by Brad Nelson 10/31/15
An okay article by James Arlandson got me to thinking (always dangerous) again about the moral state of humanity out there. The many thin and not particularly thoughtful libertarian replies to his article are not reason to be optimistic. I didn’t know, for example, that the reason for the Federal government was simply to restrain the Federal government with no other purpose in mind. It was not to be a function for a greater union but merely an apparatus for smoothing things over between the states which libertarians still view as independent countries.
But I haven’t come to bury libertarians once again. But the point is, is there much clarity about what is moral these days? Can anyone fashion a formula or argument based on something more than mere clever rhetoric learned with all the depth of a horse learning to tap out the answer to “2 plus 2”? I have read much clever rhetoric on my travels on the web. And almost all of it leaves me feeling as if I’d eaten cardboard or sawdust. This “reasoning,” if you will, tends not to be very nutritious.
One must, of course, realize that words are not the same as the thing being described. But they, at least, are a way of expressing ideas and communicating, however imperfectly, complex things. But what I find more and more out there is a dearth of underlying clear ideas (no foundation) and a glut of outward rhetoric, rationalizations, and two-clever-by-half arguments for or against this or that policy. There seems to be no weightier anchor than political sloganeering.
A moral quagmire or question, I find, is not escaped by pure reason (read: “rhetoric”). This phenomenon is made worse by legions of young, unsocialized, undisciplined males out there who are undereducated and yet have been taught that what they believe already is tantamount to the wisdom of Solomon. The idea of “the more you know, the more you don’t know” never gets a chance to reach them because they think they already know everything.
Regarding this article itself, I find stoplight cameras to be a dubious form of law enforcement. And if this guy was regularly running red lights, god help us if it takes the all-seeing nanny state to make someone virtuous and cognizant that running red lights is a bad idea. However, there is, of course, something to be said for laws, much like locks on doors, keeping people honest.
But (unsurprisingly, given the dope-head leanings of libertarians) what we’ll find is that as yutes become more and more adrift in their thinking, they will become governed more and more by government laws as a substitute for any kind of moral formation. Does one really expect that those who show little wisdom and self-restraint are going to be the force for more limited government?
So I don’t have the answer to the question of escaping the moral quagmire and forming good moral judgments. Partly such moral foundations are expressed through, and applied by, government. But government can’t be the main enforcer or grounding or else we are indeed headed for an Orwellian nanny state. And yet with yutes today typically lacking any moral foundation other than personal anarchy and will (dolled up as “liberty”), I don’t see how one can ever shrink the state, despite a torrent of libertarian rhetorical arguments about how the Federal government was really founded for this reason instead of that.
I suppose in this age of sound bytes, low-information voters, vulgar and dumbed-down arts & entertainment, the wussification of men, the emotionalization of the education process (at the expense of academics…feelings instead of facts), and (last but not least) the emasculation of Christianity, it’s inevitable that your normal American has a hard time thinking about moral questions. Perhaps it’s no wonder that these questions tend to devolve to soundbytes or to a situation where you get little more than throwing a plateful of ideas at the wall to see if something sticks. I may be doing that here myself, for I don’t have a clear formula to offer, only an inkling here and there and a few words on what isn’t working.
But anyone who thinks a stoner generation is the way to limited government has already excused themselves from serious conversation. I can, however, appreciate Arlandson wrestling honestly with the question.
How much state and how much religion should be the inculcator of moral values is a good question. I just wonder if in this age of the tattooed where distraction and constant entertainment are the raison d’etre if we can expect anything but canned rhetorical arguments or bumper sticker slogans regarding the important issues of the day.
At least Arlandson has thrown some spaghetti and made one or two things stick. But I also see many trails of red descending to the floor. But it is indeed a difficult question.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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