Monday, March 21, 2011

Slippery Slopes and Moral Lines

I wasn't going to comment on this because I generally don't comment on sports, sports related stuff, or things that are more than adequately covered in the normal news outlets. But for some reason it was notable enough that it got international news coverage (yes, there was an article on the BBC about this). The event that was so notable that even the British news services felt compelled to cover it. So what was this international news worthy event? BYU enforced its honor code.

In the middle of the run up to the NCAA Basketball tournament, BYU suspended it's center starter because of an honor code violation. While I will not comment on what the player did, I will comment on the reaction to what happened. Some of the reactions were positive, some were negative, but most (almost all) were shocked. The most shocking part, and the part that got BYU international news coverage, was that BYU would even have such an honor code, and would enforce it, especially when it involved a star player right before the big play-off. Perhaps what was so interesting about the reaction was not that so many people were shocked that BYU set such high standards, but that they had set any standard. That is, they were shocked not by the "extreme" or "restrictive" honor code, but that BYU had a firm "line in the sand" that they would not cross. For them the firm moral line was more of a shock than where the line was drawn.

The very fact that so many news organizations, all over the US and even in Britain, covered the story demonstrates that they consider what happened to be odd, or out of the ordinary, meaning it was news worthy. Effectively the titles of the news articles could have been, "BYU has firm moral values" or "BYU uncompromising in its morals" and it would have gotten the same response. Thus the fact that someone had and held a firm moral line was news worthy indicates that it is not "normal" or "common" to have a firm moral standard. So if there is not a firm moral standard, then the next obvious question is, what kind of moral standard do we have?

First, because there is no firm moral standard in our society (there may be one for individual groups or organizations, but not in general) that indicates that our historical moral standard is in flux. Because it is changing no one really knows where to "draw the line" or even if a line should be drawn. Some say that there should be no line because the mere existence of a moral line in the past caused "hurt feelings", "heartache" or other problems (according to them) such as stifling creativity, identity or expression. The end result in this is that there is no moral line that society in general will not cross. There are many individuals, organizations and churches that maintain their moral lines, but society in general has not yet established an equilibrium where any type of moral line is drawn.

Probably the only moral imperative operative in Western Society right now is the idea that there should be no moral line imposed by anyone other than the individual (and even then that is subject to ridicule).

So does this mean that our society is currently wallowing in a sea of amoral actions and is one or two years from total societal collapse? No. Just because there is no current moral line in society does not mean that no one has personal moral lines, or that we will quickly descend into an amoral hell, but right now society in general is in a kind of moral free fall. Because there is no societal moral lines there is nothing to prevent society in general from moving into more and more immoral actions. The point is, because society in general does not draw a line anywhere in particular does not mean that anything and everything is allowed, but that there is no societal pressure that would eventually prevent those things from becoming standard and acceptable.

One of the common accusations against same sex marriage is that if it is allowed then what is there to stop polygamy, polyamory or any else which is currently disallowed by society in general. To which supporters of SSM respond, "That will never happen." Well unfortunately the same thing that currently makes their situation possible will not prevent those other things from becoming "acceptable" by society. It is very hard to begin drawing moral lines and preventing things from happening when there have been no moral lines drawn by society since the 1960's. We have yet to reach the bottom of our current free fall into the abyss of immorality. The question is when, or if, society will begin again to draw moral lines. Some attempts at drawing moral lines have already been made (i.e. with hate speech legislation, and other things) but because of the immense societal momentum it is hard to begin drawing lines now. Society has already gone down the slippery slope and some are desperately trying to catch onto anything to prevent a further decent into immorality.

Unfortunately whenever anyone tries to impose a moral line they are frequently met with the accusation, "If you start imposing your morality (i.e. any morality) then that is just a slippery slope into an overly restrictive and suffocating society without joy, happiness, puppies, butterflies, rainbows and ponies." It is rather ironic that while society is sliding down its slippery slope those who wish to apply the breaks and prevent our decent into a cesspool of immorality are accused of themselves going down a slippery slope. They fail to see that there can only be a moral slippery slope when there is no well defined boundary or moral line that should not be crossed, which is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves.

Lately I have been hearing a lot of talk about how the current trend in society is "inevitable", as if the current trend were self-evident and was the obvious result of the natural human interactions called history. Well unfortunately the view that it is inevitable will only hold until Western Society begins to draw a moral line again, at which point they will need to justify the moral lines they are drawing, which means they will again have to build a systematic morality (something that has been noticeably lacking in our society for the last 75-100 years or so, connection? hmmm....). But with a systematic morality comes the conclusion that societal trends are not "inevitable" because one of the hallmarks of a systematic morality is the idea that some things are not allowed, not because we can't do them, or not because we don't have the inclination, but because we should not do them. This removes the feeling of inevitability that comes with no fixed moral code. Thus things are only inevitable if there is not fixed moral code. If there is a moral code, then that will "prevent the inevitable" slide into immoral behavior, which is the whole point of having a moral code.

So the question is, when will our society begin to draw moral lines and begin to build a systematic morality? I don't know.

There are indications that this may be happening. There is an ever so slight shift in our society that might result in the moral lines being drawn somewhere (as opposed to nowhere as it currently stands). But as to the state of our society when those moral lines are finally drawn? I don't know. I guess we will have to see where we end up. We will just have to wait until we hit the bottom of the slippery slide.

The next question is, what do we do when we finally stop our decent? And more importantly, how do we build back up to the moral society that we were before (if not better)? Well if I knew the answer to that then I would be a wise man, and I probably wouldn't be writing a blog about this. But my guess is we would have to begin again, and follow a similar path to what as done before. That is, look at what led up the introduction of systematic moral systems through out history and see what allowed for that to happen. It is possible, it just has to be done deliberately, and it will take time. I am willing to help work for a moral society, and I invite you to do so as well.

1 comment:

Spenceanna said...

a very interesting commentary with many discussion points. It's interesting to see how societies use "moral codes" in their own interests. Nazi Germany. Salem, MA. Obama attacking Libya (which I support).

BYU represents what hopefully we all are, a peculiar people, set apart by our morals. yet another great missionary tool.