Saturday, October 27, 2012

How Modern Morality Leads to Tyranny (Part 1 of 2)

Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church.

—GK Chesterton

As we see our civil rights in America eroded, some people have speculated on the cause.  Things like "Obama is a secret Muslim" or "Obama is a secret Communist" for example.  We hear similar things about media conspiracies.  The basic premise is that the reason our freedoms are declining because of some special efforts by some groups to bring down the country.

I think these things are distractions.  We don't need to bring conspiracies into the equation at all.  What we actually seem to have is that a certain influential group of the American population tend to think in a similar way and, when they receive political power, approach lawmaking in the same way they approach moral obligations.

In other words, we don't have a secret cabal of People against Goodness and Normality.  We have people who have bought into certain errors as a way of thinking and are making that thinking into the law of the land.  It has six steps.  Three which are concerned with individual morality and three in which the individual steps are made law.

Looking at the First Three Steps

These first three steps are the framework, reflecting on how certain individuals view morality and how such individuals view challenges to their moral views.  Such persons reject the idea that there are moral absolutes that may not ever be transgressed when it comes to such rules requiring them to restrict their behavior.

The First Step: Reducing Morality to Not Harming Others

The basic form of this modern morality is the concept that anything that does not harm others is permissible.  Thus drug use that is not harming others is permissible.  Fornication is permissible.  Also, the emphasis on harming others is important.  Under this view, we can be self-destructive so long as this destruction does not harm others.

We can see the roots for this kind of thinking in Utilitarianism.  John Stuart Mill describes the basic view as:

the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who, in their opportunities of experience, to which must be added their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison.

If it causes happiness, it is good.  If it causes unhappiness it is not good.  However, we do see a early warning sign here.  The standards of distinguishing good and harm is arbitrary, and as society has moved forward in time have become more individualistic.  The individual is expected to decide for himself or herself what amount of pain is acceptable in the pursuit of pleasure.  The "habits of self-consciousness and self-observation" are replaced by the slogan, "If it feels good, do it."

The problem with this view of morality is it is too short sighted.  It focuses on the pleasure of the moment and ignores how long term effects of these behaviors can be harmful. 

For example, the loose sexual morality requires contraception to avoid pregnancies.  However, the laws of averages means eventually there will be unexpected pregnancies, and the demand for abortions.  Therefore abortion becomes classified under the category of "anything that does not harm others is permissible."  It's considered a minor inconvenience which should be legalized to remove consequences from sexual behavior as a pleasure.

But abortion does harm.  The obvious harm to another comes from the fact that the unborn child is a person.  Prior to Roe v. Wade, this was pretty much accepted as fact.  Only after the Supreme Court ruling do we see medical textbooks stop talking about this.  Moreover, in modern times, it is recognized that abortions cause mental and emotional harm to the mother who has an abortion.  But since this harm challenges the basic premise of modern morality, it has to be somehow removed from consideration.  This brings us to our second step

The Second Step: Denying the Harm Exists and Explaining It Away

The response of the modern morality is to either deny the harm exists or explain it away as less than the action defended.  Often it tries to argue both, leading one to ask, "Well, which is it?"  Either the harm exists or it does not.  If it does, it has to be acknowledged and dealt with.  If it doesn't, then why try to explain it away?

So we see people facing an unexpected pregnancy, denying the unborn child is a person; denying that such mental harm to the mother exists or explaining the harm away in the name of "a woman's right to choose."  But if the unborn child is a person, then the "woman's right to choose" is causing harm to others and cannot be permitted under modern morality.  So they have to deny that the unborn child is a person while also saying that whether or not the unborn child is a person, it doesn't outrank the "freedom of choice."

The danger is, this modern view of morality focuses on what the individual thinks, as opposed to what is true. So if the person decides they should not worry about the harm caused to another, they are deciding for themselves whether the harm done to another has any meaning.  As we will see later, when people with this mindset receive political power, their self-focused determination on whether those harmed have value or not will impact the laws they pass.

The Third Step: Shooting the Messenger

In a reasoned discussion, people would attempt to objectively consider the issues and attempt to discover the reality.  Behavior would then be changed in order to live in accordance to what is true.  Unfortunately, in modern times we do not see this.  It is one of the greatest ironies that people who claim that beliefs in objective morality and absolute truth are labeled "irrational" and "illogical" when the response to people who challenge modern morality is to verbally attack them and make no attempt at refutation.

The denial and explaining away can be (and often is) challenged by rational argument, but people don't like to be shown to be in the wrong, and this leads to the third step: Hostility to those who point out the modern morality is causing harm to people. 

When it is pointed out that certain behaviors are NOT morally permissible and DO cause harm, there are no attempts at a reasoned refutation.  What we have instead is a lashing out at those who point out the behavior is harmful.

It works this way: People standing up for absolute morality creates a challenge that puts the follower of modern morality into a dilemma.  If what challengers say is true then it indicts the act as wrong and the person who performs the act must choose between renouncing the act or continue the act, knowing it is wrong. 

Very few people deliberately want to be evil-doers in the sense of the character Aaron in the Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus who dies regretting he had not done more evil.  Rather, many people are inordinately attached to certain behaviors and are unwilling to give them up.  They also don't want to be in the wrong in not giving them up.

So the defense mechanism begins.  But since the justification for modern morality is the individual decides that the act doesn't harm anyone in a way the individual considers important, they cannot defend their position as being right.  So what often happens is to avoid being wrong, they seek to denigrate their challengers, trying to portray them as being in the wrong.

This is why we see so many ad hominem attacks: "War on women."  "Homophobic."  "Judgmental."  These attacks make no legitimate claim against the truth of the defender of absolute morality.  It merely attacks the person who challenges this form of thinking.  It is as if they think if they can discredit the messenger, they can justify ignoring the message.

It's a sort of begging the question.

  1. If they were good people they would agree with [X]
  2. They don't agree with [X]
  3. Therefore they're not good people
  4. Why does not agreeing with [X] make them bad people?
  5. Because [X] is good.

[X] is the issue being disputed whether it is good or not, so to argue that people are not good if they do not agree with [X] merely assumes what has to be proven.

Once we get to the point where a person being good or not depends on whether he accepts the position of modern morality, it becomes easier to label the person who challenges modern morality as people who don't matter.  Once that label is bestowed, it will have relevance in a society which adapts the modern morality to law.


Now the first three steps are individually focused, but when numbers of individuals who share the same view group together, we can see political influence grow from them.  Voters who hold these views are going to tend towards supporting candidates that share their views ,or at least favor leniency towards the behaviors.  Members of the media who share these views are going to report things in terms of promoting the modern morality and denigrating the concept of moral absolutes.  Politicians who hold these views are going to pass laws which reflect these views of morality.

The next article will take a look at how we go from this individualistic view of morality to what happens when we elect people who hold to this view of morality.

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