“The Dissipation of Moral Energies”
by Paul Rosenberg
“Roughly 98% of us have a deep-rooted connection to morality. Even confirmed criminals routinely say things like, “That ain’t right,” which is purely a moral judgment. However well or poorly we use it, nearly all of us hold morality as a central reference. And this is true across nearly the whole sweep of life. Take a hard look into any workplace and you’ll find that nearly every interaction is tied to some form of moral judgment: “He didn’t treat me with proper courtesy,” “She’s arrogant,” “That’s a man you can respect,” and so on.
Nearly everyone thinks in moral terms: what’s fair, whether or not others keep their word, who has a right to what, and so on. All of these are moral judgments, and they reveal the inherent moral focus of our race. We are morally-focused creatures by nature.
Opposition to Morality: Our present world, however, is an adverse environment for morality. This becomes obvious once we observe two simple facts: The basic statement of morality is known to nearly all of us and has been championed in nearly identical form by more or less every serious moral teacher. People are deeply confused on what is or isn’t moral. If morality is simple and widely known and yet we’re confused; something is intervening.
The basic statement of morality is our Golden Rule of course: What is hateful to you, do to no one else. This was proclaimed by ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Hebrews, and more or less every serious thinker since. And it’s a supremely simple dictum to live by.
Why, then, moral confusion? There are many reasons of course, but all of them stem from a single source: the people and systems that can’t thrive under a simple and clear Golden Rule. Our Golden Rule is built upon self-reference: recognizing what we like or don’t like. It is then extended to others with uncomplicated thinking. The enemies of morality, then, are those who don’t want us to refer to ourselves. And so they demand that we reference outside standards and obey them without self-reference and without thinking. They do this partly with fear and partly with confusion.
The fear-based method of stanching morality is the statement of authority we all know: Obey or we’ll hurt you. The confusion-based method is the belief that our obedience has been ordered by a super-human authority: the god-king, or the god, or the majestic ancients, or the holy will of the people, or nowadays, by our magic-infused democratic processes.
Here are two statements that express this same concept from a different angle:
Government is an entity that does things we’d be condemned for if we did them to our neighbor, and yet it is held to be righteous.
Anyone with a clear enough moral view and sufficient moral energy is (at a minimum) worrisome to rulership.
Dispersion of Moral Energies: What we’ve described above is the simple opposition to morality. Worse in many ways are the less direct methods: things that drain moral energies in ways that are harmless to morality’s opponents. Think of it this way: If what you want requires people not to engage their moral energies, it might be best if you got them to spread their moral energies every which way, so that they didn’t have much left in reserve. Humans have limited amounts of energy after all, and that includes things like willpower and moral energies. Spread them out wildly and there is simply not enough fuel to sustain them. And this is precisely what we’re seeing in our time.
The internal energies of a mainstream, respectable couple, for example, are almost fully directed away from serious moral issues. This couple likely devotes extreme levels of emotion (drawn from the same energy pool as moral energy) to harmless diversions: the environment, their pets, hating one or the other political party, office politics, complaining about all the small moral failures they see, and so on.
All of these are dispersions of moral energy, from which no personal or civilizational improvement results. And once these energies have been expended, little is left over for more productive applications.
The Reverse View: Imagine now that your interests would be threatened if people focused their energies on the Golden Rule. What would you do to ensure your continued prosperity? I think you’d do this:
• Encourage and support anything that would keep people afraid.
• Encourage and support anything that diverts moral energies into harmless paths.
• Encourage and support things that make people surrender their moral energies to blind obedience.
• Undercut the development and application of morality among the masses.
• Subvert whatever purposeful development of morality remains.
And here are examples of each in the modern West:
• Keeping people afraid. News channels broadcasting fear 24/7.
• Political talk shows focusing on the evils of the “other side.”
• Diverting moral energies. Facebook, politics, celebrity gossip, and other trivialities.
• Surrendering to obedience. The ubiquitous and uncritical lauding of democracy.
• Undercutting moral development. The persistent ridicule of Christianity. The perennial hatred toward Christianity’s sibling, Judaism.
• Subverting what remains. The grafting of evangelical Christianity into the military-industrial complex.
This conversation could go on of course, but I think my primary point has been made. My only exhortation is that we should leave this status quo and construct a world that does not drain our moral energies.”
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