In the thread Message 275 Scottness asserts the following:
In a world where we currently are growing more immoral, the temptation for some to use science to rationalize their behavior is becoming systemic.
I keep seeing this assertion in various threads but completely disagree with this casual and unsubstantiated observation. While morality is quite subjective and difficult to define, I would like to point out that by any measurable quality one may call moral that we are growing more, not less, moral over time.
For example, women, which last I saw made up roughly 50% of the population had no rights 1000 years ago in virtually all parts of the world, and the vast majority of men, unless they happened to be high ranking among royal or religious circles likewise had few if any rights. Today in industrialized nations, women and men are accorded some inalienable rights. While there are still some nations that hold women are the property of their fathers or husbands, I would venture to say that 1000 years ago that was true of all major nations on the planet. As a specific example, women in China are no longer expected to bind their feet and in India are no longer expected to immolate themselves upon the funeral pyre of their husbands.
For another example, slavery is illegal in nearly every nation today which was not the case 1000 years ago. Even just 200 years ago slavery was accorded to large numbers of people based upon place of origin, be it the Americas or Africa. Estimates of deaths due solely to Cross-Atlantic transportation in the African slave trade vary from 20 to 100 million.
Entertainment in the modern world may be vacuous, but it rarely results in the death of the participants. This can hardly be said of the Roman Colisseum or in the case of the Aztec ritual sacrifice.
Science, however despised it may be by some members of this forum, has saved billions from starvation and disease just in the last century. This would not have been possible under past monopolies of power exercised by the team of castle and church.
Even warfare and genocide, while consuming vast numbers of people under Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, is less a threat overall today than in the past if one takes into account the percentage of the world’s population, rather than the raw number of people actually killed. For those unfamiliar with history, this is particularly true in the case of the Thirty Year War between Protestants and Catholics which is believed to have reduced the population of Germany in half, or in the depredations of Atila, Gengis Khan, or of colonialism. In the case of the latter, the Congo saw its population halved under the stewardship of Belgium’s Leopold II, and the Americas saw the reduction of the indigenous population by war and disease to less than 10% its former number.
So at least under the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” as a measure, it is difficult for me to see how the world is becoming less moral. For anyone who disagrees, please provide actual historical evidence of this purported decline of morality.
I think that the issue here is that almost every time you hear "morality is going to hell in a handbasket" from folks, those folks are using a rather constrained definition of "morality." That definition is "what people other than I do with their penises or vaginas." They never seem to relate "morality" to the rather startling advances in people Treating Each Other Better that have come about even in my lifetime. Odd, isn't it.
And if I dug around a bit, I could find "immorality" quotes from 1922 that are almost verbatim what is said here in 2006. Was it Cole Porter that wrote, "In days of old a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking! but Heaven knows, now anything goes!"
I am reminded of a philosophy class session where a rather fundamentalist student declared that society was becoming less and less moral and that we needed to follow the examples of ancient people. My professor, which happened to be a hebrew scholar, just looked at him for a few seconds and then took out the christian bible and started citing examples of rape, murder, genocide, etc. At the end of the class, he just told the student that to our standards the people in ancient times were savages and that he couldn't understand why people keep referring to them as morally superior.George Absolutely Stupid Bush the Younger
Our ability to kill each other in ever increasing numbers, increased sexual freedom and increased religious freedom (i.e.the right to be Godless) are the main areas that those who proclaim the decline of morality are usually referring to.
The first is an unfortuante side effect of the same technological advancement that (as you state) has benefitted billions.
The other two are either dramatic (and indeed necessary) improvements in the way we interract with each other on a global scale or are the beginnings of the end of civilisation. Depending on your point of view.
It often seems to me that those who are most eager to impose their morality on others in the areas of sexual and religious freedom are the same people who are most keen to dismiss "thou shalt not kill" by supporting mass killing through wars and capital punishment.
With the economy based on modern industrial capitalism, we see a number of phenomena:
One is that the family now becomes unnecessary. In the good old days, the family was the basic unit of economic production; life centered on the homestead, all members of the family contributed to the production on the homestead. Now the adults have separate jobs outside the home, children have no production value (and, in fact, are a drain on resources), pensions take the place of the children's care of the old folk, and children are also educated outside the home, and most if not all recreational activities take place outside the home. Also, most recreation are individual activities, or the members of the family engage in recreational activities with people outside the family.
The second thing is that the mode of living in an industrial capitalist society are very different than in the more agricultural/small town societies of yore. That means that people had to cope by finding new ways of surviving in the society, which means that mores had to change with the times. Furthermore, with its emphasis on personal advancement and person consumption, industrial capitalism is based on an ethic of self-centeredness.
I find it ironic that the greatest defenders of "traditional morality" are also the greatest advocates of an economic system that will and has destroyed "traditional morality".
Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied. -- Otto von Bismarck
Anglagard, in considering a response I have become drained and overwhelmed. A huge theme indeed!
As you said, 'While morality is quite subjective and difficult to define...'.
You really nailed it there, and I am simply incapacitated to bring evidence to bear for my assertion in the manner you ask for.
You've explained yourself well, and defended against my assertion in a manner that is almost unanswerable. We have so many things at work here. It really touches on the heart of things.
I think that in some respects we are more moral as you suggest. But we too often attribute that to ourselves. In otherwords, we may have a stable genetic makeup emotionally and a functional family inwhich we grew up. But does that make us moral or selfrighteous?
Add to that the ebb and flow of morality in general over history, and you make your point, but without addressing the end result.
So, the best way I think for me to defend my assertion that we are becoming more immoral in the West at the present time is to give this illustration:
The scene in 'The Passion of the Christ' (not Biblical but added conversation in the film to make this very point.) I'll do my best to paraphrase the conversation between Pilot and his wife Claudia.
Pilot asks, 'Do you hear the truth when it is spoken Claudia?'
'Yes', she replies. And with a disturbed look on her face, she asks her husband, 'Don't you?'
Pilot says, 'Tell me Claudia. Tell me how to hear it.'
She looks very empathetic and says, (and this is the least accurate paraphrase from my memory of the film) 'No one can tell you what it is if you will not hear it.'