Back in the twentieth century, the idea of moral relativism must have seemed like a good idea. Supposedly we could throw off old restrictions (usually regarding sex), and just enjoy life. But moral relativism always destroys moral agreement—something we need just to enable us to get along. If we lack that, we suffer in many ways, some obvious and some not so, but all important to our future.
Above are two simplifying illustrations, showing two relative states of moral (dis-)agreement among people (or institutions). The points represent the individuals or groups, and the directions of the arrows represent the desired moral heading each are aiming for. There is of course much more to moral disagreement than the images can depict, but they will suffice here.
Although the diagrams are themselves relative depictions, what does seem abundantly clear is that the US is heading in the direction of the red-arrow diagram. Moral relativism has been a growing phenomenon for many decades now, with people eschewing much of traditional (and therefore tested) morality for most of that time. In the growing absence of any overarching source of morality (traditional religions, for instance), moral wandering has been the result. People will experiment with whatever society will let them get away with, without any past wisdom as a guide. As a result, morality typically expands to allow more pleasure with less responsibility and fewer perceived obligations to others.
How do we know the US is headed in the direction of increasing moral disagreement?
- Decreased social capital. This is measured by sociologists, and while they do not always pinpoint the growing moral divide as the central reason, the majority agree that social capital in the US is in decline.
- Growing levels of societal violence and frustration (rioting, etc.) (This phenomenon will ebb and flow as particular disagreements flare up. One must look at longer-term trends than just a single year or “movement”.)
- A widening political divide. No discussion needed.
- Separation into physical enclaves. When people notice that the world is closing in around them morally speaking, with the disagreements with others getting more rancorous and even violent, the natural tendency is to form enclaves for protection and support. These clusterings give people the false impression that they are in a pseudo-majority at least in their set of beliefs. Enclaves further insulate people from outsiders, so that members get only filtered, caricatured impressions of what outsiders actually think. (Christians have a duty to break through these barriers, but it does not come naturally to anyone.)
- Separation into online enclaves. Social media has been a great evil here, in allowing these engineered-to-be-addictive echo chambers to further isolate groups from each other.
See Chapter I of the book for more analysis on moral relativism.
The question for the reader (and for future blogging here): Is moral relativism therefore a sustainable moral viewpoint for a society to hold?