What is right and what is wrong in life?
There is nothing right and there is nothing wrong, there is nothing good and there is nothing evil.
Morality is a human invention and is applicable only to humans. It is a guided set of rules aimed at making humans more civilised. Just because humans have objectively classified things into right and wrong doesn’t necessarily mean that these classifications actually exist in nature.
These guidelines, and thus the perception of right and wrong keep on changing with time as the opinions of the majority of humans change. There is a statement delivered by Brad Pitt in the movie, 12 Monkeys, “There’s no right, there’s no wrong, there’s only popular opinion.” Once there was a popular opinion was that Earth was flat and that notion was considered “right”. Then, there were times when the sun revolving the Earth was a common opinion, and the ones opposing that, were considered crazy. While cannibalism, public torture, and blood fights were widely accepted in many societies in the past, these are now considered heinous acts. Until recently, or even today, homosexuality and atheism were/are considered wrong. Today, marijuana and prostitution are illegal(in most parts of the world). Who knows, tomorrow the “popular opinion” changes and what is considered wrong today would be considered right tomorrow.
Humans are subjected to cultural conditioning. Children often throw their food, scream, and blatantly talk to others before they are conditioned to the “right” and “wrong”. After the stage when children start to develop the ability to process conditioning, throughout their lives, morality is continuously shoved into them through parents, teachers, society, religion, and education. This conditioning, in one way, is essential to keep humans within the bounds. But this means that morality is something which is taught to humans since childhood, and not something which is inherently present in them.
Morality is to humans what geographical coordinate system is to world geography.
Now, maybe you are thinking that murder, rape, and violence are outright “wrong”. I would ask you to have a good look at nature. Animals often kill each other over territory or for mates. We don’t call it wrong, we call it the “survival of the fittest”. There have been instances of rape among animals, many times when it doesn’t even seem to be one, and yet it seems perfectly natural. Animals often don’t allow members of different clans in their group. This is what we call “racial discrimination” today. Nature often strikes with earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, which we would call “violence”. If murder, rape, racism, violence are “wrong”, shouldn’t that “wrong” be applicable to all the species and nature as well. If humans didn’t exist, would morality hold any significance at all? As humans grew intelligent, they invented morality to keep themselves civilised, and as humans grew arrogant, they started believing that morality is a universal thing.
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All of our lives, we’ve been struggling with just how it is that we ought to decide. Are there lists to be made–columns of “good results” and “bad results” to be conceived, compared, and contrasted? Are there rules to follow–do this; don’t do that? Are there good ways to be–be patient; don’t lose your temper? We struggle not only with what in fact we ought to do, but also with how in the world we are to decide whether it is right to lie just this once.
We all tend to approach decisions about right and wrong in one of three ways. First, there are those folks who think that the results make all the difference. Why won’t you lie? It will hurt people; the results are bad. Second, there are those people who follow the rules. Why won’t you lie? There’s a rule that says to always tell the truth, “to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And, thirdly, there are those individuals who aren’t much interested in either results or rules. They are interested in the kind of person you are–a person of compassion or courage. Why won’t you lie? Because I’m an honest person, a truthful person; that’s just the kind of person I am. Results; rules; character traits–all are important parts of how we decide.
Part of what makes decisions about right and wrong so difficult for us is that we don’t all go about it in the same way. That is just fine, really. Such diversity in how we decide reflects the rich tapestry of resources we each bring to our decision making. Although some may argue for good results and others for following the rules, one thing is certain: Ethics is always more than just what we might like or dislike, always more than rash opinion. My choice never to eat spinach is not an ethical choice; it merely has to do with the chemistry of my taste buds and a particular leafy green vegetable. I don’t like spinach! What ethics requires of us is making judgments that we can explain, making judgments that rely not on opinion or our taste buds, but on results or rules or good habits. We need to remember that how we decide is just as important as what we decide.