Ethical Relativism and Absolute Taboos - Part I

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

But while suicide is chiefly intended to terminate a life repparttar other acts are aimed at perpetuating, strengthening, and defending values or other people. Many - not only religious people - are appalled byrepparttar 132501 choice implied in suicide - of death over life. They feel that it demeans life and abnegates its meaning.

Life's meaning -repparttar 132502 outcome of active selection byrepparttar 132503 individual - is either external (such as God's plan) or internal,repparttar 132504 outcome of an arbitrary frame of reference, such as having a career goal. Our life is rendered meaningful only by integrating into an eternal thing, process, design, or being. Suicide makes life trivial becauserepparttar 132505 act is not natural - not part ofrepparttar 132506 eternal framework,repparttar 132507 undying process,repparttar 132508 timeless cycle of birth and death. Suicide is a break with eternity.

Henry Sidgwick said that only conscious (i.e., intelligent) beings can appreciate values and meanings. So, life is significant to conscious, intelligent, though finite, beings - because it is a part of some eternal goal, plan, process, thing, design, or being. Suicide flies inrepparttar 132509 face of Sidgwick's dictum. It is a statement by an intelligent and conscious being aboutrepparttar 132510 meaninglessness of life.

If suicide is a statement, than society, in this case, is againstrepparttar 132511 freedom of expression. Inrepparttar 132512 case of suicide, free speech dissonantly clashes withrepparttar 132513 sanctity of a meaningful life. To rid itself ofrepparttar 132514 anxiety brought on by this conflict, society cast suicide as a depraved or even criminal act and its perpetrators are much castigated.

The suicide violates not onlyrepparttar 132515 social contract - but, many will add, covenants with God or nature. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote inrepparttar 132516 "Summa Theologiae" that - since organisms strive to survive - suicide is an unnatural act. Moreover, it adversely affectsrepparttar 132517 community and violatesrepparttar 132518 property rights of God,repparttar 132519 imputed owner of one's spirit. Christianity regardsrepparttar 132520 immortal soul as a gift and, in Jewish writings, it is a deposit. Suicide amounts torepparttar 132521 abuse or misuse of God's possessions, temporarily lodged in a corporeal mansion.

This paternalism was propagated, centuries later, by Sir William Blackstone,repparttar 132522 codifier of British Law. Suicide - being self-murder - is a grave felony, whichrepparttar 132523 state has a right to prevent and to punish for. In certain countries this still isrepparttar 132524 case. In Israel, for instance, a soldier is considered to be "military property" and an attempted suicide is severely punished as "a corruption of an army chattel".

Paternalism, a malignant mutation of benevolence, is about objectifying people and treating them as possessions. Even fully-informed and consenting adults are not granted full, unmitigated autonomy, freedom, and privacy. This tends to breed "victimless crimes". The "culprits" - gamblers, homosexuals, communists, suicides, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes are "protected from themselves" by an intrusive nanny state.

The possession of a right by a person imposes on others a corresponding obligation not to act to frustrate its exercise. Suicide is oftenrepparttar 132525 choice of a mentally and legally competent adult. Life is such a basic and deep set phenomenon that evenrepparttar 132526 incompetents -repparttar 132527 mentally retarded or mentally insane or minors - can fully gauge its significance and make "informed" decisions, in my view.

The paternalists claim counterfactually that no competent adult "in his right mind" will ever decide to commit suicide. They citerepparttar 132528 cases of suicides who survived and felt very happy that they have - as a compelling reason to intervene. But we all make irreversible decisions for which, sometimes, we are sorry. It gives no onerepparttar 132529 right to interfere.

Paternalism is a slippery slope. Shouldrepparttar 132530 state be allowed to preventrepparttar 132531 birth of a genetically defective child or forbid his parents to marry inrepparttar 132532 first place? Should unhealthy adults be forced to abstain from smoking, or steer clear from alcohol? Should they be coerced to exercise?

Suicide is subject to a double moral standard. People are permitted - nay, encouraged - to sacrifice their life only in certain, socially sanctioned, ways. To die onrepparttar 132533 battlefield or in defense of one's religion is commendable. This hypocrisy reveals how power structures -repparttar 132534 state, institutional religion, political parties, national movements - aim to monopolizerepparttar 132535 lives of citizens and adherents to do with as they see fit. Suicide threatens this monopoly. Hencerepparttar 132536 taboo.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at

Ethical Relativism and Absolute Taboos - Part II

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

The statements "people who are Jews (i.e., with trait A) are (narcissists)", or "people who are Jews (i.e., with trait A) do this: they drinkrepparttar blood of innocent Christian children duringrepparttar 132498 Passover rites" - are vile racist and paranoid statements.

People are not created equal. Human diversity - a taboo topic - is a cause for celebration. It is important to study and ascertain what arerepparttar 132499 respective contributions of nature and nurture torepparttar 132500 way people - individuals and groups - grow, develop, and mature. Inrepparttar 132501 pursuit of this invaluable and essential knowledge, taboos are dangerously counter-productive.

V. Moral Relativism

Protagoras,repparttar 132502 Greek Sophist, wasrepparttar 132503 first to notice that ethical codes are culture-dependent and vary in different societies, economies, and geographies. The pragmatist believe that what is right is merely what society thinks is right at any given moment. Good and evil are not immutable. No moral principle - and taboos are moral principles - is universally and eternally true and valid. Morality applies within cultures but not across them.

But ethical or cultural relativism andrepparttar 132504 various schools of pragmatism ignorerepparttar 132505 fact that certain ethical percepts - probably grounded in human nature - do appear to be universal and ancient. Fairness, veracity, keeping promises, moral hierarchy - permeate allrepparttar 132506 cultures we have come to know. Nor can certain moral tenets be explained away as mere expressions of emotions or behavioral prescriptions - devoid of cognitive content, logic, and a relatedness to certain facts.

Still, it is easy to prove that most taboos are, indeed, relative. Incest, suicide, feticide, infanticide, parricide, ethnocide, genocide, genital mutilation, social castes, and adultery are normative in certain cultures - and strictly proscribed in others. Taboos are pragmatic moral principles. They derive their validity from their efficacy. They are observed because they work, because they yield solutions and provide results. They disappear or are transformed when no longer useful.

Incest is likely to be tolerated in a world with limited possibilities for procreation. Suicide is bound to be encouraged in a society suffering from extreme scarcity of resources and over-population. Ethnocentrism, racism and xenophobia will inevitably rear their ugly heads again in anomic circumstances. None of these taboos is unassailable.

None of them reflects some objective truth, independent of culture and circumstances. They are convenient conventions, workable principles, and regulatory mechanisms - nothing more. That scholars are frantically trying to convince us otherwise - or to exclude such a discussion altogether - is a sign ofrepparttar 132507 growing disintegration of our weakening society.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam's Web site at

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