A recent exchange on an internet forum got me thinking about morality. Of course most conservatives (possibly excluding some neocons and libertarians) would agree that there has been a decline in morality over the past half century. But perhaps it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The fact is that most people today probably believe they are as moral as any previous generation. In fact most people today probably believe they are considerably more moral than any previous generation.
The explanation for these two conflicting viewpoints would seem to be that social conservatives on the one hand and the majority of people today on the other hand mean very different things when they speak, or think, about morality.
Up until the 1960s morality was a more or less universally accepted set of codes for behaviour. These codes were relatively stable and they were generally shared even by people with differing political ideologies or religious beliefs. That’s a generalisation of course but I think it’s basically fairly accurate.
Since the 1960s morality has become a number of widely differing codes of behaviour that change rapidly and sometimes unpredictably. And these codes vary wildly depending on one’s political ideology or religious beliefs.
In fact since the 1960s morality has become to a large extent a matter of fashion. The problem is that most people today are quite unaware that what they believe to be the moral codes now generally accepted by society are merely matters of fashion. And they do not realise just how very dangerous this is. It is dangerous for society, but it is also dangerous for the individual because it means living in a constant of tension. If you have somehow failed to keep up with this year’s model in some area of morality then you can suddenly find yourself quite unknowingly transgressing some rule that you didn’t even now had changed.
For social conservatives the main peril is social disapproval, but social conservatives have become so accustomed to social disapproval that we generally don’t worry too much about it. It’s the liberals one has to feel sorry for. Their entire sense of self-worth is totally bound up with their rigid adherence to the very latest changes in political correctness. One false step is for them social death. It’s no wonder liberals are always angry – they live in a perpetual state of stress.
Of course one could legitimately question whether a morality that changes constantly can truly be described as a morality at all, but that’s another issue.