Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Morality & Moral Relativism

It’s become shockingly easy these days for people to simply borrow from the moral codes of others, and toss their own aside. However, this phenomenon isn’t new. It’s been going on for a very long time.

For example, Moses was born in Egypt, and adopted by a member of the Egyptian royal family. No doubt, Moses would have considered himself to be a moral man. He would have observed all the Egyptian religious rituals, prayed to Ra, etc. Moses, however, was not an Egyptian. He was of the tribe of Israel. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for a few hundred years, and, by their own accounts, provided the labour that built the pyramids and other ancient landmarks of Egypt. When Moses discovered his true lineage, he immediately threw off the religion of his adopted family, and became what the world now calls a Jew. Moses proceeded to lead his people out of the slavery in Egypt, and into the Promised Land. Well, not exactly into the Promised Land, because he didn’t actually get there with them owing to some infraction he committed which led to him being informed that he would only see the Promised Land, but would not set foot upon it.

Along their incredible journey, Moses went up a certain mountain, and came down with the 10 Commandments. The Commandments were meant to provide his new nation with a set of laws meant to be strictly obeyed. Or else. Now, whilst living in Egypt, surely the Israelites were governed by some set of laws. I mean, there were no accounts of wide spread looting, thievery, cannibalism, etc. From all accounts, Egypt was the cradle of modern civilization. Heck, they exported it to Europe. So, Egypt was not a lawless, amoral, godless society. Some theories suggest that Moses simply copied what he knew of Egyptian law wholesale. The major addition being that for the first time in the history of written laws, a specific deity was designated for worship, and for the rest of Israel's history, every period of sustained suffering was deemed to be a direct punishment for straying from the correct (ordained) path.

Which brings me to Africa. European historians would have me believe that my ancestors were godless, amoral, and lawless. That we regularly fell upon our neighbours and devoured them, usually accompanied by a savoury soup, and washed down with some fresh palm wine. Well, if that were the case, surely when they arrived they would not have found thriving kingdoms, vast populations, etc. They would have found a collection of huts, belonging to the strongest men who were unable to devour each other.

We did have laws. For instance, and this is a personal favourite of mine, in Benin, any cock which crowed before dawn was subjected to a special punishment to ensure the offence was not repeated – it got eaten. The owner of the cock was also made to pay a small fine, in acknowledgement of the fact that while he couldn’t control his cock’s decision to let one rip, he was liable for the errant bastard’s actions. Vicarious liability, if you will. We also took our religious festivals very seriously. Unfortunately, and this proved to be our downfall, we didn’t pay much attention to science, leaving medicine in the hands of a few “witch doctors”. All of which meant that the Europeans discovered us to be easy prey for their guns, and duly colonised us, and shoved their religion down our throats.

I have a theory, and it says that even within a society of cannibals, they have law and order. One member of the society would not be allowed to kill and eat another member of that society. The priest who carries out human sacrifices definitely believes in the sanctity of human life, just not the lives of those who were not members of his own community, and therefore prisoners of war and other unfortunate strangers were fair game.

The only problem the black man had was that when the chips were down, his technology was inadequate to deal with that of the European aggressor. Unlike the Japanese, who remain the ultimate role model for European handling. The Europeans demonstrated some gun boat diplomacy, and then left rifles with the Japanese to demonstrate their superior technology. Upon their return in about a year, not only were they presented with a few copies of their own rifle, they were also presented with an improved version. As a result, the Europeans were unable to run riot through Japan as they had done in Africa. The result is that the Japanese retain their cultural identity to this day. They do not look askance at someone praying to Buddha, because no one ever had the chance to drum it into their heads that praying to Buddha was “pagan”. If anything, the Japanese absorbed western technology, especially western weaponry, and once they believed they were ready, took on the nearest European superpower in the shape of the Russians. Whom they proceeded to thoroughly thrash in a brief and bloody naval war, leaving the rest of Europe slack jawed in awe and horror.

After their defeat in World War II, it was thought that it would take several decades for Japan to rebuild its economy, during which time America would be free to have its way with her. The speed at which the Japanese rebuilt their nation stunned the world, and again, they owed their success to their ability to assimilate and then improve existing western technology. The fact that American auto makers have been swept aside by the Japanese invasion is proof of that ability.

In Nigeria, what do we do? We take western technology, then do our level best to preserve it in its original state, or simply let it rot. We do not make any attempt to absorb or improve what we’ve been given. Our laws reflect a world that passed at least 5 decades ago, our schools teach theories that have been long abandoned, our police force uses equipment that would have been state of the art in 1878. The list could go on and on.

The Japanese took the technology, and tossed the religion. Look at them now.

About Me

My photo
I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don't get Diet Coke...