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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.Published in General
We are the healthiest and wealthiest people the world has ever seen, and there seems no obvious reason why that shouldn’t continue (of course there will be some not-yet-obvious reasons). For a progressive secularist, the world is heading in a pleasing direction: lessened authority of religious institutions, more freedom of self-expression, and technological advances that permit goods to be defined as rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the closest thing to a secular religious document.
As a gay man, I’m reasonably happy that I can wander around without fear of either prosecution or assault. As a thinking being, I’m increasingly concerned that the lack of intellectual heft regarding trends in sexuality and gender is really going to end badly… but I suppose that nor do I want women to be denied opportunities simply because they’re women. I realise this is a reductive binary, but space is finite.
For one who isn’t a progressive secularist, the aforementioned trends are not pleasing. We would prefer an emphasis on verticality as opposed to horizontality, on self-restraint rather than self-expression, on duties rather than rights, on ants rather than grasshoppers, of a society – per impossibile! – in which “no thanks, we can do it on our own” is a virtuous statement.
Something I would like to know, but in which I’m insufficiently versed, is the method by which social cohesion was established and how it unravels. The Western consensus was built, sometimes painfully, over centuries; IF we are delivered unto the hands of new unhappy lords, whose consensus is predicated on a postmodern rejection of those centuries… then we become Canada or California (or Scotland). Which many people would love.
The whole point of Brave New World was that it was a great place to live.
Conservatives must be sorely tempted to hope that these trends end badly, otherwise we won’t be proved right. Is that wicked?
Finally, has anybody else read The Power-House, by John Buchan? The whole premise of the novel is the fragility of modern civilisation.
I should know what EMR stands for, but it’s a workman’s comp thing. Anything less that 1 is good. You multiply your EMR times the standard workman’s comp rate. The lower the better.
This is also why I find the criticism of Trump’s spending by people that are pretty much big government Central planning RINOs tedious. They have no idea how to get the economy going and make it be more fair.
Yep. Can be hard to shoot accurately with on of those things hanging out there, especially in the off-hand (standing) position.
They can’t tax deflation, so eventually you get this. Just reporting.
The other thing is, in my opinion, people actually need welfare and redistribution in this type of system. It’s another thing I don’t get that worked up about in most ways. A flat tax and a non-discretionary central bank would make leftism a thing of the past. In the meantime, Cloward and Piven marches on.
Exactly. That’s why I worship before the altar of Maxwell’s Demon. He may be a false god but at least he’s trying to do something about the situation.
Nietzsche’s domain (switching to serious mode) was morality, not physics*. My take-away is that N. is rewriting Matthew 11:30 to read “My yoke is not so easy, neither is my burden light, for you have to think about what you’re doing. No cookbooking in this lab!”
*although quickly brushing up on eternal recurrence, I see that the concept finds application in both religion and physics. N. offers it as a thought experiment, uttered–interestingly– by a demon.
Is that all?
I have a budget.
Just kidding. I keep thinking of those weekend gun skools that want you to bring a gun, (and preferably a backup gun,) and something like 900 rounds of ammunition, and seeing the news story in my mind: “multiple assault weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were found…”
It may be worth noting that most (~45) muslim states recognized that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights conflicted with sharia law so they came up with the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (AKA: Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam) in which the universal part does not seem to be so universal.
Islam is inherently political like that all the time, no exceptions, per their texts. I can be talked out of that position, but that is my current understanding.
You are understanding correctly. No need to be talked out of it.
God bless Zuhdi Jasser and everyone else that is trying to see it or explain it the other way, but I don’t know if that’s ever going to bear much fruit.
I agree that modern Western society is unsustainable.
I think that the decline of Christian belief is the most important factor. It is understandable, as scientific discoveries and theories challenged a literal interpretation of Genesis. I don’t think that a literal interpretation of Genesis is necessary to Christian belief, but it was widely held, and this conflict created the impression that Christian faith is contrary to reason.
I think that there are other important causes. Economic and technological progress has led to unprecedented prosperity, but this creates a variety of new problems. It also seems to enable the implementation of bad policy, as the catastrophic consequences are delayed as a result of general prosperity.
There have been three major changes affecting the place of men and women in society:
I don’t think that we have any good idea of how to adapt ourselves, and our institutions, to these changes. I don’t think that people are “blank slates,” and we may be biologically adapted to the physical and cultural environment of the last 100,000 or 1 million years (or more). Our environmental constraints have changed radically in the past 100-200 years. Our emotions and motivations may be more hard-wired than many would like to believe, and if so, are unlikely to be easily changeable.
If you believe in evolution, which seems highly plausible to me, then you should expect difficulty in adapting to radically changed circumstances. If you don’t believe in evolution, by the way, you still have the same problem — a human organism with characteristics suitable to life as a hunter-gatherer, or a farmer, but perhaps not to modern times.
I am not as pessimistic as my prior comment might indicate. I think that Christianity, properly understood and implemented, will solve these problems.
I must confess that this is a matter of faith at the present time, as I don’t think that we yet have overwhelming evidence that Christian morality works well in modern circumstances, while the current non-Christian Western philosophy will fail. (The “current non-Christian Western philosophy” seems to be something like moderate Leftism, which doesn’t appear stable to me, as it seems to be getting less moderate all the time.) OK, actually I do think that we have overwhelming evidence that Leftism will fail, at least in general, though perhaps not on the latest issues (such as the homosexuality and transgender stuff, which are so new that it is plausible to argue that the evidence is not yet in). But I’m not empirically certain that the Christian alternative will succeed.
I know, you probably want to know what I mean by “Christianity, properly understood and implemented.” Well, I guess it means just exactly what I think about things! :)
Because, of course, I think that I’m right. So do you, I suspect. This is pretty much tautological. If I know that I am wrong, presumably I will change my mind. I have done so in the past. I don’t think that this amounts to intellectual arrogance, because while I think that I’m right, I’m not sure about it, and I try to be open to correction and new information.