Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Truth or Consequences

A subject futurists almost never mention is that some features of the future are indeed predictable with certainty. Two are famous: death and taxes. There is a tiny minority who think that death itself may be an endangered species if we but put our trust in Science—something sure to please those people who sniff insulin to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Tea party enthusiasts, a little more numerous than the would-be life-extenders, also hope that taxes will someday also be forgotten—but they will surely die before that glorious day dawns. Unmentioned is human nature which, as sure as I am sitting here, will deliver at least as much trouble in the so well predicted future—beyond Alvin Toffler’s Third Wave, beyond Daniel Bell’s Post Industrial Society, beyond Francis Fukuyama’s Last Man.

The futurists intend to prepare us for the future, but their emphasis is on big things rather than basic, vast societal transformations the individual influences about like ants shape continents. What they emphasize is foresight and adaptation rather than the practice of morality. But such practice, as it happens, is the most practical approach to the future’s uncertainties. Therefore, at least alongside warnings and cautions about foreseeable changes, futurists should urge the effective teaching of morality as Job 1.

(Here parenthetically I would remind the bristling reader that the word ethics would work as well. We associate morality with sex here in the West, and sexual morality reeks of political incorrectness. Ethics sounds less threatening. Both words, alas, derive from the overlaid Greek or Latin root meaning custom.)

This thought arose from yesterday’s contemplation (on LaMarotte) of the European debt crisis—which was created by minimally amoral piling up masses of governmental deficits—and today’s reading of a column by David Brooks in the NYT. Brooks wrote about a study showing that young people today have the absolutely vaguest concept of what morality is all about—beyond thinking of it as an individual sort of thing. Brook’s title is “If It Feels Right…”.

The study of morality has been squeezed completely out of education because, wouldn’t you know “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” (First Amendment), which we’ve come to interpret to mean that the R-word may not even be whispered in schools. But we associate morality as rooted in religion (rather than, as etymology asserts, in custom).

Now the thought that floated into my mind was that a deep sort of study of morality, begun in the earliest grades of school and continued with more force and refinement right up to college graduation is a necessary preparation for understanding much more subtle cases, such as that excessive borrowing, borrowing that you know, in the gut, will be near impossible to repay, is immoral, not just a life-style choice. It might feel good, to be sure, but it is wrong. And immorality has consequences—not least in the here and now.

Many people have come to doubt this last point. They point at amoral lords of the universe enjoying gargantuan bonuses. They suggest that the rich and powerful never suffer the consequences of their depredations. And here, of course, the dilemma of our situation comes to the fore. A holistic concept of morality is anchored in religion, thus that its violation will have consequences, if not here then elsewhere. Or are you indifferent to starting your next incarnation as a sewer rat? We respect all religions on this blog.


  1. ... and morality really cannot be taught.

    That is the point of the adage "It takes a whole village..." It takes everyone, yet everyone is not a teacher. Everyone may exert influence, however.

    The adults must be honorable, they must be faithful,they must be truthful, and they must be charitable.
    No one rebelled against honor, fidelity, truth, and charity.
    They rebel against hypocrisy.

  2. There may be another interpretation to "it takes a village..." Not everyone in the village needs to teach, but the villagers should, as a group, at least model those common values in their own behaviors and actions. Words or sermons alone are not enough to instill virtuous behavior.

  3. Thank you for very good blog about Word Origin. It's very nice.