I believe that the remarkable changes in our society are largely due to a few things happening either all at once or at least in rapid succession: First, we have moved away from God. Nietzsche got the ball rolling when he subtly pointed out that God is Dead, but now if a Christian says “God is good” then everybody rolls their eyes. (Interestingly, if certain Muslims say the same thing, everybody ducks.)
Regardless, the idea that each of us lives according to the ideals of someone greater than ourselves is considered, well, provincial. Perhaps quaint. Certainly non-scientific and outside the realm of polite, reasonable society. But then some other things happened:
The idea of pride and shame was also degraded into a primitive impulse to be avoided except in antiquated cultures. Public ostracism was sneered upon as “judgmental.” Who are you to judge? Because after all, we all answer to ourselves! So you can’t criticize me for striving to live up to whatever ethical guidelines I decided for myself the day before yesterday! Partially because I’ve already changed them in ways that I don’t fully understand! And so on.
And then our family structure has been either damaged or disregarded. Every TV show has the father portrayed as, at best, a bumbling fool. With the wife and kids trying to work around his foolishness without hurting his feelings more than necessary for a good laugh.
Then the concept of law has been degraded as well. So many men are in prison only because of racist cops. Laws are so numerous that no one can follow them all. Regulatory agencies and courts enact laws outside the democratic process, and those laws are clearly not legitimate and thus should be discretely avoided without making the father figure (government) feel silly, just like the TV dad. Or God. Or family. Or societal norms.
Nietzsche (a flawed genius, but unquestionably a genius) predicted that this vacuum of ethical restraint would result in societal upheaval, violence, and a complete restructuring of human interactions. All of which has come to pass, almost precisely as he predicted.
So – what now? Some of what has been torn asunder cannot easily be rebuilt. I posit that modern western society is clearly unsustainable. So what’s next? Human nature is not nice. And now it acts without the restraint of God, society, family, or government. We seem to view the concept of freedom as simply the liberty to do whatever the heck we want. This is not working out all that well. To me, the concept of personal freedom doesn’t even make sense without personal responsibility. Today we ask, “Responsible to who?” If the answer is just to ourselves, than Nietzsche would say (and did say) that we have a very serious problem.
What do you think? Am I overstating the changes in western society? Where are we going? And can our course be altered at this late stage? If so, how?
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