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Moral Imagination

I’ve been watching a lot of presidential debates on Youtube for the past couple of weeks. With the election just a year away, it’s been my mission to get back into the right mindset and start doing the necessary prep work. To me, the presidential election is, as with so many others, an event that promises as much excitement as the World Cup. Except it lasts for months and is so much dirtier.  

Many will know that during President Obama’s first campaign, one the main talking points was this idea of expanding our moral imagination. I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit since watching his speeches again and thought it would be worthwhile to discuss.

Moral imagination is the idea that humans are capable of profound empathy; it’s about approaching issues with ethical reason, allowing us to minimise the harm and maximise the benefit of our actions. Very idealistic, very attractive, and very elevated indeed.

The way to go about this seems very straight-forward: see the worth of all individuals and respecting the dignity of yourself, others, and progeny. On the surface, it's more than rational. But I can’t help but feel, as I reach new milestones in my life, that the world turns in the opposite direction.

I’ll start by saying that I think the world is just so fucked up at times. So this notion sometimes reads like nothing more than a pretty philosophical ideology that politicians decorate with some vapid words and crank it out to the public. Needless to say, I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I have a problem with everything; while I agree to a extent, I do think that much of is justified because the world is just so fucked up.

But I don’t think we’re all realist brutes who are born selfish and die the same cold-hearted way. I know altruism to exist and self-effacing acts happen around us everyday. What I’ve concluded for myself is that expanding our moral imagination is difficult to achieve because, contrary to the idea of a heightened self-worth, people don’t attribute enough value to themselves.

When people are faced with a moral dilemma, they too often choose the path of inaction because they consider themselves as just one person

Corporations disregard the environmental consequences of their actions not necessarily because they intend to degrade our planet, but because they believe that their indiscretion (and subsequent profit) – in the grand scope of things – doesn’t make a considerable impact. It’s one company, among many.

And people believe that silencing one person is unaffecting because it’s one person. It may be convenient and it may seem harmless. But in truth, that person’s discourse makes up, regardless how minute, a piece of the larger discourse.

I don’t think it’s often people’s intention to relent to social schism and violence. They simply don’t value themselves as someone who is able to generate a constructive process and reverse destructive patterns. They don’t trust their own creativity and ability to transcend immoral acts. They just accept it and consent to it because they don't think that their own moral imagination means anything.

I don’t think that possessing a moral imagination is just too transcendent for us to grasp. I think it’s really simple, and made more so by the idea that knowing your personal ability to practice this form of reasoning has a profound effect on the course of history.

I still believe in the value of institutions and believe that their existence alone is testament to the fact that a moral imagination exists and thrives. They're made up of people who insist on reversing structural violence, in spite of how insurmountable they may seem. They're confident and see the worth of their efforts.

Let's just hope the next president is one of those people too.