Am I My Sister’s/Brother’s Keeper?
Morality has three aspects: moral, immoral, and amoral. To be a moral person one must not only abide by society’s rules. One needs to develop innate feelings of empathy towards all human being and to inculcate compassion for all life. Even if this becomes an indelible mind structure maybe without many opportunities to act on empathy and compassion on a large scale, this is a bedrock understanding of what it is to be a moral human being, to accept moral responsibility for others and non-human life.
To be an immoral person is it disobey societal mores and laws. Immoral people have no regard for moral responsibility to others. Thieving, cheating, killing, and so on, is to act immorally. An immoral person does not understand empathy and compassion. But they do understand right from wrong. For them the rule is “Me First”, even if that compulsion means breaking societal rules and living outside moral norms.
Amoral people and amorality, while they exist, are not so common. An amoral person is generally considered an outcast from society, a pariah, someone with major psychological issues. They do not see a world of right or wrong, and thus have no moral compass or restraints or principles. Unfortunately, many amoral people rise to be leaders. They can as easily have millions of people killed, as kill a fly. We call these people, evil.
1. Moral Dilemmas: We are all, at times, trapped in outer circumstances beyond our control. How we respond to those situations shape or change aspects of our mind structures. In some circumstances, our sense of moral responsibility, reinforced by the actions of others, can impact the collective mind structure of a stratum of society or even an entire nation.
How would any of us act in situations posing exigent moral dilemmas? What does the principle of moral responsibility encompass?
2. Moral Responsibility: Essentially, the idea of moral responsibility presupposes that we are disposed, in varying socio-political and individual circumstances, to show empathy toward our fellow humans and all life on this planet. While the designation “moral responsibility” may carry the solemnity of a universal principle, many facets of this principle exist, as many possibilities as there are humans on earth. All display a multi-faceted array of human empathy. This disposition for empathy is evident in natural crises caused by fire, floods, famine, and so on, as well as those that are manmade, such as political upheavals that affect millions.
3. Acts of Commission and Omission: On the other hand, acts of commission are those we commit, even enthusiastically, when we actively partake in obeying orders to kill, maim, destroy, or forsake any benevolence or empathy for other human beings, our environment, indeed, the biosphere. Acts of commission occur when we engage with the perpetrators to victimize and dehumanize others.
Acts of omission are primarily committed when we remain silent and passive even when we know that evil and mayhem surround us. Acts of omission occur when we are afflicted by moral blindness and turn away from or even fail to acknowledge the victims, although they are often in plain sight. We, by our inaction, may help to situate them further as victims.
4. Acts of Empathy: Acts of bravery, empathy, and humanity counterbalance morally destructive acts of commission and omission, such as when we speak out and risk punishment or even death, follow our beliefs, our credos, and defend others. If there is no counterbalance, a vacuum exists that is readily filled by the apathy and moral blindness of people particularly guilty of acts of omission.
Famed 20th century philosopher and commentator on our culture and society, Hannah Arendt, bore witness at of the trial of Nazi war criminals. She was startingly struck by a statement from one of the Nazi officers at General Eichmann’s trial. His attitude to his murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish (and other) victims was that he was, “Just doing a day’s work.”
As Arendt famously coined the phrase, “the terrifying banality of evil” in his statement haunted her. Her realization that the collective Hitlerian mind structure was steeped so casually in such work-a-day horror was terrifying to her. It portrayed a mindset neither moral nor immoral but of ice-cold amorality.
Janet Levine has decades of writing experience as an author and freelance journalist. Author of four published books, see details on www.janetlevine.com, her fifth book, Reading Matters: How Literature Influences Life, available in early summer 2022, see www.arminlear.com. For 29 years (1986-2014) she taught in the English department at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. She leads workshops and presents programs internationally on the psychology of personality, as well as on writing workshops. Levine is the founder and leader of several successful non-profit organizations. For many years an anti-apartheid activist, Levine remains committed to activism on behalf of universal human rights.