers, priests, etc). Often, adults who are pretty disgusting such as alcoholics who beat up their wives and kids, teachers who are extremely cruel and nasty relatives who behave atrociously are all ‘given respect’ and never once questioned about their atrocities. Even if they are questioned and taken to task by adults, the kids or anyone younger that the person are expected to show respect and never be confront these people about their abuse or unacceptable behaviours. The emphasis is on respecting ‘age’ of the person than any virtue in the person. I have often seen bitter, angry young children, silently wishing to escape their homes as they cannot take the shameful treatment by these adults whom they not only cannot confront but also have to ‘give respect’. It is so hugely conflicting for children growing in these cultures to confront the elders whom they are supposed to respect, unquestioningly. I have seen many of my friends who lived with extremely abusive elders and though they know that they were abused or still continue to be abused, feel extremely conflicted about confronting the abuser simply because he/she is older than them. They continue to tolerate, some do not even consciously acknowledge their distress and think that they love and respect these elders.
In the west however, I have seen young teens who boldly confront their abuser, irrespective of age and many of my friends who had been ill-treated by their parents as kids, refuse to have anything to do with these abusive parents now. I was shocked initially when I heard a Canadian lady call her dad a bastard and tell me how mean he was. In India, I have seen many daughters who have received such harsh treatment by their fathers but who will not call the father a bastard even in their dreams ! Even with intense and righteous anger, the children from these cultures cannot bear the thought of confronting their elders when they do wrong.

I think I started writing this to talk of the clash of Ethics I have within me but now I am gradually veering off into Clash of Ethics between different people I think. With regard to Blasphemy, I personally do not experience any clash; I am okay with blasphemy. I am talking of this under conflict of Ethics as the value attributed to Blasphemy is so different in different cultures where the eastern and less modern and more rigid cultures give terrible punishments for Blasphemy while the western and more modern, less religious countries and cultures laugh it off or do not take it as seriously as those in the east. I am on the side of the west, more modern, who do not take B seriously.
In India, Pakistan and many eastern and mid-eastern countries, Blasphemy is a big issue and one sees articles in papers about incidents of Blasphemy or imagined Blasphemy by people and how they were punished by the mobs or religious zealots. There is no mention of Blasphemy in some countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia in the papers…do you know why? Not because it is not considered as serious but as it is considered ‘very’ serious and consequently the punishment is so severe, that there are almost no incidents of Blasphemy at all ! The more religious the country or the rulers in these countries, greater the severity of the punishment.
In my opinion, yelling abuse at God is done by people (1)mostly out of frustration or (2)to provoke people who are religious and as some claim,(3) it is not Blasphemy but it is Art.
Whatever the reason for Blasphemy, it is best to ignore the Blasphemy as the person is not hurting another person. And I do not think that God is thin-skinned enough to feel hurt if one of his own children yells at him or mocks him!
I have enjoyed the jokes about Gods in English movies and serials (British and American); I have enjoyed the art i.e. paintings, sculptures and books about Gods which can be considered as blasphemous by some. I have enjoyed the jokes too though some seem to be more distasteful than funny. The artist in me found some stuff distasteful but not enough to kill the creator!

It saddens me that the value system in the east is rigid, concrete, primitive and probably functioning at the lowest level of Kohlberg’s stages of morality. It saddens me to see how relatively sensible and intelligent people, get upset by the people who are blasphemous and want to punish them. The most famous recent examples of Blasphemy are of course the Danish cartoonist’s drawings of Mohamed and the nude art works of Hindu Gods and Goddesses by M.F.Hussain. But there are countless examples of Blasphemy in the eastern countries leading to death and destruction of property by hooligans ostensibly protesting the Blasphemy. The most recent and saddest I heard was a Pakistani Christian woman who is to be put to death for merely saying ( to people who were coercing her to convert to Islam) that Christ had given his life to save sinners and asking what has Mohamed done for the people.
What kind of Ethics is it to put a person to death for making a statement while rapists and murderers get away with heinous crimes in these countries? I could go on about this issue but I guess I have made my point. Also I feel so deeply saddened at the stupidity and cruelty of these people and wonder if God really exists and if he can sit idle watching the injustices going on.
I also get intensely irritated by people who deliberately provoke these already concrete thinking people through Blasphemy …In India, there are hooligans leaving Pigs or pork in Mosques and beef near temples just to cause fights between these two already volatile communities.

How does one bridge the gap between the two types of cultures or two types of countries with such opposing values? When the value system and Code of Ethics is shared, it is easy to have a dialogue and come to some sort of agreement. But when the value system held and code of ethics is so opposite, I think it is simply impossible to bride the gap.
I am referring to the value systems held in countries where Religion dictates the government’s policies and Modern Democracies. Use of force to enforce a certain code of ethics or value system is not the answer. Force will not work but instead causes resentment and opposition. I am referring to the use of force (war) in countries like Afghanistan by the US forces. I do not for one moment believe that the Afghans will change their value system and start giving rights to women, etc just because the Americans say so. In fact, I think, they will become even more rigid in following their code of ethics in order to show that they will not be cowed down by force.

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