“You are absolutely right.”
How many times have we heard this!
Although the word “absolutely” is usually used for emphasis, it raises questions pertinent to my arguments.
Is (the state of being) right (or wrong) absolute?
What is right (or wrong)?
It cannot be, for the simple reason that these states exist with reference to things, and situations. We know that things and situations change over space and time.
Ambiguous? Obfuscating? Let’s delve deeper.
Over a century ago, the field of science was upended like never before. Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) exploded his “Theory of Relativity” on the world. Science and life have not been the same again.
Looking at it from the point of view of a below-average layman, such as me, one question arises.
Is everything relative?
If so, then nothing would be absolute and, hence, nothing relative, right?
Can we apply relativity to some abstract ideas and concepts, such as right and wrong?
I don’t know.
Let me try.
Varies with space and time
Let me make a statement, a slogan, actually.
“Left is right and right is wrong.”
Oh my God!
…and this is supposed to clarify?
The statement was with reference to … you know what?
Vehicular traffic flow on Indian roads.
The operative word is Indian.
This is true also in UK and some commonwealth countries e.g. Australia.
In USA and the major part of the world, it is ‘right is right’.
The gravamen of my argument is that the direction of flow of traffic is relative not absolute. It varies with space.
I make the statement, “The British Airways jet from Washington landed at 04.00 P.M.”
The immediate question that will arise is, “Where?”
Doesn’t 04.00 P.M. describe it adequately? Isn’t it absolute? Isn’t it right?
How can, “where it landed” be relevant?
No, it is neither adequate nor absolute nor is it right. It is relative to the place it landed. Where it landed is relevant since 04.00 P.M. in Chennai would be a different time Washington DC and yet another time in London.
So, what is ‘right’ in Chennai won’t be right in Washington or London.
Right and wrong vary with space and time.
We can enumerate numerous examples for this, the Constitution, the laws of the land, the social practices, etc.
Until a century ago, sati was the norm of our society. Thanks to the great Raja Ram Mohan Roy, all that changed. Today its practice or abetment is punishable under law.
Less than a century ago divorce was unthinkable. Today?
Untouchability, the social order then, is despicable now and is punishable under law.
Gay people are seen as criminals by law of our land, whereas in USA and several other western countries they are a minority group protected by the law.
That, which was right yesterday is wrong today. That, which is right today may be wrong tomorrow. That is the process of social evolution.
The hitherto-sacrosanct, clearly defined, and unambiguous line dividing right and wrong is now blurred. Morals are changing, icons are crumbling, and social order is upended.
Ethics are changing.
Cricket is no longer a gentleman’s game, to mention only one sport. It is no longer important how the game is played, winning alone matters. Everything is fair in love and war.
This blurring has given birth to the likes of Late Mr. Harshad Mehta and a score of others for whom the ends justified the means. That wealth must be accumulated is important, not the how’s.
Every walk of life everywhere is affected and afflicted by this blurring of the line separating right and wrong. Means are fast losing their hitherto-rightful place in social and societal order with the ends-justify-means philosophy slowly entrenching itself.
If end justifies the means, then vigilantism must be right. Why do we need laws, at all? Are the ends universal or personal? How far would we go to justify these issues?
A dangerous trend? Time alone will tell…
…but time is relative…