Monday 17 December 2018

Modern morality is impossible - so why has it been forced upon us?

Modern morality is often thought of as a deliverance from the harshness of past moral codes. But that’s only because we don’t take it seriously. If we do, then it is absolutely inhuman in its demands, a sprit-crushing, insatiable monstrosity, whether modern morals are taken in their Kantian-personalist or, especially, in their utilitarian form. Can you imagine being required to maximize the total happiness of mankind, never treat anyone as a mere means, or value everyone on Earth’s happiness equally with your own every moment of every day? Every human good would be strangled, and no one could ever be happy again. One begins to appreciate that the legalism and casuistry of pre-modern morality functioned not to burden mankind but to us from the hell of unbounded altruism.

From Bonald at Throne and Altar

This passage hit home - in particular the bit: being required to maximize the total happiness of mankind, never treat anyone as a mere means, or value everyone on Earth’s happiness equally with your own every moment of every day?

What struck me was the realisation that the utilitarian morality - which is simply assumed valid by  all public discourse and by all public policy -  is unknowable by any individual. It converts morality to a branch of statistical 'social science'.

When we are required to live by a morality of consequences; and when these consequences include distal consequences of people we have never seen and know only by report, and when the consequences include futures so remote that that their causal link with our action is a matter of multi-chain reasoning and complex theory - then our morality is necessarily one of plain, uncomprehending obedience to authority. It cannot be anything else.

Because there is not, cannot be, any truly evidential basis for linking my actions with the emotional consequences of everybody in the world into the remote future. So, in practice this morality is something which is asserted by authority - typically either the authority of The System of linked bureaucracies (and their assumptions) or else the authority of the mass media; based on their ability mobilise and direct the attention and emotions of colossal numbers of people.

So we can see exactly why modern morality has been first encouraged and now enforced on Western people by The Establishment - because it makes 'morality' into something decided-upon by the Establishment; and their tame class of 'experts', analysts and 'intellectuals'; and implemented by the tame class of journalists, teachers, and (above all) managers.

But why was modern morality wanted? Why was it so easy for the Establishment to impose this labile and un-predictable, yet totalitarian, moral system we all live-in?

When Bonald speaks of modern morality having been embraced in The West on the basis of its implicit promise of deliverance from the harshness of past moral codes - this in practice boils down to The Sexual Revolution; which removed the prohibition on sex outside marriage and the sanctions enforcing the permanence of marriage.

In sum, the promise was to allow sex without responsibility; to impose a social order that favoured the short term, mainly sexual, preferences of young single people as its priority. Hence the deification of Youth over the past half century, and continuing.

For a short period, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this was indeed the main character of Modern morality; but as we know, one the sixties hippy hedonism (unrestricted free love, drugs, dropping-out etc) had done its work, and won the hearts of the elite youth - then the bait was taken and the incremental 'switch' began; first with feminism.

Instead of being about carefree freedom, no work, euphoric drugs and lots of sex with lots of people;  the new morality turned-out to be a state of perpetual guilt, insecurity, drudgery and despair... A world of people in therapy instead of in communes; on antidepressants and antipsychotics instead of acid and dope; of regressive rap instead of progressive rock; of omni-surveillance and micro-control instead of 'people's democracy'; of Big Business, Big Media, and Big Government instead of Small is Beautiful. 

Yet, very, very few people have learned from the experience, few have noticed the gross mismatch between the promise of the new morality; and what actually got delivered. And most still regard the old Morality - and God - as the root of mass misery (and for utilitarians misery = evil).

This being so - people get what they ask for - which is no God, and the de facto abolition of family responsibilities from most people's lives.

Since this is, by revealed preferences, what Western people want more than anything else; they can hardly complain about the way the world has turned-out. There is always a price to pay - and it is, clearly, a price most modern people prefer, compared with living in accordance with 'traditional' morality.