The Fallacy of Universal Morality
Morality has always been an extremely controversial topic due to the lack of any clear universal methodology that governs it. However, the overwhelming majority of controversies regarding morality are not concerned with moral values themselves but the precedence of each value relative to other values. This is due to the fact that moral values often contradict one another. One instance of this is the judicial system. Does justice take precedence over freedom and if so to what extent? Should criminals be punished in the name of justice, discouraging future offenders, or rehabilitating criminals back into society? It is easy to notice that the previously mentioned ongoing debate is not a matter of identifying moral values but a matter of weighting them relative to one another.
There is no absolute universal way of prioritizing moral values which has led to every civilization shaping its own moral standards according to their culture, religion, social structure ,and practical imperatives. However, by the dawn of the eighteenth century, the western nations of Europe managed to dominate most of the world with the aid of a combination of technological advances and colonial pursuits. Western culture soon developed a sense of moral superiority to other civilizations they saw as barbaric. An image that quickly attributed European supremacy to their entire culture in the minds of other civilizations rather than a more complex array of factors such as climate, geographical position, and economic imperatives . An image that still stands to this day.
This new belief of “universal moral principles”, the idea that there exists only one unique moral perspective , justified Western enforcement of their own culture and morality upon other nations with no consideration for the differences between various cultures. One key example of this, is the enforcement of Western democracy on people who do not believe in it. This has only led to the people standing idle as their democracies were crippled by dictatorships or simply fell into chaos.
Western morality emerged from European society shaped by its own historical experiences and, therefore, adjusted to its own culture. This becomes abundantly clear when noticing the extreme emphasis on personal freedom and choice above all in Western legal traditions and political narratives. I believe this situation stems from centuries of oppression under the Cathollic Church and the medieval feudal system. Yet, other cultures did not suffer as much as Europeans did from restrained personal freedom or at least did not experience the violent revolutionary liberation from said restraint. This is why, many Eastern societies such as the Japanese and Chinese are more willing to trust governmental authority and are willing to sacrifice much of their personal freedom in exchange for the greater benefit of their society.
The idea of a universal morality creates a linear scale that civilizations are placed upon according to their adherence to the Western interpretation of moral principles and more importantly the priorities set between morals. This divides civilizations into progressive and regressive, with Western civilization being the ideal model to be mimicked. Even though some cultures clearly infringe on basic principles of morality, many others simply follow a different system of morality as emphasis is shifted from one moral value to another. Therefore, the spectrum of morality is non-linear.
Cultures whose history, society and economics differ from their western counterparts should not be in any way inferior but simply branches of a vast spectrum of morality. Thus, their morality should be judged according to their own culture and society rather than being compared to a Western model.
The consequences of the illusion of universal morality are not only noticeable in the unrest, instability, and disturbance caused to nations forced to follow principles that emerged from a completely different culture. But are also apparent in mostly left-wing political movements. If morality was a line then pushing forward to “progress” is the only thing that matters. In a line, there is only progress and backwardness, therefore, any change is always a good change.
However, if we consider the idea of a nonlinear morality, every change is not simply a path onward but a shift in a compromise. There is no reason to believe that this world is somehow required to fit our morality. It is clearly evident that moral principles from personal freedom, to social interest, to justice all contradict one another in many instances. Therefore, any change comes at a cost of one of these values.
True morality is simply striking a balance among all of them as there is no path of progress merely a web of choices and compromises.
Author: Wail Rimouche.