The changing concept of morality
A society that can very quickly grasp this changing nature of morality and shed its outdated and useless moral tenets for the more useful and exciting morality of the days has a future. Another that continues to wallow in the mire of its old but impotent values will find itself not travelling well enough in the new moral highway to get its benefits.
Not with standing the importance of morals in the present context of Bangladesh society, one is led to questioning what should constitute proper moral values in our situation. Some of our traditional values or morals seem to have lasting good in them. But there are others which are superficially attractive but on close examination their shortcomings can be seen. These are more crippling from the perspective of development or economic advancement.
Transparency International identified Bangladesh as the most corrupt nation five times in succession under a past elected government. Donor countries and organizations, plus internationally distinguished personalities have no two views about corruption being a fundamental developmental problem for Bangladesh. With corruption curbed, the country could attain a higher rate of economic growth for the benefit of all its people, they conclude.
But is it so black and white a choice? Is the morality crisis in Bangladesh so simple a one as taking bribes ? Lack of morality could be easier to tackle if this was the case. As it is, a close look will show up that the morality issues or problems of morality are far more complex in the Bangladesh context.
There are many retarding factors in Bangladesh society which are immoral but are ironically respected as moral. Take, for instance, the case of women’s role. In some sections of Bangladesh society, a woman who restricts herself strictly to her house and household chores, wears the Burqa (shroud) and has the least contact with the outside world or men, is highly regarded as a pious lady. Social or religious values, thus, promote such a life style among women. But talk to an economist and he could tell you that women constitute fifty per cent of the population or the workforce of the country and, therefore, the economy and society will not gain from their work as long as this fifty per cent are kept in the seclusion of their homes out of a distorted notion of virtue and morality that really has no true sanction of religion but is promoted by some mullahs only.
Touching the feet of elders to show respect or subservience is also seen as a carefully promoted behavior even among Muslims in Bangladesh. But Islam really forbids so humbling of a human being to another human being and to kneel down for prayer and indicate utter submission to only Almighty Allah. This is the cardinal Islamic value together with the words of the Islamic greeting and even embracing to show affection or fraternity. The practice of touching the feet of elderly persons to show reverence and respect to them has come from Hinduism where it is encouraged as a proper social behavior of juniors.
The Holy Koran says nothing in general about being too courteous to elderly persons or to make the latter immune from any criticisms, scorn or accountability by juniors. Only some verses in the Holy Koran tell believers to unfailingly show considerations to one’s old parents and not to be rude to them. But there is no direction in the Holy Koran that ‘all’ elders ought to be addressed always with extra politeness or that they should be exempt from criticisms, admonition and penalties for their wrong doings , illegal activities and immoral actions.
But what do we actually see generally in Bangladesh society ? A young man or woman who talks back to senior persons or rightly accuses them for any fault or wrong doing, can expect to be blamed for rude and high handed or immoral behavior. But in a western country, such protestation on the part of a young person would be considered as perfectly in order to help right wrongs. Such behavior is even encouraged there as positive inputs in human interactions. But in our traditional society the same is like an anathema. Surely a social system that reserves rebuke and scope to subject all persons through an accountability process regardless of their age or seniority, is better suited for advancement in all respects than the one opposed to these norms.
Morality was always, and even now, never detached from utilitarian values. For example, the taking of the life of one human being by another aimlessly or wantonly, has no sanction in any of the world’s mainstream religions. The formal religious teachings in this area is not any different from the utilitarian philosopher but the latter only differs in explaining the reasons for not allowing freestyle taking of lives. For the utilitarian, the freestyle taking of human life would make the physically weak too vulnerable in relation to the physically stronger ones. Human society would then become like a jungle with physical might used to destroy physically weaker but intellectually very capable human beings. Thus, it would mean great waste. Anyone could kill another at will and safety of the life of the individual would be seriously undermined. Thus, the utilitarian would want the taking of life to be restricted only through a legal process as punishment for any heinous crime. The religious perspective is different. It is that taking of a human life for no good reasons is tantamount to committing the highest sin in the eyes of God. So, in order to please God, one should not indulge in doing such sins.
Another example may clarify further. For instance, stealing is also regarded as a serious sin in all or nearly all mainstream religions as the same is disapproved by the Creator. Therefore, in order not to displease God, one should not steal. But the utilitarian sees it from a purely utility aspect. Freestyle stealing would harm commercial or economic activities. For example, a bank accountant who puts the money of a depositor not in the latter’s accounts but in his own pockets, such practices on a larges scale thefts could put an end to banking in no time. Thus, to prevent such sordid outcomes from the standpoint of the economy, society recognizes the need to deter thefts through law and punishment and preaching about maintaining the integrity of character of human beings in the interest of the collective good of all members of society.
Morality ,thus, has come to mean mainly quests by organized human societies to promote or protect their collective good than purely religious or traditional concepts of the struggle between good or evil, right versus wrongs, etc.