How many varieties of certain things is enough? We humans have been trying to perfect the chicken sandwich since the dawn of time. Why? Why do we need so many different kinds of dish soaps of varying strengths? I’ll just take the strongest stuff you got, thankyouverymuch. Is it really possible for my shampoo to be formulated to treat my specific hairstyle?
Technology has evolved so much over the years. How much of it is realistically indispensable is debatable. Computers, while not a necessity, have certainly made things a lot easier and computer technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, which is fine. But is there actually such a thing as a perfect or even a better toothbrush than the one we already have? Imagine if we put as much energy into developing our individual and societal moral structure as we do into consumer culture.
It stands to reason that eventually certain things reach a sort of stasis where they can no longer be improved upon. Unfortunately, human emotion and logic have not yet reached this point, but you would hardly know it judging by the way we act. Cognitive dissonance is a frighteningly common part of everyday life nowadays. Hypocrisy finds its way into every corner of our culture. It’s amazing how far tangibles in our culture – the actual products of our existence – have come. It is likewise alarming how little progress our sense of morality has evolved.
If only we were inclined to put so much thought into our actions as we put into developing our cultural byproducts. Recent – ahem – “political” events have further polarized a nation of ideologues. It is clear that opinions vary widely on issues of morality, as evidenced by the oft-cited and just as oft-denied culture war that is currently being waged (or not waged, depending on who you ask), not just in the U.S. but worldwide as well.
I’ve been reading a lot of literature referencing Aristotle's great work Nicomachean Ethics and it occurs to me that the great minds of the past spent much of their lives pondering what is and is not ethical and furthermore, what set of ethics constitutes a virtuous person. Nowadays, many of our leaders rarely question their own morals, as it is a given that the best ethical position is whatever an individual decides it is. This individualistic approach is a sort of stopgap solution to the exploration of a universal set of moral principles and, consequently, it makes the search for such a system even more difficult. Furthermore, our political leaders have a habit of anointing themselves as our appointed moral guides. Thusly, it is arrogantly presumed that our elected officials’ view of morality is somehow superior to that of the common Joe Sixpack.
Morality has become idiomatic; we blame our differences with other cultures on cultural relativism, instead of a lack of focus on moral development, both in our society and theirs and, most importantly, between the two. It is the dogmatic adherence to the notion of cultural relativism that prevents any two cultures from a working system of shared beliefs, especially in the newly emerging climate of the global village. We rarely challenge ourselves to step outside of our own dogma and try to reach a middle ground with these other cultures, instead of further alienating each other as cultural relativism has a tendency to do. Sadly, few of us view ourselves as citizens of the world, or few of us act like we do.
Throughout the world, morality is for the most part influenced by religion. The degree to which people ascribe to the ethical framework of a given religion varies. Here in America, it appears that there is a current trend towards divine command theory, which states that a person’s choices are virtuous as long as they are in accord with whatever their religion dictates. Ironically, the same can be said for Islamic theocracies, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia which are in many ways the antithesis to Protestant morality. The problem is that these established moral systems, such as divine command theory, are ill-equipped to deal with newly emerging questions of morality, especially in the context of the so-called cultural boiling-pot of the global village. Much of what prevents our culture from fully integrating into a symbiotically moralistic society is a failure to remain flexible in regard to differing opinions. For example, many immigrants move to this country and choose to take on whatever qualities they see fit, instead of fully assimilating into the mass culture of the society, which is their privilege as American citizens. This diversity, while providing for a wide range of ethical stances on an even wider range of topics, is hardly problematic until it is compared to the social value systems already in place via the short history of American cultural practices.
Most of us, however, extrapolate what we consider to be rational and righteous from many different sources, including, but not limited to religion, family and social networks. We then implement these qualities into a varying and ever-changing set of values, as opposed to wholesale adherence to a previously established ethical paradigm. The most important element of a diverse moral system, then, is the ability to adapt and evolve as culture dictates. The evolution of morals is not universal and it is the failure to evolve that is so striking when compared to the other progresses we have made throughout our existence.
Certainly any evolving system of morals necessitates periodic debate. Unfortunately, it seems that the only current forum for debate is when there happens to be a “hot button” issue in the media. Instead of using such issues as a chance to introspectively explore our own personal ethical position, many of us seize the opportunity for the purpose of political soap-boxing in an effort to passive-aggressively impose our beliefs onto others, or promote some sort of ideology irrelevant to the matter at hand. Ethical questions are all too often employed in a negative context in an effort to further some political cause.
How many of us actively seek out moral theory? How many of us consciously try to nurture and further develop our ethical preferences? Perhaps instead of trying to impose our beliefs onto others, it would be wise to sit down and actually decide what it is that we believe is right and whether or not these beliefs are consistent with our other beliefs. One wouldn’t want to contradict oneself when engaging in a battle of morality.
The question we are left to ask, then, is this: How can so many elements of a society become so advanced, while other, more important elements are so shockingly underdeveloped? If we put as much effort into developing our moral fiber as we did into making a more tasty Fruit-Roll up, maybe we would be getting somewhere.