Saturday, April 15, 2006


I have had several discussions with my friend Saurabh, recently, on the topic of morality and after he posed a series of questions on his latest post, I finally decided to blog about my views on the topic.

First of all, I would like to mention, right away, that I posess a slightly skewed sense of morality. Let's just say, that somewhere in the recent past, I got tired of simply accepting what was "supposedly" right and wrong, without asking why. Since then, whenever I undertake any endeavor, or look at certain incidents, I try and break out of the shackles of this societally imposed doctrine and objectively try to analyze it.

Right or Wrong. Black or White. Since birth, ever action we indulge in for the remainder of our existance, can be fit into this dichotomy. I never understood morality. I mean, how does one define right ? How does one define wrong ? Being honest is good. Lying is wrong. Stealing, rape, murder etc. is wrong. But why ? I have struggled for years to try and understand the fundamental truth behind these words....right and wrong, as you can tell, I have never read or studied philosophy, so if you have any recommendations, they would be much appreciated.

I guess my confusion stemmed from the fact that religion was never a part of my household. I mean, sure, my mom did her 5 min prayer in the evening, but religion was never discussed. I never went to any temples, never learnt about the geeta or anything of that sort. I am now an agnostic, simply because I have so many questions that I can't find answers to and I am not willing to take a leap of faith...yet.

Let us take a simple question. " Why shouldn't I walk into Walmart, buy a gun and go shoot some innocent 5 year old ?"

Because it is wrong.

But WHY? What is right and wrong? Why should I subscribe to what has been societally instituted as right or wrong? How does one define right or wrong?

Everyone, myself included, tends to think in this way simply because that thought process has been ingrained in us since childhood. We are made to accept, without question, what is right and wrong, without any clarification on why it is so. Now, the whole shooting a kid example is a little too drastic, I agree. And I sincerely hope you don't take me to be a sick homicidal maniac.

But, here is why I think I should not shoot a random kid. Not because it's wrong, but because if everyone just went out, bought a gun, and started gunning down every other person on the street dispassionately, then society as we know it, would not exist. Because, to advance and to develop, we need to live together and co-exist as best we can. And if I want mankind to advance, if I want to enjoy developments in technology, be entertained by cinema, I must accept some minimum sacrifices of, my absolute freedom to do whatever I want to, in order to do so.

A long time ago, when Abrahamic religions first gained popularity, the prophets understood this as well. I am sure they were all learned individuals who wanted peace, prosperity etc. And in order for human beings then, to accept some compromise on their freedom, they needed some sort of incentive to conform. The concept of heaven and hell, that by straying off the path of righteousness would lead one straight to hell. Religion preached how humans should act and how they should live and used the fear of god to encourage the masses to follow. People worshiped god and thus followed whatever He dictated.

There is clearly a very strong tie between religion and morality and I quote tennyson -

1887 TENNYSON in Mem. (1897) II. 337 Evil must come upon us headlong, if morality tries to get on without religion.
And perhaps there was sufficient reason to introduce a moral code to sustain the fabric of society. After all, the morality of an action depends on its forseeable consequences, and those were the consequences that the thinkers of the time could forsee. But the fact is that society has evolved over several millenia and has become infinitely more complex. So shouldn't morality evolve as well.

Going back to the reason I decided to blog quite ineloquently (and I apologize for my incoherence....someday I shall be able to write as well as Greatbong or argue as logically as the Cartel) about morality was to respond to the questions Saurabh had raised in his post.

Pre-Marital Sex being the first one. Why is pre-marital sex considered immoral? Well, I am not too sure, but I would like to argue that in India we have mostly had a patriarchial society. Perhaps the males felt it necessary for their wives to be virgins and that need made its way into custom and got appended to the ever-growing moral code. Secondly, A lot of the girls say that they wait more so out of choice than because it's expected from them. Because they want to share something of that magnitude with someone they truly love, that it is more than just physical pleasure. That they want to emotionally connect with someone while experiencing that bliss and believe that the one person they can trust, be secure with and love will be their husband. Fair enough.

But then again, you have girls who just don't want to have sex before marriage, without reason, because they believe it to be wrong, because that was what they were taught. Now personally, I don't like it when decisions are made without reason, but then again, who the hell am I to question their decision ? I am quite sure that despite all my talk, I make decisions that are illogical and without reason. Additionally, it's not just girls. While most guys would love to get laid given the opportunity, there are others who choose not to.

Chosing not to have sex is fine. But I don't see how there is a right or a wrong to it.

Second was prostitution. Is paying for sex wrong ? Is it immoral ? As Saurabh mentioned, if someone asked him if he would pay for sex, his immediate answer would be a resounding no. But why is paying for sex immoral ? What is really wrong with paying for sex ?

The most common argument against prostitution is that people who indulge in it, expoit the women in question. How would one define exploitation. The woman wants money, the man wants sex. She offers him sex for money, a service rendered, which he pays for. Anything wrong with that? The most basic of instincts is survival (I think I heard that in a trailer) and people will do anything to survive. It is very easy to sit in front of a computer and vociferously condemn exploitation. What about cycle rickshaws? How is sitting in a cycle rickshaw any different from having sex with a prostitute. In both cases you are physically exploiting someone. In the second case, just because you need to get somewhere, an old man huffs and puffs, cycles away, drags the rickshaw up slopes and beats his body up, because that is the only way he can feed himself and support his family. Just because it is more commonly accepted, doesn't necessarily make it right and prostitution wrong? And I don't even want to get started with the hand rickshaws in Kolkata. The government started phasing them out in the middle of last year. I haven't been to Kolkata in over 3 years, so I don't know how effective they phasing out has been, and more importantly what new occupation those 10,000 or so rickshaw pullers have now adopted. I refuse to accept exploitation as an argument against indulging in prostitution. What about Chinese sweatshops ? You wear Nike products to look cool and then talk about exploitation? What about the conditions of workers in China ?

Now, if I meet someone at a bar, hit it off, come home and have sex, that's fine. So whats wrong if I pay for that sex.

I, personally, would not indulge in prostitution because of the indirect consequences the trade has, and not because it is supposedly morally wrong. Most of the prostitutes, one would find in red-light districts in major cities were forced into the trade and it is that human trafficking that I am against. I refuse to condone an act, that I know will lead to minor girls being sold off to pimps and women being conned into marriage and eventually ending up in brothels. However, if a girl from a well-to-do family, choses to indulge in prostitution out of free will, to make an extra buck so that she can buy that new Nokia cellphone or keep up with the latest fashion trends, then I see nothing wrong with that. It is entirely her choice and if someone does sleep with her, the sex is consensual and there is no exploitation.

Additionally, if you believe that women of the second category do not exist, you are being very naive. Compared to the number of prostitutes in brothels the latter are a minority, but in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, their numbers are growing. There are a lot of girls, who succumb to pressure to possess the latest and the coolest and find this the easiest and fastest way to make money.

Right and Wrong... Good and Evil. I don't know, maybe its just me. But an argument like, cheating is wrong and so I will not engage in it, is simply not good enough. You need to have some sort of logic to back up your convictions. When it comes to religion, both reason and logic fail. So if a religious adherent choses to follow their holy book and adopt a moral code from it, then, I suppose, it's acceptable. After all, the only reason society has sustained itself, is because of religion.

Anyway, I'm not sure if my incoherent ramblings above have made any point at all. But I would definitely appreciate someone more intellectually competent and logical to comment. On any issue, there are numerous angles and it's only possible to make an informed, objective analysis when one can see all those angles.

But the bottomline is this. Society today is plagued with complex issues, that need to be debated and discussed and not just accepted without question.


At Wed Apr 19, 07:55:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Nisha said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Thu Apr 20, 12:07:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Rishi said...

Yeah, I fully subscribe to what you said regarding prostitution. Very well written, seriously.

At Thu Apr 20, 01:32:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Writer Through Life... said...

You are absolutely right. Nothing should be accepted without questioning it, a principle I have lived by most of my life [disregarding my earlier pre-rebel years when whatever mom and dad said was absolute].

Sex before marriage: your point is absolutely valid. Several females these days, particularly desi girls, refuse to engage in premarital sex without a solid reason to back it up. Those who strongly believe they want that emotional attachment only with their husbands are justified in feeling that way - it is a personal decision. But those who do not have any reason, I cannot accept that either. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I realize how over-rated virginity really is. It is an unnecessary burden for a female to carry, something that most males are not faced with. Why should the social dilemmas faced by a female be any different than those faced by a male? Why there should be any "social dilemmas" to begin with, is an entirely different argument.

As for prostitution: no I do not believe it to be "immoral", though the word "immoral" itself is a very loose term. I agree that if it is of a girl's own will, and the sex is consentual, there is nothing "immoral" about it. Personally, I'm not a fan of the word morality simply because it means too many things to too many different people.

However, all-in-all, I think your post is well-written and informative. Nice job.

On an entirely different note, you spelled the word "exploit" incorrectly when first addressing the most common argument against prostitution. =P

At Tue May 02, 05:17:00 PM GMT-5, Blogger Ashish Shakya said...

I've thought along the same lines for quite sometime now - about the death of absolutes,the subjective nature of morality and the existence and survival of the human race in the midst of this uncertainty.

If you accept that morality means different things to different people,then it follows that nothing is absolute.For the sake of simplicity,I'm excluding scientific facts from this generalisation(although the parameters set by the laws that we know today may be redefined tomorrow,something like how quantum mechanics redefined the world).

However,when I say 'nothing is absolute',it creates a paradox because of the use of the inflexible term 'nothing'.

How then does the world survive?The reason,I guess,is faith,blind or otherwise.It is our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.I'm not religious at all, but I believe in genesis,and also believe that man,in turn,created God(s).And like you mentioned,morality and religion are indeed intertwined and this works for us because of our highly developed sense of consciousness.This of course doesn't imply that society is individualistic.
In fact,it merely follows like sheep.For e.g,how many of those protesting against the recent prophet cartoons actually saw them before rampaging on the streets? A handful, and that's just plain stupid.

But it works,it chugs along like a weary old Mumbai local that's carrying triple its capacity,it works because we aren't wired for self-destruction(this is with reference to your homicidal example).And when I say 'we',try and look down at the earth as if you were its creator and see it as a system designed to host billions and trillions of random processes.Apart from a sense of awe this vision inspires,it shows you a system that is critically stable at best.

Wow..I've rambled on for quite a bit now.And if it appears vague,blame it on the topic like this,which brings to mind a flood of ideas all at once.It would make for a more meaningful exchange if you reply back with your opinions/interpretations.

At Tue May 16, 02:35:00 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post.though i think what u have said is just a scientific and clinical representation of facts and the consequent analysis.we as human beings are certainly more complex than that.we have something called the heart which cannot accept all that is plain logic.i do think that there is a lot of difference between the rickshawwalla and the prostitute scenario although logic fails to differentiate between them.but remember logic has failed to answer the most basic of human questions.
good post though.
me impressed

the friend who walks


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