Self-interest has a morality of its own

One Man’s Journey – a book about life
July 26, 2019
Emancipating ourselves
July 26, 2019

Self-interest has a morality of its own

By Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor

Every day the same scenarios are acted out in the local arena, but with increasing arrogance, hatred and little respect for the lives of others.

It almost seems as if a recording of life in Trinidad and Tobago is played again and again, only on different dates and times—the continuous bloodshed of innocent persons in domestic violence disputes and robberies, the gang wars that have become daily news and are merely a turn of the page by the unaffected reader, the wanton termination of contracts of employees and the unrecorded data of those dismissed who have since terminated their lives. And then there is the western bonanza-type standoffs of our political parties, in constant debate as to who will get to stand the drinks of its supporters in the saloon of the OK corral, once the fight for political territory is over.

When will we be able to press ‘STOP!’ to these recordings? Who will be the voice of reason? What is worse is that many attempts have been made by those persons entrusted to safeguard our wellbeing, to rationalise these horrific issues.

Well….the family called us out because a relative was going berserk and mentally unstable, so we shoot him dead (not in the leg or the hand) to save the family. Forget that the law requires that we respect everyone’s life regardless of the state of mental ill-health. Instead, we rationalise everything in the hopes of getting rid of our feelings of disgust and discomfort when injustice is inflicted on others—the rapes and the senseless killings.

If the newspapers report that the wife/partner had another ‘horner man’ or that the killings were gang-related, we breathe a sigh of relief. The killing was justified, not so? As was the chopping off of the arm of a woman by her husband, which was rationalised by the caregiver of a home for battered women last weekend, ‘She give him Aids. I could understand why he do that. I feel sorry for him!’ the wrong being made right and the immorality of the situation becoming trivialised.

Rationalisation is a psychological defence mechanism where a person’s controversial behaviours and feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly logical manner. The explanations seek to falsify or avoid the truth.

To the ordinary person, the logic sounds reasonable and sound—and the avoidance of the truth—the blatant lies—is dismissed. The reasoning attempts to justify immoral, deviant or generally unacceptable behaviours. It does not address the underlying reasons for the behaviours.

So that morality which was once thought of as being guided by innate spiritual and ethical values, seems to be now guided by self-interest, a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement— family members killed for land and deeds and five youths in court for UTC fraud and possible murder, stealing the earnings of those who have worked hard and laboured.

Hard work and labour being two precepts that have fallen by the wayside and not in the vocabulary of those persons who want something for nothing.

Unfortunately, as in many of these instances, people seek not only to benefit themselves but also to persuade others that they are morally right in doing so. They adjust their moral values to suit their self-interest and to follow monetary gains.

Newspapers contribute to this when they do not present the entire picture of stories and seem to sway public opinion to untruths, lies, and innuendos. Political parties continue their fake news and personal attacks on each other via social media, and well-intentioned voices who speak out against this creeping fanaticism within our society, are scarcely listened to, ignored and at times, ridiculed.

Yet the many of us continue to write in the hopes that the upper end of morality will be a stronger call to reason and to increased action across all forums—social, education, political, and health. But really, when will it end? When will this immorality of self-interest in a rudderless society end?

Dr Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist, and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP).