Is Morality is Overrated?

As a follow-up to my earlier post moral nihilism, a question I kept pondering is, why should anyone be moral? After some contemplation, the answer is, within certain limitation, there is no reason to be moral. As echoed by Lion, sociopathy pays, but I will add the caveat that only up to certain point. Those who stay within the rules or mores created by society, are at a disadvantage to those who don’t. So the returns on sociopathy resemble a frown or downward parabola. Take it too far, one risks serious consequence such as jail, but somewhere in the middle the returns on sociopathy are optimal.

The postmodernists to some degree are right about the so-called ‘centrality of power’; might, in many instances, does indeed make right. But I would also add, the ‘centrality of results’. A society and culture that prices quantifiable individual merit and results above all else, possibly creates an incentive for sociopathy. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example, are lauded for their accomplishments, inventions, wealth, etc., but their possible social flaws are buried, and only uncovered if one looks hard enough for second hand accounts. In terms of business dealings, they were ruthless, and personalty-wise, short-tempered and domineering; the opposite of agreeable. People say “person zyx is admirable because he accomplished so-and-so.” Unless it’s the Pope or Mother Teresa, one ever says “person zyx is admirable because he is a really moral and virtuous person.” Hardy anyone ever says that.

Even outright crime can pay for while. Bernard Madoff’s fraud flew under the radar for decades, until it finally unraveled in late 2008, and that is even after whistleblowers spent years, to no avail, trying to alert the SEC to the mathematical impossibility of the option trading returns touted by Madoff’s fund, which was used a cover for a Ponzi scheme. The fund failed when Maddoff confided the fraud to one of his sons, who then turned him in. Regulation may seem like the answer, but it has the unintended consequence of–not of actually stopping crime–but merely weeding out the wrong-doers who are not smart enough and or lack the political connections to not get caught.

A materialistic approach to morality, ultimately, is the most pragmatic one, as supported by the preponderance of empirical evidence in contemporary society. Invoking a higher ethic does not yield the desired results, aside from a temporary warm feeling one gets from exercising their moral superiority, which quickly fades when one is surpassed by someone of moral turpidute–and or–their morality is rebuked. A deontological approach works if one is already in a position of power, but from a disadvantaged position, the former approach is more advantageous, because typically those with the power set the rules.