Memes, Conventions, Culture

As noted earlier cultural and religious right/wrong distinctions span the range of ethics and convention and are typically termed Morals.  Moral right/wrong conditions sometimes deal in ethical matters and sometimes merely in matters of arbitrary convention.

Staying focused on conventional matters the follow example provides some further distinction between ethical and conventional right/wrong distinctions.  Americans drive on the right side of the road, the English drive on the left, which one is right?  There is no ethical question here, only one of convention.

Once a convention is adopted however ethics can make its way into the discussion.  For instance it would be wrong for someone (in the ethical sense) to willingly drive on the wrong side of the road (in the conventional sense) since it could lead to harming others.  If others are not present however (say an open road in the desert with clear visibility, no hills, etc), the condition of harm goes away and no ethical condition exists, leaving just the conventional condition.  Such conditions matter and the sphere of the right/wrong designations and should be understood.

While the above example is relatively straight forward, many cultural situations introduce complex ideas such as showing respect by obeying cultural norms, submission to authority, etc.  Within a culture these memes or cultural norms can take on the form of sacred values – ideas worth dying for.  Some examples are: Islam, Christianity, Freedom, Love, Honor, Justice, Cultural Taboos, etc.

A meme consists of any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs, and dances. Memes propagate themselves and can move through the cultural sociosphere; they are contagious.

So when memes become synonymous with moral values, they become elevated to moral authority.  Questions that do not inherently involve ethical matters quickly can escalate to ethical choices, “Is it right to kill this person for offending my god?” “Is it right to punish this girl for losing her chastity?”  The list goes on infinitely.  Typically amorphic words like offensive, chastity, freedom, etc are used or defined in such a way as to allow those enacting these powerful memes a platform to argue logical conclusions from false premises.  Few stop to question the false premise from which the arguments arise.  Typically it boils down to just one word that is falsely defined or used in a context that changes its meaning.

As a side note, if you are in an argument and you state one thing, your opponent states another, and you continue by repeating the same points over and over in a loop, then you are likely arguing about the wrong thing.  Typically you two (people or groups) are referring to the same word (concept, idea, etc) in differing ways.  Stopping to properly define what you mean by the words you are using will help to bring the debate to an end.  Most seemingly intractable debates are a function of misunderstand a few critical items.  Resolution of a problem comes by reducing the problem to it core elements.  Problems grow by building up one’s defensive and offensive positions (verbally or physically).

Back to moral value issues… Does chastity exist in an ethical sphere?; especially if it is willingly relinquished?  Can God be offended?  If so, why would that be punishable by death?  Would a just and benevolent God be so caviler with the life he supposedly created?  Would it follow parents could or should kill their kids for offending them?  I actually consider these rhetorical questions but they are not for many people.

If you look at the world through an ethical lens, all the B.S. associated with cultural normals melts away.  Just like a polarizing lens eliminates glare, an ethical lens eliminates the nonsense.  It is this type of lens that is needed to view all of the rights and wrongs of this world.  We need to be able to question our own cultural truths.  It starts with personal introspection but cultural introspection is also required.


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