Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Political vs. Personal Morals and Ethics and the Matter of Adultery

Following the observations of my pervious post, the difference between philosophies towards taxes between the Democratic and Republican parties is often seen as a reflection of their more defining stances towards government as a whole. The Republican Party traditionally has recognized itself through the philosophy that government should be small, while the Democratic Party is usually seen as promoters of bigger government. To what degree the latter is an accepted stance or a label emphasized by their opponents is of little interest to me right now. In my lifetime (and I confidently assume much before it) the idea of bigger government has not been one polarized to a single party as is often proclaimed. Both parties have to varying degrees accepted the necessity of larger government in times of war, and it has been the Republican Party that has predominately pushed such leaps of governmental power as Homeland Security where many Democrats were skeptical.

While the circumstances of wartime can be argued as exceptionable, the social arena offers little excuse. While issue of national and public security such as gun control and the war on drugs (neither issue I consider myself a strong supporter of incidentally) have a certain weight to them that, right or wrong, carries with it reasonable intentions. The rise of social conservatism (particularly from the Reagan era to present) also is not devoid of good intentions. However, there are some pursuits of social conservatism that do seem to lack that degree of reasonable intention within their aims. More so, these and many other pursuits (if not in truth all) of social conservatism undermine any sincere philosophy on small government.

As I slowly creep away from my teens, I've begun to reconsider two areas of my beliefs system. As I become more and more unsheltered and exposed to the circumstances of youths, adults and peers and their personal lives, and I make observations about my own, the first area that has come into reevaluation for me is the concept of moral flexibility. This term, being one I have traditionally held in a negative context, I've come to redefine as the antonym of absolutism. This observation should not be confused with similar conclusions found in a libertine or other more anarchistic philosophy. (If anything it is closer to a pragmatic one.) The point being that unlike some idealized world, the reality that we live in often offers too many variables for an oversimplified black in white approach to account for. Like a foreign object within one's body, what goes unaccounted for proves often to be severely detrimental.

Naturally, not all things are equally complicated. There are a few issues where we can for the most part universally agree are wrong. The easiest being rape. However, even rape seems to find some rare more subtle scenarios complicated. These are usually due to matters pertaining to the exact definition of rape and the conditions of the charges. Still, with acknowledgement of some gray matters in the extreme fringe, the predominant body of what we all can clearly recognize as rape is pretty much universally disapproved of, to put it mildly.

These observations conclude by the second area of reconsideration, which is my view on what the government, and particularly its legal system, is and is not an adequate solution for. There are things I may ethically or morally disagree with to varying levels, but do not feel are the government's job (if anyone's) to enforce.

The law is a system of rights and wrongs. In a sense it is an absolutist system but, due to its degree of extensive elaboration, not an inherently bad one. Still, in some circumstances an issue is too abstract for it to resolve in what is probably the most beneficial way. It's also worth considering that what I may disagree with is not founded on a clear and present danger to the public but upon a more abstract moral principal. Among many things, what I find particularly problematic in doing such is that, by the rational of equality, I might have to likewise accept laws formed purely upon the abstract belief system of someone I do not agree with. Regardless of what degree that I am a religious person, the logic goes that if you permit theocracy to any degree, you invite all corruptive and liberty-depriving dangers that such entails. Some things simply make more sense as a part of one's personal moral/ethical code than as something to be imposed on others.

To bring this to a more topical scenario, let us consider the matter of adultery.

I cannot say that I am a supporter of adultery by a long shot. I understand that there are scenarios where circumstances are not as black and white as we'd like to make them (such as those of someone in an abusive marriage) but anyway you cut it, I can't really support the action, only understand why some people do it. Faithfulness to a lover is a moral that is pretty deeply ingrained in me. At the age of 21 I've never been married, but I've also never cheated on a girlfriend in my life on any level. I have even known circumstances worth some sympathy had I done so. I acknowledge that dating and marriage are very, very different, but I'm not approaching these stances from pure idealism. It is a matter that I hold stern within my personal ethical code, with some small degree of flexibility towards others, but overall a general disapproval.

That the government should need to become involved with the basic infidelity of two people has always struck me as odd. To be clear, I mean that adultery is actually a crime that could lead to a penalty unrelated to grounds for divorce and matters of distribution and custody that pertain to divorce. I would never suggest that it should be removed from areas of law pertaining to divorce. A common scenario in adultery that I find more unfortunate than outrageous is where one or both parties attempt to maintain a marriage long after it has clearly become too unstable or otherwise unreasonable. On the other hand, selfish infidelity seems just as common a scenario if not much more so. In either case it would seem to be a pretty significant indicator that a marriage is at least in trouble if not hopelessly disintegrated. That is, assuming that the third party was not brought into the equation with the consent of the spouse, a factor that, though not to my preference, the law does not leave any room for. Furthermore, (and please correct me if I'm wrong) but I'm not aware of any condition in the law that states that failure to report adultery (i.e. both parties resolve the matter on their own) would not be the same as failure to report any crime. Instead it simply imposes government power on the sex life of two married individuals. It's probably not the most enforceable (or enforced) of laws, nor is it an effective deterrent in the face of the vows that are commonly being broken in the process. In the end it strikes me as a fine example of government sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. Adultery, consensual or not, is a matter for a married couple to sort out and when they can't do so on their own, it is then that the courts should be utilized be it through suing or divorce.

Republican Delegate Bob Marshall (a poster boy of social conservatism, if not flat out regressionism) has introduced a new bill to redefine adultery. In the near future I plan to comment on its nuances. For now I felt it worth discussing the topic more generally.


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