Saturday, 17 September 2011

America Has Lost Its Moral Compass

According to David Brooks in the New York Times, a lack of moral values - a lack of even a vocabulary to discuss morality - is destroying our country.  My undergraduate students certainly bore out the study that Brooks cites.

When we gave up deontological ethics: (most commonly practiced as “that’s wrong because God says so” which usually meant “that’s wrong because the powered establishment says so” and was frequently hypocritical), we failed to replace it with the superior Platonic/Aristotelian morality.

We do not discuss deontology, consequentialism, teleology and pragmatics in schools because it is “too hard” for the teachers, let alone the students.

The modern seat of this perennial problem is cultural relativism (other cultures are not right or wrong, merely different) and “intercultural communication” which IS taught, and heavily, in schools and universities. Even the great professors in this field (Ed Hall, Bill Gudykunst) had trouble dealing with the moral dilemmas of this approach. (Okay, so what about suttee, female circumcision, capital punishment, apartheid, etc., etc.)

The desire for first integration and later “diversity” (which, again, IS taught) has helped lead us down this path because teachers and students have a tendency to buy whole hog, failing to differentiate what is just different and what is just plain wrong. Primarily this is a reaction to trying to awaken from America’s nightmare of bigotry and partly a reaction to the old morality which also smacked of “that’s wrong because it ain’t the way we do it” or “my god’s better than your god.”

Secondarily, it is a consequence of the Reagan/Thatcher “me generation” – fostered with the best of intentions, to bring us out of the doldrums and back to the self-confidence that arose from winning WWII and the ensuing decades of prosperity.

Losing our moral compass is one reason for the tenacity of reactionary positions in the extreme wings of our political parties: “that’s not only wrong, it’s evil,” they shout at each other from right and the left. Some call it the Talibanization of politics: “anyone who does not agree with me deserves to die.”

Political fundamentalists in America tend to use verbal, rather than physical, terror. And, since politics is now less about service and more about a career, winning has become the driving force, trumping what is right and wrong. Politicians and pundits circulate deliberate lies about their opponents either not knowing or not caring that this increases anomie in our society and makes America a worse place to live. The negativist obsession of the news media then fans the flames.

Okay, sorry to run on –  struck a nerve there.   The real question is “what are we going to do about it?” Sadly, I do not have a clue. We could ask big government to insist that morality and ethics be required classes in schools, but I don’t like our chances of that succeeding. The electorate will blankly ask “why?” and “whose morality?” Even were we to succeed, it would end up like many science, civics and even literature classes in high school: the blind leading the blind.

Having no practical ideas of my own, I content myself with individual action – such as ranting back at people who speak moral and political drivel. To wit, my response to the stupid Jerusalem Post OpED about Israel that Gov. Perry wrote to suck up to the Jewish vote.

I do not so restrict myself because I think it is the right thing to do, but out of despair. There seems no one in any position of leadership with an idea in this field worth supporting. Indeed, I find few in positions of American leadership that I would consider moral men.

You and I may disagree on this, but I think Obama is one. However, he is astoundingly ineffective as a leader and if he does have any ideas in this field, he has kept them well hidden. In that, he is probably wise: culture and history in America dictate that whites like black preachers even less than blacks like white ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment