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Archive for the tag “moral turpitude”

Detective novels and moral relativism

When is killing another person legitimate? What criteria do you use to decide? Does the fact that something is legal make it morally acceptable?

This book raises these questions and more.

Spoiler alert: if you have not read this book, and want to read it, stop reading now. This post contains spoilers that reveal important elements of the plot.

Strange AffairStrange Affair by Peter Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though this is a whodunit, the thing that stands out about it for me is the way it reflects the inconsistent and ever-changing moral values of society. And that makes it indeed a strange affair.

Writers of whodunits like to involve their fictional detectives in current crimes in the news, and so Peter Robinson involves Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks in human trafficking and related crimes. It is hard to imagine such things happening in North Yorkshire, where Banks is based, so the story begins with a mysterious phone call from Banks’s brother Roy, who lives in London. Banks, who is on leave, travels to see his brother, who is not at home, and appears to be missing. His brother’s disappearance also seems to be linked to a murder victim in North Yorkshire, whose death is being investigated by Detective Inspector
Annie Cabbot, who is in charge while Banks is on leave.

It transpires that Roy Banks hsd been murdered too, in a similar fashion to the Yorkshire victim, who turns out to be Roy’s latest girlfriend, whom he had sent to his brother to report their suspicions about human trafficking and prostitution. The girlfriend, Jennifer Clewes, worked in the management side of a chain of abortion clinics, and Roy Banks had met her when he took his previous girlfriend, Corinne, there for an abortion. There are several “late girls”, who come to the clinic after hours when they are pregnant. They are prostitutes, many of whom have been abducted in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, brought there by their pimps, and too afraid to speak of their sexual slavery. An exception is Carmen Petri, who does not want an abortion, and is older and more sophisticated than the other girls. She agrees to have her baby adopted by Gareth Lambert, a wealthy businessman who has invested in the human trafficking and other schemes of dubious legality.

The moral cognitive dissonanance comes up when Banks discovers that Gareth Lambert does not intend to adopt Carmen’s child and bring her up as his own. He rather wants to use the child as the source of a heart for his own ailing daughter. Banks shows extreme moral revulsion towards this idea, as well as to Gareth’s role in the betrayal and murder of his brother.

The moral inconsistency lies in the fact that what Gareth proposes to do with the baby is not all that different from embryonic stem cell research, which many people find morally acceptable. In Britain, according to the novel, abortion is legal up to the age of 24 weeks. So in the book there is no there is no great moral revulsion about killing a child up to that age. But if it happens at 40 weeks, and for the purpose of harvesting organs for a heart transplant, then it suddenly becomes morally repuslive. And I want to ask why?

Surely the same arguments that are used in favour of embryonic stem cell research can equally be used for harvesting organs from unwanted children who are only a few weeks older?

Moral relativism is nothing new, of course, and one can expect detecive novels to reflect the current mores of the society in which they are written. Perhaps a detective novel written 50 or more years ago would reflect the same moral revulsion in the protagonist when confronted with any form of abortion, and those running the abortion clinics might be seen as the villains of the piece.

What stands out in this book, however, is the enormous difference that 16 weeks makes. An act that would be acceptable when the child is 24 weeks old becomes morally reprehensible when it is 40 weeks old. Perhaps in another 50 years, in a more enlightened age, people will see the inconsistency and shift the boundary to allow organs to be harvested from unwanted children up to school age, puberty, or even later, and, if anyone questions it, will say that “this is, after all, the 21st century”, and will look down on the quaint ideas expressed by Alan Banks as “so 20th century”.

O tempora! O mores!

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Moral regeneration redux

A friend recently wrote to me that he is in a quandary to know which party to vote for in next month’s general election that is:

  1. not corrupt
  2. not filled with monsters from the past
  3. not a joke

And I have to admit that I am in the same position.

COPE (the Congress of the People Party) in an apparently shrewd move, picked Mvume Dandala as their presidential candidate. A Methodist minister, and not a career politician, was perhaps a good choice to fight an anti-corruption campaign, but then they blew it by also choosing Allan Boesak. Of course the Pan African Congress (PAC) also chose a prominent Methodist minister, Stanley Mokhoba, in 1999, and still not no more than 1% of the vote.

In the 1990s, after the fall of Bolshevism, public opinion polls showed that in Russia the Church was the most trusted institution in society – above business, the army, politicians, academics. One resuly of this was that politicians were always looking for photo ops with church leaders, in the hope that some of the magic pixie dust would fall on them.

But when I was applying for a job at London Transport when I went to England as a student, and the only people I knew in England were clergy, they said that clergy were not acceptable as references. Anyone else but not clergy. Clergy, of course, as just as much sinners as anyone else, but in this case they were regarded as somehow more corrupt and even less truthful. So putting clergy as the public face of a political movement to show that it is honest can backfire.

A fellow-blogger and Methodist minister Dion Forster is involved in a new initiative to encourage ethical behaviour in all politicians, business people, civil servants and others, Unashamedly Ethical:

Unashamedly Ethical is a broad based, independent, initiative to promote ethics, values, and clean living among business and individuals. It challenges people to make a personal pledge to ethical living, and challenge others to do the same. In doing so we can turn the tide on corruption and poverty.

Now that could be a good idea, but I think some people are just too wedded to greed for it to make that much difference.

A pledge is a good thing. It is a good thing to encourage people to follow ethical values, and to agree to do so publicly. But perhaps something more is needed. Perhaps someone needs to record unethical behaviour as well. There are radio ads about not trying to bribe police officers, but how effective are they when police officers themselves solicit bribes?

Many years ago there was a court case when a Newcastle busnessman tried to bribe a traffic cop to quash a ticket. The traffic cop took the bribe, but the busnessman still had to go to court and pay his traffic fine, and he sued the traffic officer. The judge in that case threw it out of court, but not before making remarks about the unbelievable moral turpitude of both the plaintiff and the defendant. The trouble is that that kind of moral turpitude is now so commonplace as to be almost unremarkable.

As the Unashamedly Ethical web site says,

… people are tired of the injustice, abuse and lack of accountability we see all around us. People are constantly being challenged to change and to go public with their values and beliefs so that their peers and constituencies can hold them accountable.

But when foreigners are arrested and threatened with deportation by officials who threaten to destroy the papers that show they are here legally unless they get a bribe, it is often easier to pay the bribe. Thaking pledges are all very well, and can be good PR for business organisations, civil servants and politicians. It’s what happens when they break their pledge that might make the difference.

The Morality of Water Privatisation

The Morality of Water Privatisation — Anthony Bosco’s Weblog:

The growing global phenomenon of water privatisation is an issue which has far-reaching political, economic and social implications. It is becoming of increasing concern in the early years of the 21st-century due to the ever-expanding influence of multinational corporations whose primary objective is to secure as much of the world’s capital for the financial gain of their shareholders.

Is fresh air next?

First they pollute it and make it unbreathable, then they’ll sell it back to you.

Moral equivalence

About 7-8 years ago someone I was having a discussion with in an electronic forum said that he rejected “moral equivalence” arguments. I wasn’t sure what he was on about, and so asked him what he meant.

His explanation wasn’t very clear but it didn’t worry me much until other people started saying the same sort of thing. It didn’t appear to be just a random phrase, but something that was part of the regular jargon of a group or subculture, which knew what it meant so well that it was like a shorthand expression for a whole complex of ideas. Because their own inner circle know what it meant, they saw no need to explain it to outsiders either, and so seemed reluctant to explain it.

But the meaning I pieced together from the kinds of things they were saying were not pretty.

It seems that the “moral equivalence” that they reject is roughly based on the old proverb “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” — in other words, that there should be no double standards in judging — that there should be one law for rich and poor, black and white.

But those who reject it seem to be saying that what is bad when done by someone else is good when done by me.

Well, I know the feeling.

It’s so easy to confess other people’s sins, so hard to acknowledge my own.

I think for myself.
You are argumentative
He is a bigot.

But to think that when I do something it’s OK, but when someone else does it it’s bad is not just a rejection of moral equivalence, it’s an acknowledgement of moral turpitude.

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