I’m not someone who waxes nostalgic over ‘the good old days’. They weren’t so good, and were much better for some than for a lot of others. They weren’t good for me, either.
I really *do* think, though, on many interpersonal and moral matters, matters have gotten somewhat worse. Sure, fewer of us rabidly hate blacks, and more of us accept women in all sorts of roles. I remember what it was like 40, or even 20, years ago, and on those fronts it is definitely better now than it was then. But what kind of people are we, overall? Truth is, we simply don’t care much about other people, if it gets in the way of our doing our own thing. Which it eventually does.
There are not as many of us as there once was who would stop doing what we’re doing just because someone might get badly hurt. Fewer of us have any problem with lying to get an advantage, including lying to government. More of us choose to cover up or
blame someone else instead of taking responsibility for our actions. More of us would rather let others do the thinking for us. We break up our marriages when ‘incompatibility’ shows up instead of changing ourselves. We run to porn instead of keeping our sexuality in the context of love. We gamble instead of invest, and bring our economy to ruin. We stop what we do when it gets to be too much of a bother rather than push through to completion. We’d rather ban, shun, disassociate, boycott, demonize, exaggerate, ridicule, and voice anger than discuss, reason, and treat each person like a person. And while there is a trend lately among active churchgoers to go back to devotional disciplines, it’s still a small specialized move not a larger trend in the overall populace. This tendency will not be corrected by a relative handful of people who re-learn how to tell themselves ‘no’.
In short, more of us prefer to be a character than to have character.
Please do not misunderstand me here. I’m not asking that personal freedom be forcibly curtailed. I am asking that we re-introduce the idea that personal freedom entails personal responsibility. We’ve lost the understanding that human freedoms are not there to be a cloaking device to help us hide our actions. They’re there to be a catalyst for personal and societal good. Abuse of a freedom eventually leads to loss of that freedom. People see so much of the human underside of the freedom that they lose sight of what’s most important about it, and sit still as it gets taken away. This is just one of several reasons why the responsible use of a right must be brought up whenever any right is spoken about.
We’ve come to believe that it’s best to live by the fiction that the right to do something makes it right to do it. Some people don’t need jail, they need an intervention; their own decisions have sent their lives spinning out of control, and they won’t get their balance back until the spinning stops. But many of us interpret freedom in a way which resists such acts of love. Our massive irresponsibility with our freedoms can lead to the collapse of the social framework (the ‘us-ness’) that allows us to take action for the common good. Without that, there is no ‘us’, and no ‘common’ which can even have a ‘common good’. One has less of a sense of solidarity with the rest, so they’re less moved when others are hated. (This has been seen in spades this year on the campaign trail.) Some people are so thoroughly selfish that they have no concept of the good of others. Or if they do, it belongs more in the land of Spongebob or Star Wars than actual life. Their actions add up to a seriously sick social stew.
I can only hope that we start rebuilding the framework that holds our society together. A crucial part of that framework is that we understand that with great freedoms come great responsibility.