“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”—Noel Coward (Blithe Spirit)
Morality has been perhaps one of the most debated and researched subjects. The battle between right and wrong, and acceptable and despicable behavior has been going on since ages. Divine religions stressed upon the importance of good versus evil relating them to rewards and punishments and ultimate destination of either heaven or hell depending on one’s actions. In addition to that some brilliant persons of knowledge have expounded their own ideas pertaining to morals that have emerged in the form of theories succinctly presented in an article Moral Theory by John McMillan PhD. Although he enumerates and explains briefly the concept of morality as understood by different theorists, his specific area of concern is the type of reasoning adopted by medical practitioners to arrive at certain conclusions. Among these are popular ones like Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics and Deontology, Virtue Theory, etc. The question here is: Can morality be taught and if it is widely propagated then why do people indulge in immoral acts?
The generally accepted notion is that people are moralists. If this was not the position, societies would have degenerated so fast that survival for humans could become challenging even to the extent of their extinction. The fact that majority of the people in the world are leading normal lives is on account of their desire to live and let live, to observe those standards that would enable them to sustain a reasonably happy life, to ensure that those around them are provided for sufficiently to allow perpetuation of the human race. Of course there are some hiccups in the form of immorality that cause failures in achieving these objectives smoothly. When brought to light, a wave of disgruntlement arises to foul mouth those who point them out. Oscar Wilde puts this beautifully in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ where he writes: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Many writers of yester years like Ismat Cgughtai and Saadat Hassan Manto and even those of our time were and are persecuted for uncovering society’s false veil of piety and exposing the filth accumulated underneath. They hold the mirror that reflects truth yet we are not willing to learn our lessons. Can we groom our physical selves without using the help of a mirror? Can we clean the stain on our mouth left by say, blackberries if we are unable to see our reflection? Mirrors never lie. They tell us exactly what we look like then why do we, as a society, hesitate to confront ourselves with reality? The idea is to learn about them and resolve the issues that are detrimental. In other words, we need to face the truth and stop shoving dirt under the carpet.
We fail to realize the mischief that we perpetuate the moment we deliberately or inadvertently commit an immoral deed. They say that it takes many lies to justify one lie. Just one act can trigger off a chain of events capable of unleashing many complications some of which may not even have any solutions. For example, a trader desirous of minting money decides to adulterate the food items he sells. What will happen? There are ample chances that this impurity, being harmful may cause health hazards to consumers. The well-off may seek medical help but the poor may not be so fortunate resulting in the suffering of a formidable community leading to all sorts of perversions where, in order to look for remedies people may indulge in social vices. Again, a lot also depends upon the morality of some medical practitioners who may exploit the rich patient to an irritating degree making him spend a fortune on treatments.
These days, Pakistan is confronted with a lot of political activism at the hands of opposition parties while the sitting government is persistently trying to survive a no-confidence move. Many questions regarding morality, crop up in the mind of a person who is objectively observing these developments. In the first place, what is the significance of the constitution of a country if an elected government is not allowed to work in peace? Is it not the moral duty of the elected government to abide by its election manifesto and refrain from deviating from the promises it set to lure the public to vote for it? Secondly, the status of opposition is that of a government-in-waiting so is it not its moral responsibility to propose reasonable solutions and present them at the right forums rather than demand the elected government to step down? In all their political gibberish, other than forceful criticism of the incumbent government, particularly Imran Khan, not one person has come up with a convincing and practicable roadmap that can sway the electorate to their side. Besides, in all the chances they earlier had, how did they fare better than him? The fact is that many miseries the country is infested with are because of their doings.
Under the prevailing bleak economic conditions, it would be interesting to see how, if the opposition gets hold of power, it can turn around the fate of this country. Intriguingly, before taking oath of prime minister, Imran Khan was very optimistic about putting his aspirations for the country in action but when he got the opportunity to look into reality, he was probably shocked. Perhaps the health of economy was not quite clear in his mind that led him to take one summersault decision after another and in doing so he lost track of all his original plans. This is where it is very crucial to strongly hold onto the figurative mirror. Had he closely looked into it through the eyes of those who held it out to him, he may have thought twice before accepting this high position.
Politics, especially sans morality, is not an easy game. The lucrative seat of power is actually quite specious more so when surrounded by amoral opportunists, ready to pounce upon the first available chance to promote their immorality. For the people, it is time to ponder upon making correct judgements before casting their votes. There is a need to come to terms with morality in its true sense and consciously adhere to it in all fields of life because as George Orwell said: “Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Society and people must purposefully see their reflections in the moral mirror if they are sincere in providing a good and clean future for their children.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)