Lamenting the moral void into which society has fallen

I cannot but lament the moral void into which the world seems to be falling. Political intrigue. Weaponised social media. A new definition of ‘facts’ based not on empirical reality but on personal need. And it shows. I think everyday behaviour’s deteriorating, likely worldwide – and certainly around me.

I worry about a loss of moral core in society, a loss of a sense of tolerance and care for each other. These days, it seems, going out for an hour or two is invitation to have burglars strip the place (as happened to some people I know this week). Or people treat others as less than human, apparently for existing or – often – not responding as expected. It happened to me the other week when I was walking past the national cenotaph in Wellington the other week, deeply wrapped in my own thoughts, and became vaguely aware of somebody screaming in anger nearby.

Wright_Cenotaph2015
New Zealand’s national cenotaph.

When I stopped to look I realised I was the target of the hate – a dozen yards or so away somebody behind me had stopped and turned to deliver an absolutely hysterical barrage of abuse at me.  It turned out – as far as I could tell through the apocalyptic screaming – that they had tried to stop me to ask directions, and how dare I not acknowledge them. Fact was that I hadn’t even registered somebody had passed by, let alone heard them. To them this was apparently a war crime that made me less than human and thus a target for all the rage and abuse they could muster. It seemed somehow out of proportion with just walking past somebody.

This joins a similar incident in a supermarket, a while back, where my trolley accidentally touched somebody else’s, with the same result from the other shopper.

Maybe I should pay a bit more attention to my surroundings, but on the other hand, is everybody out there sitting on a hair-trigger in which the slightest action (real or imagined) by those around them provokes instant judgement and a violent and utterly disproportionate eruption of rage and hate, all poured with viciously explosive force at whoever happened to trigger them?

Surely it should be possible to walk quietly down the road without having people explode out of nowhere at you, merely because you walked past them without reacting the way the secret code in their heads demanded? Or to accidentally bump somebody’s supermarket trolley without them behaving as if you’d just delivered a mortal personal insult that must be atoned for, or else.

I’m not the only one to have this sort of experience, of course, and maybe I’m lucky. Nobody’s physically attacked me yet – unlike the folk in Hastings the other week who were sitting on their own front door step quietly minding their own business, were spoken to over the front fence by a couple of passers-by – and when they didn’t answer with whatever the passers-by imagined should be said, were attacked with axes.

Where is society going? Is this where two generations of exaltation of self and the me-generation has left us? And how far has social media, with its ability to facilitate abuse without risk or penalty, enabled such an apparent loss of moral compass?

Thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018

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12 thoughts on “Lamenting the moral void into which society has fallen

  1. Sadly in my profession, I am daily exposed to three other parts of the same whole. Especially, the modern lack of respect for other individuals, their rights and property, as well as their sense of fairness (personal or social). I constantly see displays of a sense of entitlement by individuals (unearned), and appalling social conscience. Morality has fallen a long, long way since my youth. And while I cannot deny that I was forced into some behaviours and learnt others by fear of punishment (justly or unjustly), I did develop a strong sense of moral character, civility and respect (whether earned or not) towards others. Unfortunately today I also see the lack of social guidance displayed by our ‘leaders’ and ‘peers’. Our senses constantly barraged by the social profiles of the poorest moral standard. Look first to yourself. Show respect to those around you and like ripples in a pond, it should spread outwards. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of rocks breaking the surface in today’s ponds. Causing opposing ripples to wash back. Perhaps this is due to the climate change? Reducing the level of the water to the murky rough shallows and exposing more of the sad undercurrent and rocky bottom of what once appeared serene and calm. Society with all its real faults, revealed?

    Hope you continue these pieces. Thanks Gregory

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    1. Hi Greg – good to hear from you. I have to agree on all counts (it seems evident generally – not just in terms of the people you have to deal with – and, of course, also internationally). As you say, the keys to solving the issue are self-worth and respect, which to me also means tolerance. I mean, how can somebody else’s ideology or assertions affect me? Any more than mine can affect theirs – and if they hold an idea with genuine care and thought, good on them. I don’t have to agree with it, but maybe I do agree. It’s all good. I suspect a lot of the dismal behaviour we’re seeing in general everyday society – the rudeness, the disrespect and – ultimately – the violence against people (including against their property, repute, etc) stems from a failure to understand the keys to what will make society work at the scales we have today. The problem is that this sort of reaction seems to be hard-wired into humanity. Sigh. And at this late stage, tolerance, care and genuine support for each other is, I think, the only way we’re going to get through both the inevitable anthropogenic climate change we’ve triggered as a species.

      I should add – I don’t know what’s causing the issues with WordPress letting you comment. I’m running a plain vanilla WordPress.com site. DM me if you want – this should be soluble (and I can ask WordPress’ help desk if necessary). On which note – and relevant to the theme of the post -I had to invoke WordPress’s manual comment authorisation option after an incident earlier this year with a right-wing political group, ‘Hobson’s Pledge’, who subjected me to a violently angry abuse-frenzy, and what appeared to be direct threats, for my reaction to their approach to history – I got repeatedly abused, stalked and subjected to an astonishing degree of anger (when it didn’t stop after weeks, and knowing that the main guy personally abusing me and some of the others in this organisation live in the same district I do, I did think I might have to lodge a complaint with the police). But manual moderation shouldn’t stop the system accepting a comment into the moderation queue.

  2. Yeah, I’m feeling this, too. As a society we are finding it harder and harder to allow a little grace into our relationships with other people. We’re not better for it.

  3. England is in a particularly bad state right now and I’m seeing a lot of people online commenting on this moral void. However, our ruling political party is largely to blame for this collapse as it’s brought about an endless number of economic disasters. Everyone is stressed and on edge.

    But I generally try and avoid engaging with people when out and about in Manchester. Some incident with someone will bother me for days or weeks afterward.

    I’m not a football fan, but with the World Cup on it’s interesting to see people being united by something for once. England won and the other night and random strangers were hugging in the street.

    1. Yes, specific incidents with people being a bother later – I have the same issue, hence this post pondering on it in a couple of specifics. No question about the general deterioration of attitude – comments so far concurring have also come from Canada, Australia and the US. It’s a worry. Hostile behaviour to strangers didn’t used to happen or be a concern in civil society, yet it seems prevalent across the western world now (I can’t speak for elsewhere). I think there are a raft of proximate drivers associated with the way the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, etc have framed their own immediates; but to me there is a basic human condition problem underlying the whole. Robin Dunbar’s thesis applies – the idea that humans regard a society of ‘us’ as a kin-related group of about 150 (the optimal hunter-gatherer group) and anything else as ‘them’, scheduled for termination. It’s controversial because of the proximate drivers and the conceit that human nature is somehow more sophisticated, but probably obvious in hindsight (as in, future historians, probably alien, sifting through the remains of our dismal world… sigh…)

      World Cup… sorry, not sure I understand the banter. Something to do with people running after each other in a race to kick an inflated pig’s bladder past a couple of sticks isn’t it? Have to admit my knowledge of sport is a bit limited to things with ridiculously large engines in them, ideally going at stupidly high speed across the Bonneville salt flats…

  4. I keep thinking of overpopulation, and not just in terms of sheer numbers. Most of us experience more people than we did in the past, through media, social and otherwise. Maybe our brains just can’t process all that input and chronic anger and anxiety are the results.

    1. I agree – that’s exactly the issue. For me the ‘Dunbar number’ keeps sticking up – about 150 individuals – which Robin Dunbar suggested was the normal ‘social’ group humans can cope with. The problem, as you say, is that society is way larger. To me it’s a compelling way of wrapping some science around what is also a social and personal issue in our large-scale cities and now world-girdling (western) society – but of course it doesn’t solve the issue. I can’t help thinking that the ‘flaming’ and other polemic evident on Facebook is symptomatic. Those of us with any sense know there is an answer: tolerance, kindness, respect for a reasoned viewpoint, even if you disagree, and so on. Let it be, as Lennon once sang. But reason just seems so elusive in our current society that rewards instant gratification, including of polemic certainties. Sigh…

    1. The painful part is that so many sacrifices were made by our parents and grandparents to build a world that they hoped was going to be better than the one they lived through. I have, this week, been doing some more research into diaries and letters from the First World War; it is poignant, for the letters and diaries of the time bring home the immediate nature of the horrors they faced – all in hope for a better future. And of course, their children then fought the Second World War, with the same sentiments. Sigh. Their efforts did, I think, have broadly good outcomes for the world in the generation afterwards, and this despite the Cold War. And history never repeats. But despite every effort – including the colossal effort that the personal sacrifices and general human costs of the First and Second World Wars amounted to – the world today seems to be trapped in an endless repetition of the dark side of human nature. I guess all we can do now is set examples of tolerance, acceptance and kindness – personally – and hope that others pick up the sceptre. It’s not hard to be kind. Would that everybody learns that lesson.

  5. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    It seems unimaginable that people could respond with so much violence instead of a simple, “Excuse me, did you hear what I said?”” As a nurse and a Christian, I’ve tried to be tolerant of others. It isn’t always easy. We don’t know what the other person is going through and should not make snap judgments.

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