It is a special gift of the ultra-wealthy to hide their immorality behind law, and do so to almost universal social acclaim.

The Essence of Moral Failure, Or, How To Be Filthy Rich And Famous

Image of classical statue depicting blind justice with scales. True Justice is Moral, it treats everyone's interests equally
True Justice is Moral, not merely Legal. It treats everyone’s interests equally. (Adobe Stock image: licensed by author)

# 51 on my, 99 Life Tips – A List is: Treat people as if their interests are exactly as important as yours. They are. (But they are not more important.)

The Golden Rule has a couple of variations that condense to the same thing. The interests of people are relative and equal. This being the case, morality requires that you treat people as if their interests are exactly as important as yours. Any deviation is the essence of moral failure.

To be moral, moral codes must be based on truth. At a casual glance, when contemplating aphorisms like, ”All men are created equal…”, the discriminating among us (and I use that term in the positive sense of one who has refined tastes and exercises good judgment), may argue about its veracity. By some metrics it doesn’t appear to be true at all.

Yet, in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, this is one of the enumerated ”self-evident” truths. But, the careful observer recognizes the obvious. There is a disparate distribution of talent, physical attributes, mental aptitude, socio-economic standing, and opportunities for improvement and advancement between humans. 

When I compare myself to LeBron James, or Stephen Hawking, or Yo Yo Ma, I see some pretty glaring inequalities. And those exist at the physical, mental, and talent levels. What about differences on the socio-economic ladder between myself and the wealthiest ”10%” who own more than the bottom 70% combined?

Egregious Wealth Inequality is a Particular Kind of Immorality

The following graphics show that the top 1% owns 31.4% of US net wealth as of the 4th quarter of 2020. The population from the 90th to 99th percentile owns 38.2%; the 50th to 90th percentile, owns 28.3% of net wealth; and the bottom 50 percent owned only 2% of the nation’s net wealth. Yay Capitalism!

line charts and graphs showing the distribution of net wealth in the US by percentile
If all men are created equal, and if everyone’s interests are equal, how is this happening? It may be legal, but is it moral? (Image from screenshot by author)

And to add insult to injury, the share of wealth going to the top is increasing as depicted by this graphic:

graphic showing the share of net wealth is increasing for the top percentile
The rich get richer, the poor poorer. Yet everyone’s interests are equal. This is everyone’s moral failure. (Image from screenshot by author)

Of course, I could have saved your time and some screen space by just summarizing the current state of Capitalism in the US with this familiar graphic. One wonders where these traditional, mythical images come from?

Ouroboros. Snake eating its own tail. Depicting inequalities.
Ouroboros. When society, especially economically, refuses to treat everyone’s interests as equal, this is what happens. (Adobe Stock Image: licensed by author)

All men are created equal? Really? How so?

Faced with these inequities, whence comes the certitude expressed, that all men are created equal? Or, on what moral basis are we enjoined to love our neighbor as our self? Or, for what reason are we to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us?

It is because the self-interest of every human being is equal. The lowliest peasant or serf in history had interests as important to him or her as those of the gaudiest Lord or Czar. It may have been ”legal” for a Lord to exploit and use the serf, but it was immoral. 

Similarly, today, it may be legal for capitalist billionaires and their corporations to pocket for themselves the wealth created by employees they hire and pay as cheaply as possible. It may be legal to exploit and despoil the environment, stripping it of resources faster than they can be replenished. Laws may allow or even encourage taking advantage of local real estate, utilities, and infrastructure, at little or no cost in resultant tax revenues back to the community and state. But such behavior is reprehensibly immoral, nonetheless. Let’s agree to call it what it is.

It is a special gift of the ultra-wealthy to hide their immorality behind law, and do so to almost universal social acclaim. And yet the interests of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos are not more important than the interests of the person just hired at minimum wage to scrub the corporate toilets.

Where is our Moral Courage?

Every dollar pocketed by selfish exploitation is an evidentiary document at the bar of Moral Justice, legal though it may be by custom or culture. We just happen to live at a moment in history when we celebrate the immoral as champions, rather than castigate them as villains.

This is possible because for decades now the West has lost any voice of moral courage.

In his famous speech at Harvard in 1978, Alexander Solzenhitsyn, the famous Soviet dissident, and Nobel Laureate said this:

”I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale than the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.”

~ Alexander Solzenhitsyn, speech entitled, A World Split Apart Harvard, 1978 (emphasis mine)

Our Interests are Equal The Moral Act Like It

Self-interest is relative. Mine may not mean much to you. But my interests are certainly important to me. Just as important as yours are to you. 

This is the basis of equal treatment and the basis of equal love. My hopes and desires and needs are not more important than yours or anyone else’s. They are important to me for reasons of my own. And yours are the same. They are important to you for reasons sufficient to you. 

When we acknowledge this, and treat each other accordingly, we’re operating on the basis of truth. We are affording each other the respect and recognition born of interests that are of equal value. 

In any dealings we may have together, I don’t expect you to treat me as if my interests are more important than your own. Don’t expect me to make my interests subservient to yours, either. They are equal. We may choose to negotiate and compromise. There may be give and take, but if either of us elevates and imposes our interests above the interests of the other, we are guilty of that which constitutes the entire essence of moral and ethical failure, regardless of our justifications, of so-called ”legality”, and regardless of our stock portfolio or checking account balance.

And let us hold each other to account. Let us act as if our interests have value. And let us think about these things in our business dealings, in our purchases, in our valuation of the character and actions of others, especially when evaluating the wealthiest, who routinely extract from you every penny of interest they can. Just because something is legal does not mean it is right. Remember this and as far as is in you, treat people as if their interests are exactly as important as yours. Because they are.

1 thought on “The Essence of Moral Failure, Or, How To Be Filthy Rich And Famous”

  1. Pingback: 99 Life Tips – A List : Greg Proffit Writing

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