Social = Moral

One of the many things I learned from the Rev. Dougie Davies’ Social Anthropology course at university is that our concept of morality is inextricably linked to our concept of the social. You don’t need a religious framework to know that anti-social behaviour is immoral. What we think of as “anti-social” evolves alongside our society so that what was once accepted behaviour becomes immoral. Some people are slow to catch up with this.

The public shaming of people not observing social distancing rules, the use of the #covidiots tag on the Twitter, are cases in point. A witches coven used to be 12, but the naughtiest new number for prohibited gatherings is 3.

Combine the social = moral idea with Kant’s Categorical Imperative and you understand why it’s not okay to take your “daily walk” in Snowdonia or the Peak District, or Skegness or Bondi Beach.

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

What this means is, it’s only moral/social to do something if it is equally moral/social for everybody to do it. When everybody rocks up at a beauty spot for a mental health walk, the situation is unsustainable. When the parks are packed with cyclists, runners, and walkers so that it’s impossible to maintain a sneeze-safe distance, you have to face the facts. If too many reach out for an extra bag of pasta or jar of passata, again, it’s not okay. For that one, we don’t even need Kant: it’s just gluttony, one of the seven cardinal sins. What does gluttony lead to? Depriving the needy.

(But let’s not pretend that similar levels of anti-social/immoral behaviour didn’t exist before this epidemic. Too many people indulge in behaviours which, if adopted universally, would kill us all far quicker than Covid-19.)

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