A reader asked that I address the question of society’s slipping morals. More to the point; how can we improve the overall moral climate in the modern world today?
That’s a daunting task and one that even Jesus did not fully succeed at…so much so, they are requesting an encore from HIM, a second coming, if you will. Given my deep and enduring inherent flaws, I should not even make an attempt. I am likely just to get into trouble. Still, it is an interesting question and one of my foremost flaws is hubris. Forgive me.
One first has to accept that the moral environment is bad and needs fixing. And I think every one currently sees a changing moral climate and definitely SOME of that is bad. But, does changing morals always mean bad? Does the moral climate change for both – good and evil – each time it changes? I think it does.
Secondly, the question assumes that we can change ’em. Given the history of morality (and it is considerable) changing morals comes about from changing circumstances and events, experience and culture. It is rarely a one-person task with again, Jesus and maybe a few others being partial exceptions. I mean, did Ghandi really change morals or just remind us of already established ones? Morals change (like laws and rules) but can we change ’em?
Ya hafta go back……way, way back….to the basic concept of good and evil….and then further back than that to basic human values……and then further back again…..to basic human nature….at the primal level. We are animals first…and that counts. Start at the beginning……
I have nothing to base this on but I’ll say it anyway: I am of the opinion that every animal and especially humans (because we raise our young for around 20 years) are born with some basic, inherent values and then they morph into morals. Call step one instincts if you must.
Of course, we want to survive first so survival is a basic value building block. And, if raised properly, we know that we are pack animals, social in nature, and so survival of the pack is another initial value (from which laws and morals are derived). In fact, we learn that survival of the pack helps the individual to survive so self-interest and empathy result from that. We LEARN empathy but we probably started with survival.
And therein may lie the first insight. Most of our values (from which more latter-constructed morals, rules, laws arise) are inherent, basic and founded first on self interest and survival. Almost any question of morals stems from either an acceptance of that premise or the perceived threat to it.
In today’s terms, for example, take the changed social attitude towards Homosexulaity. Homosexuality has been present in human history forever but it was deemed immoral for most of that time. Why? Aside from our social and cultural programming, homosexuality ‘felt’ like a threat to the species. “Ya can’t make babies that way!” But at this stage in human history, we have enough people (maybe too many). At the very least, the existential threat to the species is reduced. We do not need to worry about that so much. And, lo and behold, we altered our values and morals to embrace all those who are here rather than criticize those NOT joining the Breeders Club. We became more tolerant as the perceived threat to existence receded.
So morals change with circumstance and experience but values are rooted in primal needs.
“And how does that pedantic little lecture translate into fixing what currently ails us?” I don’t know but it seems that focusing on the symptoms is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Mass shooters, aggressive dictators, toxic masculinity, unfair systems, racism, sexism, all the ‘isms’ – wherever they show up…..they are the symptoms. The cause is more basic.
Our immorality, from greed to murder, from drug addiction to pedophilia, from mass shootings to bigotry, likely stems from some perceived and unconscious threat of survival to ourselves or to the pack. In fact, a lot of violent acts of misogyny stem from a group that can’t get laid. How basic is that!!?? These guys are called Incels. We tend to focus on their behaviours and words of hatred and acts of violence but, at the roots of all that is their non-participation in propagating the species. They are lonely first, crazy comes after.
So, if current morality is the ‘fashionable’ expression of basic primal values in differing circumstances, then it stands to reason that we have to first understand what those values are and then make sure more people can participate in achieving them.
Dealing with that from the ‘symptom’ level in misogyny that might ‘look like’ more equality, more acceptance and, presumably, more access to the gene pool.
But, as stated, that solution (simplistic and pathetic as it is) is quite obviously wrong because we are trying to deal with symptoms rather than cause. And we know that because, in the example above, the solution does not work. Access to sex (rubber dolls, movies, porn, prostitution, lax sexual behaviours, perversions and crimes) have all increased and there has been no net benefit to the species as a whole and, in fact, there seems to be more harm being done.
Since forced tolerance and availability has not worked on the sexual side, then maybe forced ‘equality’ and ‘acceptance’ won’t work either. Affirmative action did not work well. In fact, ‘forced’ is the key word in this analysis and, not coincidentally, we have all already learned that when you force others to do something, they just do more of the opposite except passively, underground and behind the scenes.
Damn that Free Will, eh?
Another example: if it seems that survival is paramount, survival of the pack is the means and community and teamwork is just more of the same in more detail, then ‘good’ community building is the way to go. If belonging is important than we should belong!
But so many in modern society are alone, isolated, unsupported and made into ‘others’ they belong to the deplorables! Especially ‘Merican society. And there are so many of those who feel and are rejected that the UK sees that marginalized group so large as to constitute an epidemic! The outlaw gangs, persecuted minorities and even otherwise lonely types who identify with other lonely types (Incels) naturally flock together and, as a result, some alienated communities are built at the expense of others. And the MAGA movement saw those even more numerous rejects, those deplorables, those lonely and isolated and gave them a larger tent in which to find community (of the ugly sort). They even got matching hats! Hell, Trump held rallies for ’em. Hitler held rallies for the then-downtrodden, poor, vilified, post WW1 Germans.
Find a bunch of lonely rejects and ya got yourself a group, gang, church? in the making.
The title ‘Manufacturing Morality’ then, may be an oxymoron. Morality is inherent in our DNA and cannot be manufactured at will. We may be able to influence, sway and change behaviours over time but we cannot manufacture them. In other words, people with natural values will interpret their situations and act accordingly – usually, generally and healthily in much the same way. Manufactured morals (laws, rules, procedures) won’t do much and, in so many cases, achieve the opposite. To get real change, we must always address survivability and the general climate of existence in good, inclusive communities.
Churches used to do that but, the times changed and, with world connectivity, religion came to be seen as a divider rather than a community. And NOW we enter the age of social media…………(more on that next time).
Unh, perhaps I should just stick to boats and whales, dogs and squirrels, and Sally tales? Yesterday, Sal went up the creek to fetch a pail of water…..
Wow, what can I say, you really outdid yourself in this blog. I already “sensed” yesterday that the reactions triggered you in a positive way to get in your pen and produce this magnificent analysis.
You know I love your blogs about whales, dogs, squirrels and Sal, but damn, this peace made my day (and got me thinking….)
Not much to add from my side, you nailed it!
I think, like you said, that community is a key factor, the need to belong.
Maybe we should be more like a pack of wolves. The alfa is chosen (fights his way to the head of the pack), the pack acknowledges him as being the best choice for the survival of the pack….and the best thing is, if they travel with the pack, the leader is at the back, supervising if all members of the pack are taken care of and that no one stays behind. But where to find such a leader?
What a wonderful thinking read. I’m going to send a link to my Mom, a retired minister. She’ll love this and maybe base one of her occasional sermons on some of your eye opening points.
Looking forward to part 2.
Thanks, Nick. Nice of you to write. Appreciated. AND it is encouraging.
Well, in my opinion, real leaders are not found or groomed until they are first called. And, when they are called it is in answer to a general call in their community and they may or may not even be the first to respond to it. But respond they soon do and they usually respond by stepping up to address the hardest task. Real leaders actually LEAD-by-doing. They do NOT look behind them to see who is following. They are not culled, groomed and chosen by cliques of insiders. They are unselfish contributors to society and their styles are as different as the challenges they face. I recently sat on a board and there was one, overweight, old, lame woman on the board that did all the work. After a year, despite having two Alpha males and a couple of professionals in the field on the board, it was clear that Betty was the actual leader. Lead-by-doing and do not look for followers. Just get ‘er done even if it turns out only one or none come to help!
I agree only partially. Basically, you are right. But let’s go back to WWII….General Patton was as real a leader as there can be. He was a real Alpha, dominant, even a bully. But he was a leader, ahead of his troops, charging and inspiring his men to go beyond their limits for the greater good and liberation. But would he be a good leader and be able to lead when the fight was over? I doubt it, because he lacked a lot of skills that a true leader also needs, like empathy. Now in that sense, I think Eisenhower was a better example of a true leader. He also stepped up, lead by example, BUT he also had the skills to lead after the fight was over. So I think a good society needs both type of leaders ideally. I don’t know if you ever saw Band of Brothers? At a certain point, Easy Company is taken over by another lieutenant, who fails miserably when leading the company in an attack ; Winters, then a captain, is in the rear with his staff and colonel overseeing the combat. He sees what’s happening with his company, and his first reaction is to charge forward and take over the attack. Good reaction for a true leader, BUT he is called back by his superior, because how can you lead when your head is blown off? So just saying that a good leader also should look back from time to time to see if the pack is still following….
Perhaps. And I see your point. But I would counter with military leaders ‘earn’ their way up a hierarchy. And hierarchies work. But they work better when the ‘leader’ leads from the front. They would still be considered leaders (so-called) if they stayed back and gave direction over the radio because of their rank. Also, everyone out there in a war situation has already committed to the mission. They committed when they enrolled.
I am describing ‘leading from nothing’. Starting. How does a single person make a difference? A problem or challenge arises and a community member steps up – that’s how.
The question was: how do we get people to improve morals and build community. In the beginning there is little commitment to community and someone decides to do something about it. By doing something, especially something effective, they lead. But, such analysis is a work-in-progress and maybe there is an argument for top-down leadership even in a community. It is just that, in such cases, meetings are held to first choose a leader and I cannot stand meetings.