Reviving Moral Standards
January 21, 2004
OF all the issues that have been engaging the attention of the public these past months, the revival of moral standards has been the least dominant.
Yet, as has been demonstrated down the ages, the absence of moral standards and ethical values is the main reason communities and nations are in such turmoil.
In a scholarly book, 'Sociobiology: The New Synthesis,' which he published in 1975 (Harvard University Press), Edward O. Wilson wrote under what he called ethical intuitionism that "belief in the mind has a direct awareness of true right and wrong that it can formalize by logic and translate into rules of social action."
Wilson says moral commitment is "entirely" learned, implying that a society passes its behaviours to offspring who simply copy what has been modeled for them.
This probably explains why, in law, a person determined to be sane is deemed responsible for his or her actions. And it's also the reason why President Jagdeo, Mayor Hamilton Green, Ms. Joyce Sinclair and several other prominent persons have been appealing for a revival of moral standards in the Guyanese society.
Particularly in an era when just about everything is politically tainted, advocates of a revival of moral standards worry about the lack of ways or the inadequate utilization of mechanisms to safeguard our children from the temptations of drugs, crime, promiscuity, corruption and other forms of lawlessness.
But what does the term "moral standards" mean?
Carolyn Csongradi puts it this way (in 'Why the Topic of Bioethics in Science Classes? A New Look at an Old Debate'): "Ethics is a discipline which attempts to examine and understand ways in which choices are made involving issues of right and wrong...
"In common terms, morality is the day-to-day practice of a group's or individual's view of what is perceived to be highest good. The definition of 'good' is variable across groups and societies. Cultural, religious, gender, and even generational differences function as lenses through which reality is filtered. They prevail in defining the vision of what is 'good' behaviour. The practice of selecting the action which best exemplifies this vision might be thought of as one of identifying the societal conventions about right and wrong conduct."
A few months ago when we lamented the involvement of young people in violent crimes, we suggested the teaching of character development in the classroom in order to expose them to character traits like respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness - traits that are necessary guides to a whole and healthy life.
Some of the country's most intractable social problems stem from moral choices. Things like crime, illegitimacy, and drug abuse are not the result of faulty social structures; nor can they be solved by social engineering. Instead, they are the result of moral choices and can therefore be solved only through moral renewal.
Obviously, moral renewal is no easy task in this modern world. Our homes are inundated with local and foreign television programmes that do little else than fester irresponsible behaviour.
The Inter-Religious Organization should also now see the teaching of character development and moral and ethical values as one of its goals to unify the Guyanese citizenry.