I want to take a moment to clarify a concept that informs a lot of what I have written here so far, and that is the notion that degrees of separation between action and consequence affect our decision making.
Let’s call this phenomenon moral separation.
I believe human beings are endowed with a limited capacity for conceiving the consequences of their actions. Certainly this foresight is what gives us moral agency. For instance, because I can anticipate that, say, gossiping about a friend can cause them distress in the future, whether or not I choose to gossip reveals something about my character.
This foresight diminishes as moral separation increases, as does a general sense of accountability. If I hit somebody and then claim I did not know this would cause them pain, nobody will believe me and I will be judged uncivilized. If I leave all the lights on in the house, people might think I’m wasteful but it’s not the same level of judgment. And nobody thinks twice when I order off Amazon.com instead of going to the mom and pop around the corner.
All of these things have a very real impact on someone somewhere, but as moral separation increases the consequences of my actions turn into mere abstractions. Human beings, by default, are not programmed to respond as acutely to abstraction as we are to tangible realities.
If we can figure out how to decrease moral separation, we can nourish humanity’s better nature by allowing our inherent goodness to be expressed more easily. Being “good” is more or less intuitive when consequences are concrete.