Monday, April 26, 2010

Decadence and Moral Decline

A tangent of a thought that didn't fit intelligibly in my last post. I actually agree with the Conservative viewpoint that there has been some sort of a social breakdown that needs to be addressed. I just point my finger in a different direction.

I feel that to the extant that decadence is real, it is because those who should be thinking about moral life and how to live in contemporary society have abandoned this task in favor of living in the past. Every society needs some sort of a moral structure to help people live with one another and act meaningfully within their society. This is the product of a dialogue between how people actually live in their culture and idealized versions of it.

The breakdown is that we are using idealized versions of a different culture from the one we live in with moral thought. We are trying to interpret from a vision of society as it existed a century ago, with most people bound by agriculture, inheritance being a significant portion of lifetime income, low levels of mobility, etc. Now we live in a highly urbanized, trade based society. Of course morality will have to adapt, these type of cultures are always different from rural ones. Look at the Greek's attitude to homosexuality for an easily accessible example. Southeast Asia provides many more.

To the extent we are decadent, it is because our religious leaders and moral thinkers have not yet articulated how we should be living a moral life in the society we do live in, instead of the one that they already have answers to. We need original thinking, and criticisms of our culture as decadent or weakening misses the point. Society and culture are pretty fixed, the job is to interpret how to live within what you are given. Those who would call us decadent should engage with the problem of what a morality of modern life would look like, rather than complaining about the fact that we haven't simply kept the moral outlook that suited a rural, agricultural, and primitive society.

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