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Teaching kids presents little moments when you can actually see moral foundations forming. Today a child I taught wanted to stamp repeatedly on some ants. Backed by an indisputable moral compass and the deft touch of a master sculptor, I stepped in.
Time to shape a life.
There are two ways we can approach this, firstly from a descriptive moral ontology stand point, which will broadly state that the indiscriminate killing of animals is wrong, regardless of size or perceived value. Naturally, as Protagoras inferred, we don’t want to be too dismissive of moral relativism, as moral ethic codes can change across cultures and borders. Forget the meta-moral arguments here, they are not warranted. The real issue comes when we try to determine a normative moral response, which must then takes us back to Aristotle and his branch of virtue ethics*. I said.
In hindsight I did wonder if this was perhaps the wrong approach to take when telling a 5 year old child why they shouldn’t stand on ants, but I did skip moral realism and moral anti-realism to avoid any confusion – so I think he got the jist.
If I am being completely honest though, that approach is not appropriate for a child, but they need to get their moral knowledge from somewhere. So where could that be? Well, some people base their morality in morally suspect texts written thousands of years ago, some read the entire history of our ethical understanding as humans so far. Some people follow their nature and some people just promise to be really good this year.
Religion wasn’t in my life when I was younger so thankfully I had to find my own moral code, obviously my parents had a huge influence but I can pinpoint one other significant source of morality to keep me on the path of righteousness: The Smurfs – Go Pop! album. It is largely overlooked as a foundation of human ethical knowledge, but some things just slip through the cracks.
Now, it is the fountain that never stops giving but I would urge you to study the teachings specifically in ‘Smurfing Ways’ and ‘Don’t Stop Smurfing’. When I was younger, I didn’t grow up in the best of areas and a lot of my friends would find themselves in legal grey areas, also known as crimes.
My best friend at the time had been caught stealing a Mars Bar, and it was a this point that I chose to point him back in the right direction, nudge him back on track, send him down the right path. I was going to lecture him about the the rights and wrongs of his actions but quite frankly, The Smurfs said it better. So I played him the whole album start to finish, very much in the way you sit back with friends around a fire discussing life over a beer. I’d stop the CD* occasionally at particularly poignant moments to discuss the issues in more depth.
He has ended up in and out of prison for numerous violent and petty crimes since, but just think what he might have become if it wasn’t for my intervention.
Looking at the issue more seriously though, it is plain to see that morality is in constant flux and preaching a set of fixed principles is inappropriate if not ignorant. Obviously Go Pop! was just a fun way to teach kids to be nice, even if it’s morals do hold up better than the majority of any religious text.
The fact I have spent my day reminiscing about the Smurfs’ album and thinking about morality means I am still in good place. It is not quite Júzcar*, but it will do.
*This whole paragraph is pseudo-nonsense – plus I didn’t actually say it.
*A CD is a compact disc which was where we used to store information such as music, school assignments and PS1 hacks.
*The name of the town where the Smurfs live.