Sunday, 6 September 2015

Social Morality

I seem to recall hearing this phrase a number of times in the last few days: 'social morality'. It's an interesting one because it is perceived to be easy to understand, even though completely vague.
'Social morality' to one man, woman or whole culture might be completely opposite to the other. One might say it means things like, 'being good to others and causing no harm' or 'giving money to the poor'. But even both those phrases for example can be broken down and questioned.
So let's think about the phrase 'social morality' firstly by its component parts...
What is meant by 'social'? Is 'social' to mean interaction among people or just something that is in the public domain for all to see and interact with? Is 'social' to mean that we must not be alone and that we can only function or show our morality if we are in the presence of people? If you ask Google to define 'social' it more or less confirms that a) a collective group or community and b) the idea of company and companionship.
We can confidently say that 'social' means some form of togetherness. Being social, whether you do it online or face to face, is what makes us human. Sure, people like me, can be introverted but at some point we need to interact with someone else. Why else would we exist? I'd imagine that is a whole other discussion!
Okay, that's probably the easy part. What about 'morality'? If you asked just about anyone what they thought 'morals' or 'morality' meant, they'd most likely give a broad answer along the lines of "being a decent person".
Is that enough though? So let's look at it:
What makes us decent?
a) giving to the vulnerable
b) helping a frail elderly neighbour
c) caring for an upset friend
d) being quiet and reading books all day
e) all of the above
I guess it would be easy to say all of the above, except 'd'. That just makes us a bit boring. There's no denying that if that were the case then yes, one might label that person a tad boring. But suppose the reason they were reading was to learn or to write their own book or to simply enjoy a good story; is that not decent? By doing something, at worst harmless and at best, inspiring, is that not decent? They might not carry out outwardly heroic tasks as described in a-c but they are no less decent.
Let's think about option 'c'. Say that my friend has just broken up with his girlfriend and I take him to the pub for a consolatory drink. The drink turns into more than a few and we both end up drunk. Because he is upset, he says a couple of stupid things to another guy and a fight breaks out. At the end of it, my friend is in a jail cell for assaulting the other gent. When my friend wakes up the next day he immediately feels remorse. He understands that he has committed wrongdoing and expresses regret at his actions. I simply console and understand that he let his mixture of negative emotions and alcohol get the better of him and that it was an out of character act. I understand that my friend is a decent person with positive morals who, for an instance, failed.
So we understand that 'morality' means to live by a set of values in which we understand the basics of right and wrong i.e. do no harm to others and be a good citizen. That is on the understanding that I am not mixing in any religious doctrine here. A Christian or a Muslim's idea of morality will inevitably be bound with rules as set out in their respective books.
Combining the two words again then: 'social morality'. We can comfortably say something like, "Living as a citizen of the human race, inflicting no harm on fellow citizens and understanding ours and others' imperfections as well as qualities."

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