Morality: stomach size or virtue

Ilo Trajkovski

I initially wanted to write about the issue of old age as a social institution as the topic of this column. It was my intention to think aloud about how today’s dominant social forces in our country determine and treat aging and old age in general. Approaching the end of the sixth decade of my life, I began to recognize more private and public incentives for this! And in an earlier column I came up with the theme of stigmatizing old age and old people as a consequence of the social conflict between young and old. Then I concluded that our society, with its attitude towards the old, is in a state of wolf pack – take from the other, what you can and as much as you can – money, reputation, their woman or man, and even their life, why not!
But this topic can wait. Not just so that I could get a bit older and gain more personal experiences about it, but because the predatory, grabbing social philosophy behind it spreads to all spheres of our lives. And not just that. It is increasingly promoted as a desirable and normal formula for regulating human relationships. Its gradual institutionalization occurs as a normal and morally recommended and acceptable attitude to others. This social philosophy is most easily recognized as glorifying the stomach and beyond personal satisfaction as the only source of morality and morals, and through them, of politics. It is guided by the principle that public virtues derive from the personal passions of individuals and their endeavors to attain pleasure and avoid suffering.
According to this principle, good politics does not derive from public virtuous goals, but is the result of the egoistic actions of many individuals. Thus, for example, the adoption of the Code of Ethics for members of the Government, holders of public office appointed by the Government and advisers holding the executive posts, or the previously adopted Code of Ethics for Members of Parliament (in 2018), are not adopted for the sake of honest, legal and responsible work of public office holders, but due to the urgent need to prevent or seek to mitigate the risky effects of the grabbing behavior of a significant number of public officials. They are not adopted because those who initiate and submit them have a virtue and, let’s say, a high ethical conscience. They are adopted just so they could have it in written and know what they can grab while holding public office, without getting caught.
The MPs, the members of the Government and all others who hold public office and or some other functions are the result that has come out, at least formally, of the ballot boxes. But past experiences have shown that the pre-election “honesty” and commitment to the public interest is just a demagogic farce that hides the deep-seated grabbing morality of our wild capitalism. It is a morality based on the stomach, but not just from hunger but from conviction and greed.
I’m not saying there are no hungry or poor people here. There are, and quite a lot of them. However, the poor and hungry are not the ones regulating the affairs of this country. They do not pass laws, budgets, do not select and appoint public officials. This is done by the full, but still greedy for which the main motive for taking up public office is to use the powers to gain greater personal economic benefit. If the stomachs of the poor are hungry for bread, the souls of the full are greedy for more. Since the country declared independence, with each subsequent election cycle, with the exception of the first when there was still enthusiasm and faith in the public interest and public virtues, a tacit consensus has gradually been established between the increasingly poor and hungry masses and the increasingly richer and more affluent – political, cultural, educational. The poor entrusted the power to the full and the greedy, and they paid them back with some crust of bread, some state subsidy, a percentage higher pension, a few jobs, and so on. And all this from public resources that both parties is nothing but a pray to grab.
The conviction prevails that public resources and public functions are instruments of private purpose – of the individuals who perform them and / or the parties that have brought them to those functions. We find this kind of privatized morality everywhere, not only in the circles mentioned in politics but also in the judiciary. It even breaks through the actions of completely neutral and, at least, supposed autonomous stakeholders. The other day, for instance, this year’s edition of the AKTO – Contemporary Arts Festival was held in Bitola. The organizer, I am convinced, unaware that doing so serves the grabbing morality, as the motto of the festival raised the phrase “Grub first, then ethics!” This phrase is attributed to German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht. According to his dramaturgical approach, he responds to the question of the relationship between ethics and capitalism in the midst of the Great Depression that stomach comes first, that is, food or grub, and then ethics (Grub first, than ethics).
But let’s not go that far in history and geography. This message that food, the money, the material come before the moral conscience and consciousness, I saw the other day highlighted as the motto of a fast food joint in downtown Ohrid. Above the company was the logo that read: “Whatever you do, eat first.”
Stomach and stress have become sources of public morality. There is more and more evidence of this. Some exquisite and dramatic others quite common. Thus, for example, the “Racket” affair was said to be the cause of corruption in the justice system due to low pay, and thus poor economic power or the resilience of judges and prosecutors. The Special Prosecutor was paid a “European” salary. But as we’ve seen and heard, high salaries don’t seem to have tightened the moral belt around or the moral ring in the belly!
Poverty and hunger are, of course, limiting. But they are not strong enough to destroy humanity and subvert their morality. Contrary to the vulgar materialist and pragmatist notion, there are other examples that show that morality is not a function and instrument of private needs and passions but an indigenous virtue. You either have it or you don’t have it, regardless of the condition of your stomachs and passions. Being honest and virtuous in performing public service or in suffering for the public interest is good value on its own. A strong testimony to this is the historically bright self-sacrifice of the virtuous Socrates, for example. A more contemporary illustration of honesty, virtue and morality as values ​​and goals for ourselves is found in their defense by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In one of her most clashing sociological explanations of crime and other sociopathological phenomena as a result of social circumstances and poverty she said: “I will not allow for you to criminalize the poor just because they are poor. Most of them are honest, moral and virtuous citizens. Every person, whether born in higher or the lower class, whether the person holds a high position or leads a simple life by earning a modest salary, each has moral integrity and human dignity, and each has a choice between good and bad”.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik