Sunday, December 6, 2009

Moral Discipline

A few months ago I wrote a post about research done by a Dr. Dan Ariely. Part of the work done by Dr. Ariely showed that people tended to be more honest when they were reminded of their moral code (even if it was a nonexistent moral code). In my previous post I concluded that "In the absence of a moral code, or a consistent moral code, it would seem that the only way to keep most people honest would be through active regulation of their actions."

About a month after writing that post I watched a talk given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The talk was entitled Moral Discipline and I found it very interesting because he spoke on almost the exact same topic that I had covered, but with more insight and more advice as to what to do about the problem. Here are some excerpts from the talk that I found very interesting.

"The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16).

As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. …

“Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”2

In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention.3 There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “We would not accept the yoke of Christ; so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar.”4

In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues.5"

Essentially the argument is that as societies fail to maintain and encourage moral codes the only other alternative to maintain a civil society is to increase the number and enforcement of laws, or as Elder Christofferson put it, "The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments." It is with these ideas in mind that I look at societies like those in France or Greece and find it odd that they accept or (as in the case of Greece) actively encourage protest and violent protest as a legitimate means of expressing political frustrations, and then they complain about living in a "police state". In my own experience with places where I have lived, the places where protest was not the first resort of political expression have tended to be more peaceful and less prone to be characterized as having a "police state" mentality. But in places (such as Argentina) were protest and violent protest was a societal tradition the people tended to complain more of government oppression and viewed police and other government forces as adversaries rather than protectors.

What I have learned from observing these different societies is that if people want peace then there needs to be more moral discipline and less unbounded personal freedom. More responsibility and less entitlement. More reminding and less enforcement. Only then can we be free.


Cartesian said...

With protests the problem is that it can be good with moral people but there are a lot of abuses (like violence) by immoral people what make it bad sometimes ; that is why association with some bad people is difficult.

Otherwise :
“One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior.”
It makes me think about some things of J.-J. Rousseau :

Here are some excerpts from “Julie” by J-J Rousseau (Second part, letter 21) which was written during the eighteenth century :

About the women from Paris : “They have seen that an uncovered throat is a scandal in public ; they have widely low-cut their body…This charming modesty which, honors and makes more attractive the feminine persons like you, did seem vile and not noble to them ; they have animated their gesture and their words by a noble impudence ; and there is not any honest man to who their confident look do not make the eyes go down. This is thus that stopping to be women, by fear to be confused with the other women they prefer their rank to their femininity, and imitate prostitutes, in order not to be imitated.”
“The natural happiness to the nation, nor the desire to imitate the great airs, are not the only causes of this liberty of words and of carriage that it is possible to remark here with the women. It seems to have a deeper cause in morals, by the indiscreet and continual mixing of males and females, which makes acquire to both the air, the language and the manners of the other.”
“Adultery is not revolting here, one do not find anything against decency about it : the most decent novels, those that everybody reads in order to learn are full of it ; and disorder cannot be blamed any more as soon as it is joined to infidelity… It looks like that wedding is not at Paris of the same nature as anywhere else. This is a sacrament, they pretend, and this sacrament does not have the strength of the lesser civil contracts ; it seems to be only the agreement of two free persons who agree to stay together, to have the same surname, to recognize the same children, but who have, moreover not any kind of right one about the other ; and a husband who takes it into his head to control here the behavior of his wife should not excite less murmurs than the one who could stand the disorder of his one where we live. The women, on their side, do not use any rigor toward their husbands and one cannot still see that they ask to punish them because they imitate their infidelity.”
“A quite common remark, which seems to be dependent on the women, is that they do everything in this country, and then more harm than good ; but what justifies them is that they do the harm pushed by the men, and the good by their own action.”
“They are less indiscreet, causing less worries than in our country, less perhaps than anywhere else. They are more learned, and their judgment profits in a better way from their instruction.”

But I am not sure that we can make more remarks to the Parisian women than to some others actually, on the top of that Rousseau did write that this did seem to spread at this time. Anyway what seems clear is that we cannot blame the USA for what appears in this text.

Cartesian said...

Here are some excerpts of “Emile” by J.-J. Rousseau :

“ All the faculties common to men and women are not equally shared among them, but taken as a whole they do compensate ; woman is better as woman and worse as man ; any time that she asserts her rights she has the advantage ; any time she wants to usurp ours she stays below us. One can answer to this general truth only by some exceptions ; constant way to argue of the gallant supporters of women.” (See book 5)

Women did not have the liberty to be intelligent ?

“Also Miss de l’Enclos did pass as a prodigy.” (See book 5)

We can find in the commentaries by Pierre Burgelin of the French “Folio essais” 2002 edition :
Ninon de Lenclos (or de l’Enclos) (1620-1705) is staying an exception in the fact that the liberty of her morals and her absence of modesty do not deprive her of some other virtues, which are rather male ones. “The famous Ninon de Lenclos, loose lover, sure friend, honest man and philosopher (as so-called), …” (Duclos, Confessions du comte de ***)
Also it is possible to read that the role of the women in literature is an important feature of morals (they were some important referees for censorship, see book 4). They did have a great place, particularly in the novel style, for example Mrs de Tencin, Mrs de Grafigny, Mrs Riccoboni, in order to quote the most famous.

But there was also Mrs Lambert or Emilie du Châtelet (on the scientific side).