The Theme of Situation Ethics in Jose Saramago’s Novel Blindness
Situation ethics is an ethical theory that is associated by Christians. This ethical theory was proposed by an Episcopal priest, Joseph Fletcher in the 1960s. The ethical principle suggests that moral principles could be set aside in circumstances where love is best served. However, Fletcher was referring to the Christian moral code and the love he spoke of was love for God. Situational ethics is a consequential theory whose major concern is the outcome of actions. In situational ethics, the end justifies the means. The novel ‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago tells a story of a mass epidemic of blindness affecting almost everyone in an unnamed city. The source of the blindness cannot be immediately understood. In the darkness, many suffer at the hands of others and people have to do what they can to survive. During a time of total despair, the characters in Jose Saramago’s novel, Blindness, completely abandon all sense of ethics and law in order to survive in the asylum they are all forced to call home.
‘The end justifies the means’ is a quote that many people utter for various reasons and circumstances one faces. In the novel ‘Blindness’, there are several instances where characters need to get themselves out difficult situations to survive. All moral boundaries have dissipated to ensure survival. Those who try to uphold them later find that it does not help them in any way. In the second chapter of the novel, tells of how the decision to condemn those infected by the contagion to an asylum. The chapter shows that the minister came up with the idea of having the infected locked up in an asylum. The decision was meant to protect those who had not been infected by the blindness, and to keep the infected in a secure facility until a cure could be found. Therefore, his decision was meant to serve the greater good after assessing the health, social and political implications (Saramago 37). The decision is one that not many people would want to make. It follows that when it comes to survival, the ultimate is goal preservation of life and all that makes life possible. The minister only wished to protect the very nature of society that was threatened by this contagion.
Jose Saramago has managed to portray human nature effectively, as one that is scared of calamity and one that is willing and ready to dismiss what the do not understand. The decision of sending the infected and affected people to the asylum was more out of fear of the unknown than protecting the sick. While isolation was the best choice for all involved, the negotiations that took pace were evidence of the fear with which the government was grappling. The negotiations, swung from holding the people in supermarket, military installation, a prison, a trade fare and finally a mental hospital (Saramago 38). Another interesting part of the conversation between the minister and his advisers was the question of putting personnel to take care of the sick. The decision was that since the asylum was separated, there would b a side for the infected and one of for those believed to be exposed. Those suspected would not accept the blind to cross over to their side and those infected in their side would immediately be sent to the other side. The minister and his advisers were relying on human cruelty to ensure that the asylum would operate without supervision. This shows that when push comes to shove, people will protect themselves first before others. The compassion and empathetic side of humanity loses meaning when everyone is suffering, as is the case in ‘Blindness’.
Abandoning ethics and law in he face of danger is a situation that has grappled humanity for a long time. Take the example of Holy War. Crusaders and soldiers of Muhammad propagating Jihad did so abandoning moral principles quoted in the Bible and Quran. That people should love their neighbors above all else regardless of who they are. In this sense, it will mean that we love one another even when we do not agree on religion, politics and other issues. However, history has always shown that man will abandon all law, ethic and principle if it means that they have their own way. Jose Saramago shows this through the person of the car thief. The car thief steals a car from the first blind man. The car thief used the fact that the man was blind to his advantage. He steals the blind man’s car. When the two meet at the asylum later, they start to quarrel and fight each other (Saramago 47). If the two had been outside, the issue would have been solved in with the help of the police and later the courts. However, their confinement to the asylum has lost them a chance to solve problems through proper channels.
It is never easy when people refuse to help and worse still, when people refuse to help without remorse. The refusal to help may also be because others feel helpless and it has nothing to do with the one helping. Society is built on the notion that people will always help each other when the need comes. However, when one is no longer considered part of the society, such help is withdrawn. The two groups in the asylum can be used to justify this notion. In chapter three, the doctor’s wife is awake at night and suddenly hears some one being ejected from the wards of those not yet infected. She hears, “Out, out, Get out, away with you. You cannot stay here” (Saramago 58). These voices had chased out a person who had just been infected with the blindness. The security of the society stems from the fact that each member of the society can help each other and trust each other by ensuring the security of one another. Once the sense of security is lost, society turns against the ones who threaten this security. In this case, the person had become blind thus threatening the others.
What is interesting is that the people in the other wards where the infection was still at bay chased away the blinded individuals without a second thought. Either, they were ignorant of the fact that any of them could be caught in the same situation, or they just hoped that everything was going to be different when it came to their turn. However, it is unfair to judge them in this manner since they wee only protecting themselves from being infected too. Still, it is necessary to note that people are always to ready to judge others without thinking that the same laws could again be used against them. Eventually, most of them would find their new acquired state of blindness and all would be dealt the same card the dealt before to others. Social ethic would dictate that people ensure that people show compassion regardless of who is on the receiving end. However, a situation where one cannot gamble away their lives, people seem to forget this as is shown in the book, Blindness.
The asylum it seems is a replica of what people go through every day. The division of the ward into two seems to be the various divides that characterize human society. They may also represent unifying principles that form divisions or oppositions in society. No matter where people are, they need to be accepted into a social grouping and once they have been unable to fit into one, they find a situation where they fit. Those who have been chased away from the wards of the seeing have to adjust to where people do not. Yet there are those who pretend to fit in and will use any means at their disposal to feel as though they are part of a social grouping. The doctor’s wife is one such character from in the asylum. She risks going blind by staying with the infected just so she can be next to her husband. The doctor’s wife seems to embody the kind of people who do not abandon others even in time of crisis. Even though she is not blind, she does not go away from her husband understating that he may survive without her. She therefore does ensure that she is close to her husband. As law and ethics are breaking down all around her, she believes that her husband needs her and upholds her vows to stick by her husband until death.
The people at the asylum have been treated in a manner that suggests that they have been condemned to their deaths. While it seems necessary to contain the contagion, it would be better to ensure that these people received some sort of treatment in the period of their confinement. However, the government has forgotten that its mandate is to protect the people in the asylum. However, they have been prohibited from leaving the premises and the soldiers protecting the perimeter have been ordered to shoot if any one attempts to leave the premises. This is when the doctor wishes to get some antibiotics from the guards. The guard replies by saying, “you get back to either where you came from or you’ll be shot” (Saramago 63). In this sense, it shows that the blind have been detained against their own will. In the face of this calamity, the people have been denied their freedom. One may argue that the contagion had affected the whole city and that government structures may not be in place to ensure that such facilities operate effectively. However, placing these people there shows that the government still has the capability to help. In the meantime, the people in the asylum have to suffer because the government ethics and law regarding safeguarding people’s health has broken down.
The people in the asylum also have to deal with little portions of food. The ward of the blind had eleven people in total. However, the food rations provided were only enough for five people (66). In this regard, the people in the asylum had to make due with the little rations from their providers. It was as if the providers hoped that the people were going to starve and the problem of the blindness sickness would end. People have always looked for an easy way out in the event things do not work out as expected. If a cure is not found, it is only a matter of time until the rations stop coming altogether. The evidence in the novel continues to show that the people in the asylum suffer because ethics and laws that maintain social order have broken down.
The car thief was hurt when he tried to assault the girl with the dark glasses. She stepped on his thigh with her heel seriously injuring him (Saramago 23). The car thief has developed a serious infection and is slowly dying unless he gets antibiotics. The doctor tries to negotiate for medicine but he is instead threatened. The guard does not seem to understand that someone’s life is at stake. Then again, one thinks and understands that these people already condemned to death from the moment they were separated from the rest of the society. Ethics and law would not have allowed people to undergo such suffering in the time government still had control of the facility. The world it seems always abandons the principles the hold dear to their hearts when their own lives have been threatened. This is what has happened within the asylum.
From the novel Blindness, it has been evident that the people within the asylum have suffered. The book has also demonstrated that in the face of trouble people will do anything but uphold the law and societal ethics. In this sense, situational ethic where the en justifies the means has been present through out the novel. The government will do anything to ensure that the infection does not spread no matter what even if it means detaining these people without offering treatment. In the same sense, people would protect themselves to avoid being infected to the point where the abandon their beliefs that promote altruism compassion and empathy. The people in the asylum are victims of the broken law and order system occasioned by the unexplained contagion that blinds the people. In the face of these challenges, the characters in the novel have had to survive.
Saramago, Jose?. Blindness. London: Panther, 1999. Print.