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The Modern Vacuum of Ethical Restraint

 

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?

Thank you for your input.

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There are 107 comments.

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  1. Member

    I don’t know if everything is a dire as it seems, but I love this line:

    Dr. Bastiat:
    … if a Christian says “God is good” then everybody rolls their eyes. Interestingly, if a Muslim says the same thing, then everybody ducks.

    Is this yours? I will be reusing that, and want to give proper credit.

    • #1
    • April 13, 2018 at 6:27 pm
    • 13 likes
  2. Member

    I think you are exactly right. (Of course, some see the problem starting way back before the Reformation, even.) The question for me is one of resilience. We have done a lot of these stupid, even suicidal, things because we could. The last 70 years have been prosperous and relatively peaceful. Life is good. Should really hard times come upon us, how would we respond? Would we, to use an old meme, roll up our sleeves (and not for an opiod needle, either). Or, my fear, would the hard men show up, and in the name of righting the wrongs destroy the whole thing. It happens that way sometimes.

     

    • #2
    • April 13, 2018 at 6:33 pm
    • 5 likes
  3. Member

    Your comments about the abundance of laws reminded me instantly of G.K. Chesterton’s quote, “When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom, you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws”.

    I have no idea where this radical individualism is heading. I think that our social fabric will continue to fray even more, particularly for the lower classes. Charles Murray points out in his book, “Coming Apart”, that the upper classes typically lead more socially conservative lives (staying married, not having kids out of wedlock, etc.), and they also have more social capital to withstand those kinds of poor decisions if they do make them. So we have an increasingly isolated, lonely, unhappy society, especially among the poor. Maybe the government’s response will be to simply shell out taxpayer money to the lower classes to keep them pacified, while those well-off wall themselves off into enclaves.

    Perhaps, at some point, Christianity will be a new and novel thing once more, and once again a more stable and elevated society is rebuilt. Let’s hope so.

    • #3
    • April 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm
    • 17 likes
  4. Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Terry Mott (View Comment):

    I don’t know if everything is a dire as it seems, but I love this line:

    Dr. Bastiat:
    … if a Christian says “God is good” then everybody rolls their eyes. Interestingly, if a Muslim says the same thing, then everybody ducks.

    Is this yours? I will be reusing that, and want to give proper credit.

    Yeah, that’s mine, although I doubt I’m the only one to observe that concerning dichotomy. As long as this is true, I think it will be difficult to find a peaceful solution in the balance between Islam and the western Judeo-Christain culture. 

    • #4
    • April 13, 2018 at 6:36 pm
    • 5 likes
  5. Member

    Terry Mott (View Comment):

    I don’t know if everything is a dire as it seems, but I love this line:

    Dr. Bastiat:
    … if a Christian says “God is good” then everybody rolls their eyes. Interestingly, if a Muslim says the same thing, then everybody ducks.

    Is this yours? I will be reusing that, and want to give proper credit.

    Let me second that — great!

    • #5
    • April 13, 2018 at 6:51 pm
    • 6 likes
  6. Member

    GFHandle (View Comment):

    Or, my fear, would the hard men show up, and in the name of righting the wrongs destroy the whole thing. It happens that way sometimes.

    Or every time.

    • #6
    • April 13, 2018 at 7:40 pm
    • 5 likes
  7. Member

    Is it possible the idea of “well-off” is mis-attributed to wealth? I’d say well-off is first connected to living by principles that result in health, happiness and success, and yes, financial stability.

    If that is true, then those who want to abide by principles that bring success should continue to do so. And, yes, this may well happen within walls that create communities protected from those who would rape and pillage. 

    Yup. Build a wall.

    • #7
    • April 13, 2018 at 8:20 pm
    • 12 likes
  8. Member

    Maybe you are correct, or maybe you see all the down side and none of the upside? I can understand why many religious people feel these changes are negative. Inversely I hope many religious people can see why the non-religious people think these changes are positive.

    Do I think we are cruising to an negative conclusion? No, that doesn’t strike me as evident. I mean it was only 72 years ago Western civilization faced a true existential crisis from within, nothing we face now is on par with that. 

    • #8
    • April 13, 2018 at 8:31 pm
    • 3 likes
  9. Coolidge

    As a European, I may be forgiven, I hope, for having a longer view than my friends in this relatively young country.

    In our minds, Antiquity (Egypt, Greece, Rome and Byzantium) + European history from the High Middle Ages (1050-1300) = Western civilization.

    Ethically speaking, the whole sweep of this civilization verifies the adage that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. I cannot think of a single European ruler with absolute power who remained untainted (the French will object that some of their kings were decent fellows, but that’s the French for you).

    Only one man, in the whole of Western civ, stood up against corruption and changed the way men thought and behaved. That man was Martin Luther.

    Space limits prevent me from taking this subject further, but you are all smart enough to draw your own conclusions as to what guided Luther, and what is missing in the West today.

    • #9
    • April 13, 2018 at 8:41 pm
    • 9 likes
  10. Member

    fidelio102 (View Comment):

    As a European, I may be forgiven, I hope, for having a longer view than my friends in this relatively young country.

    In our minds, Antiquity (Egypt, Greece, Rome and Byzantium) + European history from the High Middle Ages (1050-1300) = Western civilization.

    I think you are using “our” rather too loosely. Many of your fellow Europeans would disagree with your statements.

    Ethically speaking, the whole sweep of this civilization verifies the adage that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. I cannot think of a single European ruler with absolute power who remained untainted (the French will object that some of their kings were decent fellows, but that’s the French for you).

    Louis IX comes instantly to mind as a decent and just ruler — I’m sure I could come up with more if I gave it more thought.

    Only one man, in the whole of Western civ, stood up against corruption and changed the way men thought and behaved. That man was Martin Luther.

    That’s really overstating Luther’s virtues and his uniqueness. “Only one man”? In the whole of Western civilization?! Don’t forget that Luther sided with power and corruption — the princes — against the peasants. As it states in the Wikipedia entry on the subject, “One of the reasons why Luther urged that the secular authorities crush the peasant rebellion was because of St. Paul’s teaching of the doctrine of Divine Right of Kings in his epistle to the Romans 13:1–7, which says that all the authorities are appointed by God, and should not therefore be resisted.” Luther was hardly a consistent warrior against the corrupting influence of power! And – I’m sorry to disappoint you – but man’s thoughts and behavior haven’t really changed that much over the course of history. The same tendencies and faults — and yes, sometimes virtues — are still there.

    • #10
    • April 13, 2018 at 9:39 pm
    • 12 likes
  11. Member

    Mitchell Messom (View Comment):

    Maybe you are correct, or maybe you see all the down side and none of the upside? I can understand why many religious people feel these changes are negative. Inversely I hope many religious people can see why the non-religious people think these changes are positive.

    As a former atheist and now Catholic, I suppose I can say that I have viewed these things from both sides. And I still see more negatives than positives. Data on happiness levels, as well as the increase in drug addiction and suicide, bears that out. 

    Do I think we are cruising to an negative conclusion? No, that doesn’t strike me as evident. I mean it was only 72 years ago Western civilization faced a true existential crisis from within, nothing we face now is on par with that.

    Oh, we have problems on a par with what was faced then — they’re just different.

     

    • #11
    • April 13, 2018 at 9:44 pm
    • 9 likes
  12. Member

    Jordan Peterson has given me great hope for the future. People are listening to him, especially young people. 

    I think we’re going to be okay. 

    • #12
    • April 13, 2018 at 10:15 pm
    • 8 likes
  13. Member

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Jordan Peterson has given me great hope for the future. People are listening to him, especially young people.

    I think we’re going to be okay.

    I like and admire your optimism, Marci, even if I don’t share it!

    • #13
    • April 13, 2018 at 10:27 pm
    • 6 likes
  14. Thatcher

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Jordan Peterson has given me great hope for the future. People are listening to him, especially young people.

     There have been others that break through the clutter: 

    Religious: Bishop Sheen, Billy Graham

    Humor: Mark Twain, Will Rogers

    Writers: Kipling, Chesterton 

    Political: Winston Churchill, Reagan/Thatcher

    and more, of course!

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think we’re going to be okay.

    Many of us have longer and easier lives, and if we follow the rules (Bible, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, etc.) we‘ll be okay. For those who don’t, it’s like Russian Roulette. 

    • #14
    • April 14, 2018 at 12:21 am
    • 6 likes
  15. Coolidge
    ST

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    I’d say well-off is first connected to living by principles that result in health, happiness and success, and yes, financial stability.

    lovely

    • #15
    • April 14, 2018 at 1:46 am
    • 1 like
  16. Coolidge
    ST

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    And, yes, this may well happen within walls that create communities protected from those who would rape and pillage. 

    Yup. Build a wall.

    Would not be the first time in the annals of human history.

    • #16
    • April 14, 2018 at 1:47 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Coolidge
    ST

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Oh, we have problems on a par with what was faced then — they’re just different.

    Agree with PJ and raise her $100.00 USD. I think this could be “The Big One.” The clash between islamic supremacism and the Judeo-Christian world will never be resolved without some sort of islamic moderation/ reformation, and that my friends may never happen. If Iran gets nukes (may Obama rot in hell for his part in this. Effing Vietnam vet and war hero Kerry too while I’m cursing people to hell) then all bets are off. Something about ushering in the 12th imam or something like that as I recall.

    But the scarier part and the more immediate and present threat is the rise of radical ‘progressivism.’ It concerns me because I don’t think we have a very good idea of what they are actually up to; and that is not a good thing for our team. Additionally, I suspect it is deep, organized with fairly clear plans, and well funded. Again I say, I don’t think we really know what the endstate goals of Soros, Obama, Hillary Inc. are; but they do and they have a gazillion foot soldiers (antifa, BLM, union thugs, KKK, etc.) or so it would seem.

    • #17
    • April 14, 2018 at 2:11 am
    • 13 likes
  18. Member

    An absolutely great summary and I’d guess most of us here agree with it. I think the good news is that it hasn’t been accidental, not all just emergent but systematic and we can undo the things that gave rise to it. While they are the same things that led to the decline of other civilizations (in the long view all those civilizations collapsed or were absorbed and for similar reasons). they are the things our founders pointed to, centralization, excess control, the growth of factions (organized interests) the importance of virtue, freedom rooted in clear crisp laws etc. so we have a blue print. Even the flabby nihilism and neo-marxism that dominate culture are so flabby and group centered it should give us hope that even some of that can put on a positive path.

    • #18
    • April 14, 2018 at 5:08 am
    • 5 likes
  19. Member

    Dr. Bastiat: And then our family structure has been either damaged or disregarded. Every TV show has the father portrayed as, at best, a bumbling fool.

    Well, there was that one show in the 1980s with Bill Cosb- Oh. Yeah. Never mind.

    • #19
    • April 14, 2018 at 6:00 am
    • 11 likes
  20. Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: And then our family structure has been either damaged or disregarded. Every TV show has the father portrayed as, at best, a bumbling fool.

    Well, there was that one show in the 1980s with Bill Cosb- Oh. Yeah. Never mind.

    Don’t forget “Last Man Standing.” It featured a strong, smart, successful leading man with a great sense of humor. Of course, ABC cancelled it because that character was making fun of the Left, so — yeah. Never mind, indeed.

    • #20
    • April 14, 2018 at 7:11 am
    • 10 likes
  21. Member
    Dr. Bastiat Post author

    Mitchell Messom (View Comment):
    I can understand why many religious people feel these changes are negative. Inversely I hope many religious people can see why the non-religious people think these changes are positive.

    I hear your point, but I would remind you that Nietzsche believed that “God is Dead,” and he believed that these changes would lead to societal upheaval, violence, and a complete restructuring of human interactions. And he was right. He wasn’t promoting a return to God, because he didn’t believe in God. But he was terrified of what would happen when society as a whole moved away from the concept of a moral arbiter greater than themselves.

    Mitchell Messom (View Comment):
    Do I think we are cruising to an negative conclusion? No, that doesn’t strike me as evident.

    I disagree, but perhaps you’re right. I hope you’re right, and I’m wrong. I really do.

    • #21
    • April 14, 2018 at 8:24 am
    • 8 likes
  22. Member

    Some days I feel this is true… then I avoid politics for awhile and things look better.

    Rot is happening. But everyday life can still be lived.

    God is actually good.

    • #22
    • April 14, 2018 at 2:01 pm
    • 9 likes
  23. Member

    Mitchell Messom (View Comment):
    I mean it was only 72 years ago Western civilization faced a true existential crisis from within, nothing we face now is on par with that. 

    I’m assuming you’re speaking of WWII, and you’re right, civilization itself stood at the brink of self-destruction.

    But do you think we’re really all that far away from another global war? There will always be murdering thugs striving for power somewhere, and this time even small powers possess the means to destroy cities and kill millions in a single missile strike. Pair this destructive power with the complete abandonment of morality, casual disregard for human life, and the active and strident turning away from God, and I just don’t see things the way you seem to. 

    It’s cliche to say but it’s an absolute truth that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. I’m afraid we’re reaching a point where we will see evil rise up and good men will simply do…nothing.

    But as the author said elsewhere, I hope you’re right and I’m just being a pessimistic middle aged man. I’m happy you have a better outlook on things than I do, we need our younger generation to fix the wrongs that we’ve vomited onto the world.

    • #23
    • April 14, 2018 at 2:41 pm
    • 4 likes
  24. Member

    A very thoughtful column, thanks for posting it.

    • #24
    • April 14, 2018 at 2:42 pm
    • 3 likes
  25. Member

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I’m assuming you’re speaking of WWII, and you’re right, civilization itself stood at the brink of self-destruction.

    Seventy-two years ago was 1946, so WWII couldn’t be it. The Soviets didn’t have nukes then, so that couldn’t be it. I’m clueless to what the existential crisis we faced 72 years ago was.

    • #25
    • April 14, 2018 at 2:52 pm
    • 3 likes
  26. Member

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I’m assuming you’re speaking of WWII, and you’re right, civilization itself stood at the brink of self-destruction.

    Seventy-two years ago was 1946, so WWII couldn’t be it. The Soviets didn’t have nukes then, so that couldn’t be it. I’m clueless to what the existential crisis we faced 72 years ago was.

    Yeah I just figured ’46 represented the end of WWII so sort of still the war crisis, not sure what else it could mean. Wait, when did Roswell happen? Is it aliens? THAT would be an interesting thread!

    • #26
    • April 14, 2018 at 3:19 pm
    • 4 likes
  27. Moderator
    She

    Mitchell Messom (View Comment):

    Inversely I hope many religious people can see why the non-religious people think these changes are positive.

    No, with the greatest respect, I’m not sure why you think they are. Please elaborate.

     

    • #27
    • April 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm
    • 4 likes
  28. Member

    She (View Comment):

    Mitchell Messom (View Comment):

    Inversely I hope many religious people can see why the non-religious people think these changes are positive.

    No, with the greatest respect, I’m not sure why you think they are. Please elaborate.

    I’m not quite sure why anyone, even secularists, would look at the breakdown of the family as a good thing.

    • #28
    • April 14, 2018 at 4:04 pm
    • 6 likes
  29. Coolidge

    To many of us, I think the situation comes to a head in the left’s drive to impeach Trump, which they have wanted to do before he was even sworn in. There may be unappealing personal things about Trump but what real solid basis can they use? Is just sheer hatred obscuring their reasoning and understanding that this can’t just swing back and forth with midterms or longer-range, any shift in the makeup of Congress?

    Today I saw a Facebook filler (designed to be copied to infinity) with references to his failing the oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the US constitution, but really, HOW? Even if some kind of Russian campaign interference benefitted him, aren’t we still waiting for proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a participant in whatever it is they were up to? Is nullifying a previous President’s executive orders with his own the main beef? Is it urging legislation …or signing some that is disliked by one party? Is it business dealings from before he was ever a candidate (that are hard to envision would threaten the constitution)? I really don’t understand what the left thinks it has, that won’t just look like one party taking the liberty to do whatever the heck it wants. Meanwhile these same voices swear nobody has anything negative on Hillary and there was no collusion by some department heads to protect her. You know, just looking away from whatever the heck they want.

    • #29
    • April 14, 2018 at 4:48 pm
    • 7 likes
  30. Member

    Eridemus (View Comment):
    Is just sheer hatred obscuring their reasoning

    This.

    • #30
    • April 14, 2018 at 4:52 pm
    • 3 likes
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