The decline of morality in our society
The concept of morality is somewhat straightforward at its absolute core. It stands for conduct or duties based on what is right and wrong. Morality is considered to be the basis of character and is wrapped around ethics.
Morality is a challenging subject these days. It is not that most people would disagree that society needs some standards of morality, it is rather a problem of agreeing what those standards should be. Even religion is divided and confused on the subject, as is much of secular society. Meanwhile, as debate and discourse continue, moral standards are certainly changing.
What we experience now is…an assault that aims at, and largely accomplishes, sweeping changes across the entire cultural landscape. Large chunks of the moral life of Mauritius, major features of its culture, have disappeared altogether, and more are in the process of extinction. These are being, or have already been, replaced by new modes of conduct, ways of thought, and standards of morality that are unwelcome to many of us.
Moral standards under attack
As moral standards in society have come under attack, there has been a predictable two-pronged reaction. First, those who believe that morality has no fixed basis of validity rejoice as barriers and social taboos are broken down. Second, those who believe that society without clear moral underpinnings will disintegrate are alarmed by discernable trends in this direction. One group sees “progress” while the other sees society in a downhill slide.
I’m making no judgment on this, but the changing pattern of family structures; the shortening of the length of many relationships; the creation of many more step families; the emphasis on parents going out to work and the consequent perception of the reduced value and worth of the full-time parent have all changed the way we behave.
Right or wrong?
In a note to a group of young people, Mark Twain once advised, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
The thought of astonishing people is certainly appealing, yet we need at least a general idea of how to define “right” before we can do it. How do we determine what is right? It’s not as easy as it sounds, despite the fact that there’s a vast field of study devoted to the topic which is described using terms like “ethics”, or “moral philosophy”. However, countless philosophers writing shelves full of books over interminable millennia could hardly improve on the age-old dogma “treat others as you want to be treated.” Albert Schweitzer rephrased it this way: “A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.”
Despite the fact that religion and morality are sometimes treated as interchangeable ideas, moral standards are important whether one believes in a higher power or not. Certain standards of behaviour are necessary to make society work and establish the basis by which human beings can relate to each other safely and comfortably. If ethical lines shift according to whim, others are unable to anticipate our responses or predict our stance on any issue. We all have a strong desire to know where we “stand” in relation to others. Do they care about us? Do we care about them? How do we know whether our relationships can be relied upon? Generally, we know “where we stand” with others based on their treatment of us and their responses to our actions. We have the best relationships with those people we feel certain will react more or less as we expect. Since we know this works both ways, we strive to be reliable as well; to treat others with the same regard and respect that we expect them to extend to us.
The young generation
Why have old values failed to inspire a younger generation? A simple answer would be the observable fruit of such values. As we witness divorce rates, corporate greed, self-serving political leaders, violence, and hatred at all levels of society, the next generation is going to question the values that have produced these results.
Young minds have been taught to question and reject morality based on values with any absolute substance. What is taught in the temple, mosque, church or home eventually finds its way into the political and moral fibre of our society. What is depicted as acceptable on television and in movies eventually becomes the politically correct stance everyone is expected to embrace.
Mankind’s moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one’s hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul.
Because of man’s propensity to always treat the effects instead of addressing the cause, the solution to wavering moral values will continue to prove elusive. Until society comes to a full realisation of the need for a single absolute authority on what is moral and what is immoral (right and wrong), no solution will ever be possible.