Contemplation: Ethics and Body Functions
The above image comes from a silly little comic, but it got me thinking nevertheless because while in one sense it is right (that feces is morally ambiguous), in another sense it is quite wrong, and in fact feces, as well as other products of bodily function are far from free of the spheres of ethical consideration.
during my senior year of college I wrote a rather lengthy essay examining the ways in which we strictly regulate the act of various bodily functions, specifically defecation and urination, to specific areas. Furthermore, I examined how we also set guidelines and rules about the socially acceptable ways in which to discuss these bodily functions and also kind of ritual practices to be performed in relation to these functions (hand washing, door closing, porcelain toilets etc.). All around, I tried to detail that there is was a very strong moral obligation involved in the process of human waste removal body functions. All of it is quite far from moral ambiguity.
I suspect it takes only a little bit of reasoning to conclude that much of how we handle our bodily waste is due to concerns about health and personal hygiene. This is within reason, seeing as, without question, improper handling and accumulation of fecal and urine waste can cause health issues. However, this alone does not account for the moral sense of propriety that goes along with our bodily functions. The sanitary considerations do not explain to us why it is considered uncouth (if not outright rude) to talk about defecation in friendly conversation. The fact that there could be health concerns with the presence of feces does not automatically make the presence or topic of “poop” gross, but, nevertheless, many people will regard it simply as that. The fact that in most occasions, people remove themselves to privacy when needing to perform the necessary waste management function alone, should suggest that there is a strong ethical issue at hand.
So, is poop morally ambiguous? As an inanimate object that just happens to exist; certainly. As a product which all humans produce and must deal with with some degree of pertinence it is far from being free from the whims of ethical consideration. In addition, it is not just our waste, but the waste of other living things too, that spark concerns about propriety. With the ownership of several pets, I am forced to make decisions about the proper ways to dispose of their waste production in a way that will not be regarded as irresponsible to harmful to the broader society as a whole.
I do not feel like diving into a whole history of the ethical consideration of bodily functions, but more just want to point out that they exist. When taken into consideration within the broader category or ethics as a whole, it is worthwhile to consider how beneficial these moral concerns are. There are many things that we do as living creatures that have, over time, come to be dictated by ethical considerations. however, just because they are commonly dictated by such consideration does not mean they need to be, nor will they always be (or always have been). Ethics within human societies are fluid and constantly changing, simply because we view something through a particular moral lens at this moment does not assure a consistence in the future. Just some food for thought this Monday.