Identity politics is on the rise, and not only in America, but throughout the world. It is an inherent nationalism, and when unbridled and unchecked, unleashes an exclusive ethic into society appealing, not to an expansive moral ought, but one that is narrow and provincial, condemning and vilifying. The fact of national diversity and the imprint of dissimilar value orientations often cause fear and insecurity among groups and sub-groups who are apt to condense their value-orientation vis-à-vis their national or cultural identity, promoting ethical relativism and neglecting core human values. With a diminishing of religion’s consecrated and sanctified moral vision, many are falling upon an idealized version of national identity to set the parameters of their moral horizon. This is often expressed as a “moral superiority” implying the dominance of certain traditions and customs over those of others. We must be reminded that autocracy, national or religious, can be a tool of anyone seeking moral supremacy.
Looking back, history teaches that putting up constrictive, dogmatic borders is morally destructive, fencing out those with different views and stifling dialogue and civility within and without. Obviously, putting up ideological boundaries is apt to enclose those who profess a restrictive and/or superior ethic to unproductive and morality corrosive values. Being ethnocentric and tribal seems natural as there is a desire to protect our most cherished beliefs claiming moral superiority. Values are what define us; they are the substance of whom we are and reveal our commitments and convictions and their assumed authority. But our values can also limit our moral acuity, narrowing moral focus and diminishing its energy, unseeking of the commonalities that bind humanity to humanity. Clearly, it’s time to change this truncated narrative from an exclusive ethic to a morality without borders, exemplified as humanity as community.
Authoritarianism, displaying autocratic and anti-egalitarian values, is repressive and results in a limited and often amoral view of others. This we are witnessing today from all corners of the political spectrum, and not only in America, but elsewhere as well. For advancing a vision of the morally possible, an inclusive and expansive moral “ought” is needed, but terribly difficult to achieve or even articulate given the fact of cultural diversity, but we try. As Thomas Donaldson (1996, p.52) has noted, “We all learn ethics in the context of our particular cultures, and the power in the principles is deeply tied to the way in which they are expressed. Internationally accepted lists of moral principles, such as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, draw on many cultural and religious traditions. As philosopher Michael Walzer (1983) has noted, ‘There is no 2 Esperanto (an artificial language devised in 1887 as an international medium of communication, based on roots from the chief European languages) of global ethics.’”
We simply express our view of a global ethic as a “moral human ecology” supportive of an unrestrained moral vision drawing both humanity and the environment into its definitive natural fiber. How often we write in abstractions and generalities forgetting the people about whom we talk. Their needs and the inhumanity heaped upon them are seldom noticed. There is some distance between us and others, but with empathy and care and an unrestrictive vision of others, this fissure can be closed. Differing customs and traditions require our reconsideration and respect. What we expose is an ethic of diversity-seeking those basic and common values grounded in the idea of “humanity” itself. Given the present-day discombobulation of value, especially moral value, as witnessed in present-day politics, nuclear proliferation, human exploitation and misery in Central America, and continuous war in both Africa and the Middle East, “morality without borders” presents a guiding metaphor beckoning our attention. “Humanity as Community” marks its location for it is a global imperative. Its possibilities are endless as it can become a beacon of hope in a divided world. But don’t expect miracles; this will be a slow and evolutionary process as we naturally hold our values close, seldom unleashing them for public scrutiny.
Philosophically, more than words are needed and more than well-crafted arguments are required for human rights, understood as moral rights, to be judiciously spread around the world. Commitment, respect, planning, and action are also required. For those who are leaders in human rights proliferation as well as ordinary people whose voices need to be heard, this is an enabling vision. It acknowledges the essence of humanity as moral and does not contradict what the religiously oriented call the “sacredness of human life.” It also acknowledges the principles foundational to human rights, such as fairness and justice, decency and responsibility, and the importance of human dignity, integrity, nurture, and care. Not mere generalities, these values are drawn from personal and collective experience and an unhampered propensity to care for others. To say they are innate (Haidt, 2012, p. 31) is perhaps an overreach, but to recognize their human importance is not. As ethicist Kurt Baier pointed out in 1971 (p. 810), morality looks at the world from the point of view of everyone, that “…to be moral…is to recognize that others too, have a right to a worthwhile life.”
Hester, Joseph P. and Killian, Don R.
"Morality Without Borders: A Vision of Humanity as Community,"
The Journal of Values-Based Leadership: Vol. 12
, Article 15.
Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/jvbl/vol12/iss2/15