Racing Cars and Popular ethics

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I’m in Scotland for a few days, catching up with European news in today’s edition of The Times. The big splash news item, on several pages, is the case of Max Mosely, president of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) – that’s “Formula One” racing cars for the uninitiated.

Mosley (whose father was a renowned Fascist and professional Jew-hater) has been secretly filmed taking part in a sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes, he dressed as a Nazi and the women as Jewish slaves. I’ll spare the details. As of today, Mosley’s position as president of FIA is under scrutiny and The Times, along with other newspapers, has entered into the ethical analysis of his shenanigans.

Of the more interesting analysis of Mosley’s actions and fate, came in the Sports section of the paper. I have to confess that the number of times I have read the sports pages of any newspaper to be in single digits, but the moral pontifications of Simon Barnes, Sports columnist of the Year, and according to my son the best commentator on soccer (i.e. football) ever, to be both fascinating and alarmingly insightful of popular ethical prejudice.

Barnes asks whether Mosley has committed an immoral act or simply something that we find disgusting. He ranges over some of the ethical issues: is he guilty because of the racist, anti-Semitic nature of what he did? Or, because of the sexual promiscuity (including prostitution) in which he engaged? Or, because his father was a professional anti-Semite and his son’s peccadilloes must take on an extra dimension than merely strange sexual preference? His conclusion: ‘Mosley hasn’t behaved in an immoral fashion. He has merely behaved in a manner we consider disgusting…”

What’s interesting about this piece of analysis is, first, that it is being done by a Sports columnist! They are the ethical and social pundits of our time. Undoubtedly, this social (and religious) comment will be read by far more than if it had appeared in the serious “Comment” section of the paper. It is reflective of contemporary morals. Bizarre sexual antics are considered amusing (think, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, Barnes suggests, and Herr Flick and Colonel Von Strohm and their misdemeanors with Yvette). The violations against family and marriage that such behavior involves is not considered immoral, merely disgusting. And this is where, secondly, Barnes has successfully shown the tension of postmodern ethical analysis: that devoid of a divinely revealed moral standard, all we have is an ethic based on utilitarian or preferential ethics.

Posted April 4, 2008 @ 3:31 PM by Derek Thomas

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