Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ethics and Art

I apologize for the scatter-brain nature of this post. This issue is new to me, and I'm still exploring my thoughts. Any comments are welcome and appreciated.

I signed up for the ethics class this term with the expectation that it would push me and my thoughts in directions I'm not used to going. So far, it hasn't been a disappointment. We've read things by Rilke, Sappho, St. Augustine, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the United Nations. Two key things seem to pop out of virtually everything we read and discuss.

1. Ethics develops out of contemplative thought both prior to and following your own actions.

2. Rights are not granted by a government, a religion or any other instituion. Each and every person needs to be viewed as an equal in regards to rights and the level of respect they should receive.

Which all makes sense in a touchy-feely, happy-go-lucky kind of way. It's nice to theorize about, but difficult to put into practice within your own life. Since the class started I've found myself questioning how I view people and why. I've also been writing a lot more in my journal.

One of the key documents we've read is "Towards a Global Ethic", put out by the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. There core purpose is to push for a system of rights based around the religions of the world, to create a recognized system for institutions to follow not matter what God, or Gods, they believe in---or even don't believe in.

The document reads like a legal document. It begins by listing the rights each and every person has just for being alive, and then breaks down the responsibilities different facets of society has to uphold the balance of rights. Things like the right to the best education possible, the right to own property, the right to raise a family are all key points that are clearly explored. But one short paragraph above all continues to stick with me.

For artists, writers and scientists, to whom we trust artistic and academic freedom. They are not exempt from general, ethical standards and must serve the truth.

The obvious angle of these two short sentences is simple: don't purposefully lie. But I don't know if it's enough to stop there. Artist need to seek out the truth and express it however best they can. This can take many forms...showing examples of inequalities in the world, showing methods for improving mankind and the world around them, or even just creating quiet beauty to bring calm contemplation to those willing to slow down enough to experience it.

Is it enough to write material that's just fun and entertaining? The piece I'm working on now is basically an sf/horror rewrite of the Poe classic "The Masque of Red Death". If I get this one to work, I actually have it in the back of my head that I should do a full collection of Poe rewrites. But if the pieces aren't about anything, if they aren't challenging pieces of the world that I see and feel are wrong do I have any business writing them down? A month ago I would have said sure, no problem. But now I'm not so sure.

We'll be doing a lot more reading over the term, but to help myself along I checked out the John Gardner classic On Moral Fiction from the library today. While I don't expect Gardner to give me all the answers I'm searching for, I hope he will at least help me start asking and exploring some better questions.



Maktaaq said...

Oooh, a whole collection of Poe rewrites!

Let me know where you publish your story - I loved Poe as a child and I would love to read an sf version!

Hebdomeros said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence! If I get the Red Death version to work, and keep it short, I have an editor interested in it for an anthology. We'll see. Right now it's turning into a blend of Poe and Genesis P-Orridge.