Archives for posts with tag: ethics

Virtue ethics has been a thing for a long time. It’s about embodying certain characteristics that make someone a good person. Aristotle, who coined the whole system, advocated admiring the virtuous sage and copying their behaviour; the sage being someone who embodies characteristics that ought to be copied. It’s a bit of a circular process that certainly deserves some criticism, but it’s hard to shake the notion that there are certain characteristics that make a person more virtuous. Aristotle gave out a list, but I’m not going to focus on every single one because some of them are dumb.

I mean, you can have a look… try to figure out the dumb ones!

The thing about virtues is that they require personal sacrifice. Courage is the best example, because courage without risk to the self is incoherent. It no longer functions as a concept. Honesty, for instance, is certainly not incoherent when there isn’t any risk, but lying about something benign would usually typify some kind of pathology. Honesty is only a virtue when the sage has something to lose by being honest (we’ll call “something to gain” the loss of an opportunity to gain to keep our sacrificial theme simple). Patience is only a virtue when it would feel real good to lose our shit on someone. Temperance is literally the sacrifice of indulgence, which, if you’ve ever indulged, is a lot of fun. While loyalty is not on Aristotle’s list, it is a common sense virtue that only has value during instances of temptation; its value coming from the sacrifice associated with it. Aristotle liked to think of virtues as the perfect balance of moral homeostasis, but it is very easy to frame them instead as the subjugation of the self for the sake of a higher purpose.

Ask yourself: is this a better depiction of virtue than a soldier throwing themselves on a grenade to save their peers?

To be virtuous then, is to act for the benefit beyond oneself. What this means is that individualism is inherently an unethical philosophy, and systems built on individualism are by definition immoral. By focusing entirely on ourselves, we limit the risks we are willing to absorb for others. We may want to think of the tenets proselytized by individualism such as efficiency and productivity as virtues, but we would be sacrificing the core of virtue ethics. Personal sacrifice for the boss’s profit may seem virtuous to admirer’s of “good work ethic“, but where is the reciprocity necessary in an ethical system? Do bosses exist outside of that system? Probably wouldn’t be great if they did! What’s good for General Motors is not good for the group; I mean, unless General Motors became a collective… *cough*.

Hm. This collective may be a bit problematic.

Again, there are problems with virtue ethics. For one, they’re very tribal. Loyalty to the group may detract from perfectly good or better alternatives, for instance. Friendliness literally points to a circle of friends, and no one can tell me that the same level of friendliness extends outside of that group. For those wondering about which of Aristotle’s virtues are dumb, they’re the ones only attainable by rich people like liberality, magnificence, and magnanimity (listed as great-souledness in that weird list I found on Google). Dude made a living selling philosophy lectures to those with the means to pay for fucking philosophy lectures; he had to play to his audience. However, this illustrates very well the problems of virtue ethics as a system. Virtues develop within the tribe for the benefit of that tribe, giving them a degree of subjectivity as well as a parochialism that I certainly reject.

Our virtuous ethics; their dishonourable sinfulness

I may not be a virtue ethicist, but despite my reservations, I can’t argue with the fundamental principle that ethics require a vision beyond oneself. If we recognize this truth, then we become much more resilient to socially destructive propaganda trying to pass itself off as virtues: independence, self-interest, etc. If a character trait seems designed to prevent unionization, it probably is!

There is an episode on the podcast Crackdown that posits that, despite less effective results, doctors will still push Suboxone over Methadone when prescribing opiate replacement therapy. In theory, Suboxone is supposed to be safer because it has Naloxone chemically baked into the compound which prevents additional opiates from connecting to their neurological receptors. In short, it prevents you from getting high. Methadone, just being another opiate, allows additional opiates to be used on top of it if the prescription isn’t strong enough to prevent withdrawal. The podcast describes the social rewards of appeasing the medical professionals and being one of the “good” recovering addicts, despite the additional challenges that recovering on Suboxone has over Methadone, and the bitter disappointment of the failure that can come along with that. Ultimately, the podcast concludes that Suboxone is preferred by healthcare workers because it discourages the euphoria that is associated with opiate use on a molecular level.

This was literally the first image on my Google search for, “Doctor Knows Best.” I thought, why not, let’s sex-up this blog a bit.

To be upfront, I struggled with this on a personal level. I have worked with drug users for years, and I always went along with what the doctors and nurses suggested when it comes to opiate replacement therapy because they allegedly know “what’s best” when it comes to prescribing medication. I was told Suboxone is better because it prevents overdose, and who cares what the drug users themselves think, because if they want recovery and no longer want to get high, then why do they want to get high? I didn’t know better, and I didn’t have anyone offering any counterpoints, so it just became an assumed truth: Suboxone is better than Methadone.

Of course, when Mary Poppins says that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, we just blindly accept that firing the dopamine receptors in the brain is an easy way to make adhering to a pharmaceutical regimen more palatable. Heaven forbid you need a pharmaceutical regimen to overcome addiction, however. Then it’s no sugar for you!

The deepfake you didn’t know you needed

Why do we care if those seeking a less life-threatening way of living their lives happen to have a bit of pleasure within it? While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I bet that it likely has something to do with the emotional reaction to drug use as a fundamentally hedonic lifestyle. We see the panhandler begging for change, decrepit and not having showered in months, and we think, that’s just the consequences of a lifetime of seeking pleasure right there, and so sad that they still haven’t learned that this is where euphoria leads you. Its cure must therefore involve the complete annihilation of any synthetic joy because only real, pure happiness is socially acceptable.

It doesn’t matter that addiction is the learned coping mechanism developed in response to trauma. No one cares about that. As much as people talk about the opioid crisis being a health crisis, no one seems to do anything about it which would be strange if, as a culture, we accepted addiction as what it actually is. Opiates have killed well over a thousand more people in British Columbia than have died from Covid-19 since Covid-19 became a thing, and the response to Covid-19 has been to shut down the world. We don’t care: drug deaths are the tragic but earned result of insatiably seeking an impure pleasure.

Even if we did offer solutions, drug users would still choose to slowly kill themselves, so what’s the point? I understand addiction.

Moral foundations theory is the belief that our morals are determined by the core emotional responses we have to certain situations. We respond with compassion to instances of harm, with indignation to cheating, with disgust to degradation, and so on, and thus are born the moral guidelines of care, fairness, sanctity, etc. Looking at the lives of a drug user, we might be moved to compassion, sure, but the judgier among us are likely to react with disgust. This creates the blueprint for moral blame toward those who indulge in profane pleasure, and thus it becomes that much easier to avoid caring about how many people who use drugs are dying.

If there is a profane pleasure, then surely there must be sacred pleasure, right? What would that be? It certainly isn’t sex, and the social categorization of sex workers would likely fall well within the scope of my thesis here. In Christianity, heaven is described as hanging out with God – being close to God is the sacred pleasure. Within Islam, heaven is a nice garden. Epicurus, the philosopher of socially appropriate hedonism, recommends just having some nice cheese as a sacred pleasure one might indulge in. The thing is though, these all seem kind of… incredibly lame and boring. Don’t get me wrong: cheese is fine, spiritual contemplation can be relaxing, and gardens are quite pretty, but is this really what we want for our sacred pleasure? It seems like the sacred euphoria is to not really have all that much pleasure in your life at all. And that’s the point: all pleasure is inherently profane. The sacred life is about restraining yourself from pleasure because pleasure is dirty.

I wonder what the perfect symbol for the maxim, “The less pleasure you have in your life, the more sacred you become,” would be? It’s on the tip of my tongue…

We’re all susceptible to this. The thing about moral foundation theory is that we all have emotions, and while some emotions may hit us individually harder than others, we can’t escape them. I myself am guilty of this, as I was describing my own thought process above. But remember, addiction is miserable. It’s an endless cycle of desperately trying to escape overwhelming pain. It is patently false to describe addiction as hedonic excess because the euphoria from any drug, let alone the banality of methadone, pales in comparison to the suffering of addiction itself. If the maxim about suffering being the road to sanctity were true, there would be none more sacred than the drug addict.

As bizarre as the moral condemnation of all pleasure is, it is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. It’s a trap constructed by the likes of Nancy Reagan, anti-drug campaigns, and ultimately, the racist origins of the drug laws themselves. They used to give opiates to children to calm them down, and even gave it the kind of kitschy name you’d expect for such a product, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Not that this was particularly healthy for the kids, but it gives you an idea as to the benign perception of narcotics prior to their criminality. Unfortunately, racism needed a way to control immigrant communities, drug use was thus linked to those communities, and drug laws were born to prevent Asian men from boning white women. The disgust associated with drugs was created and perpetuated outside their capacity to induce pleasure (excluding the ecstasy of interracial sexy-times), and so it makes sense that the lived experiences of drug users are irrelevant to our moral condemnation today.

Oh yeah, this is definitely a lifestyle that has far too many happy outcomes in it

I am writing this piece as a means of organizing my thoughts. I did not have a conclusion in mind when I started, and so it’s actually been a longer process than it normally would be for me to write one of these things. I have to come to grips with my own biases and take the time to reflect on what they are and where they come from. The debate about the comparable benefits between Methadone versus Suboxone is pretty niche, but I knew going into this that the exploration of this topic was going to touch on more than just that. The social attitude toward drugs and the moral condemnation toward their users is ubiquitous, and no one is exempt. Even drug users will hold themselves to a higher moral standard than other drug users citing the arbitrary standard of, “Well, I would never do such and such!” as a means of separating themselves from the impure. Sometimes they end up getting to the point where they do that thing, and this is often brought up in 12-step meetings as the time they knew they had lost control. Sometimes, a new bar will be set, “I may have done such and such, but I would never do such and such!”, and the desire to maintain moral purity remains.

In all honesty, Suboxone does work for some people. It’s good to have as an option for those who might genuinely want it. The point is that we shouldn’t use moral condemnation borne out of historical racism to coerce people into a recovery that doesn’t work for them. Addiction is hard enough as it is.

Movies shape our view of the world. We are socialized not just by our parents and peers, but by the stories we consume, and movies are one of the most predominant storytellers of our current era. This makes the content of films of paramount importance. We can learn courage and determination from John McClane. We can learn responsibility from Spider-Man. We can learn about changing the world from Neo. Our virtues are shaped by the heroes we learn to emulate, since the very practice of storytelling puts the protagonist on a pedestal. A generation growing up on anti-heroes is likely to be as cynical and morose as their paragons, learning that these are admiral qualities to embody.


Rick is genuinely a bad and miserable person. The show is quite clear on that. Fans struggle to emulate against him rather than from him because of the nature of the protagonist pedestal. Similar things can be said of Bojack Horseman. I know these are TV shows. Shut up.

SJWs seem to be aware of this, and so a new spat of movie trends throw women and ethnic minorities into the protagonist role, allowing these demographics to see a hero that they can relate to. This then allows black youths to learn responsibility from Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker. We now have Katniss Everdeen to teach us how to be fearless, and Melissa McCarthy to teach us how to bust ghosts.

This seems to anger some people. Those who think that women can’t bust ghosts or that black youths can’t be responsible decry this new trend as ruining film. There are those who, regardless of quality, think that these kinds of movies just shouldn’t even be made. Soon, films won’t have white men at all, and it’ll be the great replacement all over again! It’s that cancer Feminism running amok once more!


What’s next? A remake of Leprechaun with a female leprechaun!? UNACCEPTABLE! Leprechauns can’t be female!

Let’s take a deeper look at our lessons from these common tropes. We might learn to be responsible, but it’s a responsibility to our tribe at the exclusion of the Other. We might learn courage, but it’s a courage to defend the normal rather than a courage of standing up as someone different. We might learn to change the world, but if we’re changing it into an exact copy of what has come before, this type of change is more an enforcement of the status quo rather than its repudiation.

Is this trend truly feminist? Carol Gilligan, a notable feminist, would likely disagree. All of our ethical systems since the ancient Greeks have been philosophized by men. And not just any kind of men, but men who grew up in societies that did not care about women at all. This means that these ethical systems that they devised were not informed by the situations of women whatsoever. Gilligan decided to ask the question, what if we considered women when thinking of ethical systems? Thus arose the ethics of care.

The ethics of care is born in contrast to what is typically called the ethics of justice. The ethics of justice represent systems of ethics that see moral situations in objective terms. There is a right answer, whether that rightness is determined deontologically or consequentially, and that right answer is determined in the abstract. The ethics of care seeks to find rightness is the salvaging of relationships, of meeting needs, and existing in concrete situations that are determined by the individuals and the relationships they share. While Gilligan does not dismiss the intentions of justice, she does seek to imbue care into that system in order to incorporate women’s perspectives into the ethical discourse.

in a different voice

This is coming from a book, one of the least predominant storytellers of our current era.

If this is a feminist ethic, then very few of these movies are actually feminist at all. The latest Terminator movie (Dark Fate) perfectly encapsulates this distinction. The villain is literally an unfeeling machine that will not stop. Regardless of how many Hispanic women you throw into this movie, it is a film defined by a relationship that cannot be repaired. Patriarchal ethics exist in a Manichean dichotomy that pits absolute, rigid and uncompromising evil against absolute (though occasionally nuanced) good. Feminist ethics cannot exist in this universe because the way the villain is written. If these kinds of stories are what shape our virtues, when we look at our universe, it is much easier to see our own antagonists as dogmatically inflexible monsters who cannot be bargained with. What this means is that Doctor Strange is actually more feminist than the 2016 Ghostbusters film because it conceives of a solution wherein the villain (after some degree of coercion, sure) settles their score through a dialogue. The villainy of the ghosts allows no such relationship.

The socialization that these kinds of films are expanding is actually patriarchal in nature. They indoctrinate their viewers into an ethic of domination, of a good guy with a gun ultimately crushing a bad guy with a gun, but now the good guy can be a good black woman with a gun. Those angry with these films correctly assert that they are propaganda, as all stories are propaganda for the ideology that underlie them, Die Hard as much as Into The Spider-Verse, it’s just that the propaganda isn’t feminist.

Post-Script: For those who read the title and expected a listicle, and still made it this far, congratulations on your attention span!