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How Contemporary Morality is Created

  • Whether there is progress or regress in morality depends on one's point of view. Something that is moral for me may be immoral for others. Philosophers have spent centuries trying to come up with universal values. Morality remains subjective, not objective.
  • People who see "progress" in social changes are using a tautology: a change lays the foundations for a change in the same direction. Once you accept that first change as "progress" you will accept the next one as "progress". There is a strong likelihood that, had Hitler won the war, today concentration camps (and whatever would have come next) would be considered perfectly moral.
  • Nonetheless, one can write a history of morality, in particular over the last few centuries. It will not show "progress" but certainly change.
  • That change is difficult to rationalize because it often went against the interests of the dominant class (unless it was brought about by a violent revolution).
  • Before the Enlightenment, the big issues of morality were forged by religion.
  • The Catholic contract was, basically, this: a) You the king become a Christian and convert your nation to Christianity; b) We accept you in the club of nations (the Church played the role of the United Nations); c) But we also create within your territory a structure of bishops and priests led by an archibishop. The king would accept because the benefits (being recognized and to some extent protected by the Pope) outweighed the costs (the unarmed structure created by the Church). However, the Church frequently could muster more influence than the king on the internal affairs of the nation precisely because its unarmed structure used books and education to exert that influence. (The other power of the Church, of course, was the notion that God sees everything: you can get away with breaking the king's laws, but you cannot get away with breaking God's laws).
  • After the Enlightenment, an enlightened elite is usually responsible for forcing the new morality on the masses, and that new morality has eventually to be encoded in the law of the land.
  • In the old days it was the Church that created a parallel power structure, using not weapons but books and education. Now that structure has been replaced by secular intellectuals.
  • The death penalty was abolished in Britain and France when a majority still supported it. Much progress in the integration of the European Union has happened with scant support from the public (in fact, strong opposition from the British public). International organizations such as the United Nations would be disbanded overnight if referendums were held in all the member nations.
  • What happened in all of these cases is that a small elite of intellectuals (some of them with no political or military power) sponsored an idea and kept pushing it until it prevailed.
  • There was no need for violence because intellectuals employ two powerful weapons that are more efficient than weapons: the printed word and the educational system.
  • Intellectuals constitute a tiny percentage of the population but are the ones who publish books, magazines and newspapers (and who make movies and write songs); and they are the ones who teach in schools.
  • Therefore they simultaneously influence public opinion and raise the future generations.
  • Recently, gay marriage and the liberalization of marijuana, who have long been opposed by the majority of the nation, have been promoted in the USA by a minority of intellectuals, and their insistence, year after year, is eventually creating the majority needed to pass those laws, especially among their young pupils.
  • Women's rights in Islam (and even democracy itself) are slowly being introduced by a minority of Westernized leaders (sometimes with help from foreign powers), not by the will of the majority.
  • The intellectual is the engine behind much of the social change that took place in the West since the Enlightenment.
  • Intellectuals, of course, do not constitute a homogeneous class, and frequently opposite currents of thought clash over what is right and what is wrong. But they are the ones who tend to use knowledge and reason to reach some kind of consensus. Once that consensus is reached, it inevitably trickles down to the masses via the media and the schools.
  • The rest of the world has mostly looked at the West for inspiration.
  • Much of the world was a colony of the Western powers, and still views the Western powers as the role models.
  • World War II and the Cold War ended with an identical outcome: the triumph of the USA. Inevitably, most of the world envies the lifestyle of the USA.
  • Whatever becomes popular in the West tends to spread to the rest of the world because the rest of the world suffers from an inferiority complex, whether justified or not.
  • A new trend in morality starts as a trend among a tiny elite of Western intellectuals. Then it spreads through the nation. Then it spreads to other nations. Western intellectuals unleash intellectual diseases that spread to the rest of the world and those shape the world's morality.