Saturday, July 14, 2007

Declining Morals = Declining Societies?

The world is full of people who feel the morals of their society are in decline. This has always been so. I recall reading writings from ancient Egypt, from ancient Rome, and from ancient China all lamenting declining morals. And that's to say nothing of the ancient Jews -- who were perhaps the most lamenting of the ancient lamentors.

In some cases, such as that of ancient Rome, the society held together for 500 years after the author of the lament predicted its immanent doom. In other cases, such as that of ancient China, the society that was lamented about was on the very verge of blooming into a fabulous civilization. Those who lament the declining morals of their society don't have a good track record when it comes to predicting the demise of their society. But why is that?

Perhaps one reason might be that morals have very little to do with the rise and fall of societies. Another way of saying the same thing: There seem to be factors of greater importance than the morality of a society when it comes to determining whether a society will flourish. Economics, for one thing.

Beyond that, there's the problem that some morals might be in decline while others are on the rise. According to some studies, Americans are growing increasingly tolerant of lying. Yet those same Americans are increasingly intolerant of police brutality, racism, sexism, homophobia, child neglect, and so forth. So, overall, some morals in America are on the decline while others are on the rise. If we want to say the morals which are on the decline are more important to society's health than the morals which are on the rise, then we have to prove it.

I strongly suspect one reason people zero in on morality when discussing the rise and fall of civilizations is that just about everyone feels comfortable discussing morality. About anyone can think of themselves as expert in it. Nearly every real factor involved in the rise and fall of civilizations requires a sound education to understand. Morality doesn't. At least it doesn't require much of an education to pronounce, like James Dobson, that homosexual marriages will lead to the destruction of the family, and with the family, society. You can pass yourself off as wise, at least to fools, when saying stuff like that. Not so when talking about agricultural productivity and other factors which are most likely more important than morality here.

Someday, the lamentors will be right and our society will be in decline. Maybe that day has already come. But if it has, then it's come for reasons other than any perceived declined in societal morals.

1 comment:

Mystic Wing said...

All societies decline, eventually, and new ones emerge. There is nothing tragic about this, any more than there is tragedy to the fact the day gives way to night.

The main reason there is nothing tragic about this is that there is nothing less real than a "society." As Kurt Vonnegut noted, there is no club less meaningful than that of "nation."

In the end, how we define our "society" is nothing more than a projection of inner nature, and its there that our focus should be aimed.