Eons ago, I studied at the London School of Economics and took a course entitled “The Ethics of War.” It was my favorite class, taught by a very old, tweedy philosophy professor. One day the subject was the history of British submarines. Apparently, the technology for submarines, and then submarines themselves had been around for awhile before anyone had the notion to weaponize them. The professor explained that submarines were not used in warfare earlier, because to attack someone underwater, from below, was considered “unsporting” to the British.
First the ethics had to change — and THEN the technology changed. First the British had to give themselves permission to be underhanded (or “under watered”)… and only then they could adopt this technology for warfare. Without this transformation, the technology would just exist in its benign form.
Big Aha moment for me. (Oh the joys of a liberal arts education.) Until then I never questioned the genesis of why certain things existed. But I liked chewing over this chicken or egg question — which comes first, the technology or the ethics?
Fast forward a few eons… I like Facebook. I like to see pictures of my cousins’ kids. I’m sincerely interested in the doings of my former college roommates, or the funny cat videos. And yet, I read comments and mail every day from chumps whose worlds were destroyed by Facebook when an old flame hooked up with their spouse. Some cheater weaponized Facebook with infidelity. Is it Facebook that is at fault, or the ethics of the user?
So often technology is blamed for an increase in infidelity. It’s so easy now, so ubiquitous, so many varied ways to cheat! Craigslist, Ashley Madison, porn sites, World of Warcraft even! So much temptation, how can we expect anyone to not trip over all that easy, skanky free sex out there?
I still come back to ethics. Ashley Madison does not bother me. I’m sorry it exists, but it only exists because there is a market for it. It didn’t come into being, and then the market appeared. I could go through my whole life and never google “Ashley Madison” because I have no need for it. It’s only there for the people who WANT to find it. Who have given themselves permission to cheat, to search for such a service — and that is a matter of the heart.
We could crusade and try and stamp out online dating sites, sexting software, porn, and online chat rooms, but why? What needs to change is the ethics of the users. Their entitlement.
If technology has given us more cheaters (I’m doubtful — think people who want to cheat will find a way to cheat, even if they’re Amish), it’s also given us more ways to catch a cheater. Keyloggers. GPS. Internet support sites, like Chump Lady. Shared wisdom and reconnoissance. Seems a wash to me — the technology works both ways to both enable cheating and hinder it.
So IMO what needs to change is the zeitgeist of entitlement, the culture that permits that kind of (to borrow a term from the playwright Tony Kushner) “psychotic individualism.” The Most Important Thing Is My Happiness (and fuck anyone who stands in my way).
Or put another way — if you’re married, don’t fuck people you aren’t married to. It’s unsporting.