Bioethics Blogs

Why ethicists should read Middlemarch and despise Simon Cowell

There are a few ethicists who are interested in encouraging right behaviour, rather than simply discussing it.

Here is something for them from A.L. Kennedy:

As Vonnegut mentioned, Nazi Germany trained a population to be blind to the dignity and humanity of some others. A diet of soft porn, cheap sentimentality and hate proved effective. Radio Mille Collines pedaled fear, poisonous pop music and a sense of unhinged communal power – it helped to push Rwanda into the abyss.’ 1

We are what we eat. Our cultural diet conditions everything about us, including our ethics. I’m not sure whether this is too trite to be worth saying, or too politically incorrect and/or controversial to be said safely. For the purposes of this piece I’ll assume that it is self-evident. The only surprising thing is how very resistant humans are to the moral effect of their culture: they can eat vast quantities of highly toxic rubbish and still remain kind, altruistic and reflective. That resistance, though, shouldn’t make us complacent about the toxicity. All other things being equal (and, yes, it’s an absurd thought experiment when applied to infinitely various, complex humans), a person who’s had George Eliot at every meal since infancy will be more moral (whatever that means) than one who’s been fed undiluted Simon Cowell. Or at least (and it may or may not be the same thing, or correlate with it) the Middlemarch readers will respond more quickly and forthrightly to the appearance of moral malignancy. Their ethical immune systems are in better condition.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.