Weekend open thread – morality!

Jaybird’s comment on my earlier post gave me an idea for an open thread. What widespread, totally accepted practice in our culture do you think is actually immoral? Maybe you think everyone in the future will see it your way, maybe not.

Here’s my first gambit: advertising to children.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. Yours and Brandon’s are very good ones; so I’ll take the lower road and say pleated pants.

  2. Like both of them! Pleated pants are an aesthetic offense so grave as to constitute a moral offense. I will add when gas stations put the cheap gas pump in the middle which might trick you into buying higher octane.

  3. Another question:

    What widespread, totally accepted practice of an earlier time do you think *actually was* immoral?

    • Women not holding political office. Or voting. Or a wide variety of jobs. By totally, I didn’t mean every single person bar none. I mean not having a serious vociferous cultural opposition. So not like vegetarianism today, where most people eat meat, but there’s a loud minority opposing.

    • If you don’t immediately say “racism” then you’re a racist!

  4. Let’s say I want to buy a ticket to a concert or play. I buy it over the internet, or through a broker, or call the box office on the phone, and am charged a transaction fee — fine; but if I walk up to the box office in person, talk to a human being at the counter and buy a ticket and am still charged a transaction fee — that’s immoral.

  5. Reality tv and to many of the practices of the finance industry to list.

  6. I’m not sure if I think this is immoral, but I’m troubled about it: using child actors in TV shows, movies, etc. I’m troubled in part because of the stories about how actors like Gary Coleman were treated, and I wonder how endemic such treatment is. But I’m also troubled because I suspect that no matter how many safeguards there are, or how well they are enforced, it’s usually problematic for children to work for a boss who is not their parents or a relative.

    In other words, I have no problem in principle with chores or teaching a child how to do a lot of jobs under the guidance of parents, but I’m reluctant to endorse child labor without qualifications. And child acting is a form of child labor.

    • I agree that we should come up with better things to do with whale oil than burn it for illumination. After all, whale oil is an increasingly scarce and expensive resource!

  7. I will go with Jaybird’s classic: Eating Meat. It is morally better to be vegetarian than not. And our grandchildren will look on in horror at your practices (naturally I’m vegetarian)

    • If I had to pick something that I don’t think is immoral, but am most likely to be looked at in horror for by future generations, that would be it.

      • Ditto.

        I actually have visions of future generations wondering how we ever thought eating meat was okay as they eat non-meat that is engineered and processed to taste as much like meat as possible.

        • Third (and Fourth) World countries will still eat meat.

          It might be a transgressive touristy thing to go to Mexico and have a grilled chicken breast.

          • It will only be transgressive and touristy so long as poor Americans aren’t doing it. That will take longer than general condemnation, because Idahoans and Louisianians and such will be the last to hang up their rifles. And as long as they have their rifles, it will be associated with American backwardness. So no trips to Mexico.

          • Yeah, but the arty intelligensia in Los Angeles would rather go to Ensenada on their boat and eat chicken tacos than go to … *shudder*… IDAHO. So it would have that cache going for it, the snobs do it.

          • Trips to exotic locales, perhaps, but the eating meat would have to be downplayed or explained. Otherwise, they’re eating meat. Just like those Idahoans. So they’d need some moral basis with which to say “It’s totally different when we go to Mexico, because…” followed by “Those Idahoans are just backwards, eating God’s/nature’s creatures and all.”

            SportsNight sort of went there, actually, except with hunting. Condemning red state hunting while making damn sure not to condemn the Native Americans. It relied on a degree of dishonesty, pretending that the tribes didn’t do what tribes did, and pretending that ugly American hunters don’t do what hunters actually do.

    • Let me take a different tack: Eating meat that was harvested from sentient live sources. That is, actual animals, with functional higher nervous systems I doubt that we’re going to come up with a substitute that matches meat in taste, texture, and nutritional content. I do think we aren’t far from “vat-grown” meat, or chickens genetically engineered to grow without brains and get harvested like vegetables, or that sort of thing.

      Nobody gets upset about picking an apple from a tree and eating it right away, even though in context it would be like tearing a chicken’s wing off and snarfing it down raw.

  8. “Yes, children, they actually chose their leaders based on which could construct and then disseminate the greatest number of 30-second collections of lies.”

  9. The word ‘Frankenfoods”

    Not frankenfoods themselves. I think future generations will happily eat GMOs. But I think they’ll be disgusted with the current generation’s aversion to them.

    We don’t avoid GMOs because of actual health or moral concerns. We avoid them because we’ve got a gut feeling that they’ll break out of their electric fences and eat Samuel L Jackson while he’s trying to restore the main power.

    As resources become scarcer and efficiency and sustainability become more important, saying “I’d rather use extra land and water to grow food instead of solving our problems with science” will be seen as no different than “Let them eat cake”.

    • As resources become scarcer and efficiency and sustainability become more important, saying “I’d rather use extra land and water to grow food instead of solving our problems with science” will be seen as no different than “Let them eat cake”.

      I already see it that way. I like this thread. More and more, I’m looking ahead of my time

      • This formulation I agree with. I do not think it’s likely people will look back in horror at our generation and say we were horrible for eating animals. They’ll be aghast at what wastrels we are. Not just about eating meat, but watering lawns, throwing away so much trash, building our houses so far apart, etc.

        • Building your houses far apart actually can make a lot of sense. It depends on what you do with the space in-between the houses.

    • We avoid them because we’ve got a gut feeling that they’ll break out of their electric fences and eat Samuel L Jackson while he’s trying to restore the main power.

      You laugh, but when was the last time any of you saw him?

    • This leads to my answer: Corporations.

      As originally formed, corporations were of limited duration and answerable to the people for their duration. Now they call the tunes — like Monsanto which looses its GMOs on the world and sues the farmer next door for whose crops they have destroyed.

      I’m opposed to GMOs because the corporations which are producing them have shown no good faith in how they are produced.

      • Short of some very large and particular changes in production technology corporations will remain indispensable.

        The reason corporations were once this fairly obscure entity and have become ubiquitous is because of modern assembly line technology. It takes a lot of capital to build a factory or power plant, or for that matter to finance a bank or insurance company. The only organisational form that can mange that efficiently is a corporation.

        Now maybe the rise of 3D printing (or some other advanced production technology) will reduce the need for corporations, but otherwise they will remain a fixture of modern life.

          • Once the Roberts Court awards corporations the rights to keep and bear arms, levy taxes, and declare war, the distinction will become moot.

          • Kimmi gave a good example a while back (I think it was Kimmi) in which there was a King, a Pope, a Rich Man, and a sellsword.

            Each of the first three was telling the sellsword to kill the other two.

            Who would the sellsword listen to? Well, of course, whichever one he thought would pay the best wages.

            I see kings going the way of the popes.

          • “If I’m the sellsword in that scenario, I just kill them all and take their stuff.”

          • That changes the dynamic considerably.

            What is a king likely to have? A ring? A crown? What is a pope likely to have? A ring? A necklace? The rich man is likely to have liquid cash.

            Or was… in the days of popes and kings.

  10. I wanted to say marijuana’s illegality will be looked at the way we look at Prohibition.

    Then I remember that there’s no shortage of people who defend what Prohibition was going for.

  11. Raising children into a religion. I don’t think children possess the necessary mental tools to be able to approach something a complex as a religion (or for that matter any philosophical position) with the necessary maturity to actually get it. To me this issue is like Rose’s advertising to children point, but even more so, especially when the child’s parents are actually cooperating against their own child.

    • James K,

      Would you say that there are maturity-appropriate ways of raising children into a religion that avoid being immoral? What if the religion were very simple?

      • The concept of an intangible yet omnipotent being is about the least simple thing I can imagine. And the simplicity isn’t really the issue. Religions propagate themselves by attaching themselves to the identities of their adherents while they’re young. This makes it very hard for people to question their faith later because they feel it is a part of them. That’s not persuasion, it’s manipulation.

        • good = reward, bad=punishment is a very basic form of morality. suitable for smallish children.

    • I like this one, James.

      I think it’s got a looooooong time before people are looking back on it, though.

  12. Just thought of one. A large amount of ethnic or national pride. I’m not talking about not enjoying your Sunday gravy or your stuffed derma or whatever. But actually attributing positive traits to your ethnic group.

        • Marianne brought that one up at breakfast on Sunday (yours, not Duck’s) and I made a similar point, of sorts, to Duck’s insofar as I asked about the various movements out there that express pride in certain types of heritage. (My examples used Latino heritage.)

          • My husband and I each belong to different heritages that are both pretty damn pride-y. (Woodhouse is a pseudonym). A while ago, I made a comment about a positive trait my ethnic group generally associates with itself (it wasn’t this, but let’s say it’s hospitality). My husband (who is seriously the least ethnic pride type personality on the planet) pointed out that really does imply that other groups don’t have as much hospitality. That seems right to me. I can’t get around that.

          • I dunno. I married across cultural lines and there are some stereotypes which survive. For example, in most of the world’s cultures, someone comes a-visiting and the host offers his guest fresh-made food when he comes in the door. Americans are no less hospitable in their own way, but they’ll offer you a drink first. The meal comes at the the appointed time, not before.

            Every culture has its own forms of kindness and generosity. I see no harm in pointing out these differences. I’ve often said if people would argue over how best to cook a chicken or make barbeque, a great deal of animus would be profitably released from our souls to everyone’s benefit. And let’s face it, cultural pride isn’t a zero-sum proposition: we grew in the images of those we loved and there is no shame and very considerable justification in continuing their traditions.

  13. I don’t know if it falls in the category of “immoral”, but it does fall into the category of damaging: I believe that the attractiveness standards and conventions of Hollywood are a cultural problem. The absence of unattractive people (except the ones where unattractiveness is a part of their character) warps out perceptions and expectations.

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