Saturday, August 12, 2006


Ask youngsters weaned on electronic communications what they believe is morally important, then buckle your seat belt if you happen to believe in such antiquated notions as fixed moral standards. It will become painfully clear that a new electronic decalogue has replaced the set-in-stone tablets published by Sinai Press. Though specific versions vary, all closely resemble the following list:

#1 Be yourself.
#2 Follow your feelings.
#3 Do what makes you happy.
#4 Like yourself.
#5 Don't let anyone tell you what to do.
#6 Never impose your values on others.
#7 Beware of guilt.
#8 Blame authority figures.
#9 Be politically correct.
#10 Be open.

Most of these injunctions are, to put it mildly, flexible. But that's the point. Morality is, more or less, whatever you want it to be. It's up to you to set your own rules. What's important is being “true to your own values” and doing what you feel is right. The only limitations placed on this unrestrained freedom are commandments which forbid “imposing” your own views on others and the largely implicit requirement that youngsters follow the Hollywood line in political matters--liberal, socially libertarian, and greenish.

The self-contradictory “don't-impose-your-values” commandment--an imperative which requires nonimposition--appears to be a barrier against the chaos that would result if people actually gave free reign to their feelings. Unfortunately, this decree ignores the very real harm that results from the reckless behavior it also encourages. When “doing your own thing” is the cultural expectation, many more children, for example, are raised in fatherless homes. Yet this “practical imposition” of fatherlessness is of no concern to folks whose primary goal is to reject the ethical claims that others have on them. To employ a vehicular analogy, the contemporary rule of nonimposition implies that freeway speedsters don’t affect traffic flow or endanger lives until they begin to bark orders out the window. This rule also discounts the immense power of example and peer pressure. As far as these new-age lawgivers are concerned, each person is “an island, entire of itself” who influences and is influenced by no one else. Ironically, everyone in this imaginary society of unrelated atoms is expected to embrace the same absurd ethical paradigm. Though each person supposedly “has his own opinion” about morality, everyone is expected to accept this basic philosophical principle without further ado.

Another exception to the “doing your own thing” rule is the requirement of openness. This new commandment doesn't mean that people must tolerate or be polite to persons with whom they disagree. Instead, it means acceptance of practices at odds with traditional beliefs. Openness, in other words, is a one-way street. People are expected to regard as morally acceptable lifestyles inconsistent with orthodox Islamic, Jewish, or Christian teaching. But to assume such an attitude logically means that one must reject traditional religious teachings--teachings which are now portrayed as closed-minded by pop-cultural missionaries.

In truth, openness is a code word for political correctness. Thus, this tenth commandment amounts to little more than a covert reiteration of the ninth. Together these imperatives transform ethics from an endeavor focused largely on personal actions to an enterprise which emphasizes political belief. Morality becomes the province of “macro” issues--often economic. “Micro” or personal matters such as illegitimacy, drug addiction, and crime are seen as problems that will automatically disappear once evils such as unemployment, poverty, and racism are properly addressed. At least so goes the party line.

In effect, political correctness provides an ideological fig leaf for self-indulgence--a means to divert attention from matters that concern us intimately and toward things that concern us indirectly. Whether one commits adultery or lies to a spouse becomes “a private matter” and “nobody's business.” Likewise, under this new regime, having an abortion is called “a personal choice.” But woe be unto the person who veers from the party line when it comes to rain forests, animal rights, or alternative lifestyles.

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