04 December, 2006

Morality and Freedom

Note: I am sorry, this too is a limerickless post. I am facing a kind og "poet's block", which I hope will go away soon. :-) I promise a limericks-only post in the next two posts.

Today, I am in a "moral" mood again... ;-) ... so I'll talk a little about, well, morality.

Lately, I've learnt that definitions are extremely important. So, I begin by defining morality:

mo·ral·i·ty (mə-răl'ĭ-tē, mô-) pronunciation
n., pl. -ties.

1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
Virtuous conduct.
4. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.

I'll be concerned with no. 1 here. It is related with conduct, and with the issue or right and wrong. Now, lately, there's been a lot of talk about "moral policing" (forcing down practices deemed as morally wrong)... some perceive it as necessary. BUT, moral standards differ from individual to individual. I'll be talking only about the common perception of morality here, preferring to shove aside ethics and religion.

The common perception of immoral acts is closely related to what we find as obscene, shocking, different from common reason, or simply, new. Some people regard kissing in public as immoral, while others (or the same) may have no problems with sex in movies. A person's sense of morality may not be consistent. He may have no problem stealing cookies from shops, but may decry someone stealing a paper from his drawer. (A "mature person", however, is expected to be consistent).

Sometimes, morality becomes closely tied with freedoms. The freedom of consensual sex may conflict with the society's moral taboos. The freedom of press may conflict with immoral invasion of privacy. Where do we draw the line? Why do we draw a line? Isn't it possible that, social taboos are just a result of narrow-mindedness, and aren't harmful? Shouldn't freedom of press, as a fundamental right in a free society, should lie above individual things like privacy?

There are no definite answers to these questions. But we need to understand some terms. For one, a Freedom is an essential part of a modern democratic society. This is because a modern society gives as much importance to the individual as to the whole. But such freedom come with restrictions, which are just as important. For example, one must not hurt the sentiments of any group or individual when excercising one's freedom, atleast to as minimum a degree as possible. But how does one decide where to stop?

That's what laws are for. But laws will only take us so far, for the judiciary is often biased under social taboos and implicit moral codes in the law. Sometimes, the solution is negotiation between the parties, under an impartial party. When freedoms, or taboos, or both, clash, it gives rises to an interesting moral debates. Such issues depict the changing fabric of society. (On an aside, they also form the subject matter of some very good movies, like Munich.)

This whole discussion might seem a bit too philosophical, with words like "society", "moral fabric" and "freedom". But I would like to point out that I am only describing some recent events, from the danish cartoon controversy, to the banning of orkut communities like "I hate India", to the protests over obscenity in movies and TV. Their solutions are not easy, but it's good to think and comprehend the complexity of the issues.


  1. First of all, freedom of press is not a fundamental right. In any society. It is just an expression which implies that the press is not gagged by the Government of a country. Fundamental rights are always awarded to individual citizens of a country and never to institutions! Moving ahead, I would say that it is possible in almost all cases to find a solution which is generally acceptable to all when there is a clash of morals. For example, when Star Movies and HBO were banned in India, some of the solutions suggested were to have movies with adult themes being shown only in the night, carrying the ratings against the channel logo etc. Laws need to be more stringent when it comes to protecting freedoms. But many 'freedoms' do clash with each other and our Supreme Court, which is the final word on interpreting the Constitution has seen many cases in which it had to come out with definite interpretations of the freedoms that have been guaranteed to us and the way in which they can be exercised. The 'society' has now lost its relevance as the authority on what is right and what is wrong for individuals and as you rightly said, the answers are more complex than the problems themselves.

  2. I do think that some taboos are just silly. However some are there because while freedom is a good thing and all, there's a flip side to it. People can take freedom too far. I mean people are free to do all sorts of ill advised things. It doesn't mean they should.
    It seems to me that in a quest for freedom people seem to forget society consists of other groups of people with which they have to share the world. It's a weird human nature thing. People just assume everyone thinks (or should think) as they do, and if people don't fit in they're labeled an outcast or just weird (or in more extreme cases burnt at the stake).

    That was a bit of a digression. Ah well... It's all too complicated for me.

  3. Umm..I think you pretty much sat on the fence throughout the post. And I dunno..I think there are too many facets and arguments for and against these issues which cannot be done justice to in one post.

  4. And ya, what annoying ads have you put on your blog?

  5. Yup..Munich was a lovely movie..
    Read Shantaram-somewhat similar.

    And I don't deliberately put 3-4 comments. I always remember something else I wanted to say after I hit 'Publish your comment'