IF THEY asked historians, "Is people's morale better or worse now than it was before?" Some may reply that it is difficult to compare the morals of different periods. You may think that each age should be judged in its own context.
Take, for example, the development of violent crime in Europe since the 16th century. The murders were not uncommon 400 years ago. People have often been righteous with their own hands and blood feuds have been countless.
However, the historians Arne Jarrick and Johan Söderberg write in the book Människovärdet och makten (Dignity and Human Power) that the period between 1600 and 1850 was "shaped by a true civilization of social life" in some places. People have become better at responding to the needs of others - they have become more empathetic. For example, other historians note that thefts and crimes against property were much rarer in the 16th century than they are today. Gangs of organized thieves were rare, especially among the rural population.
Of course, the institution of slavery existed and resulted in some of the worst crimes in history - the kidnapping of people in Africa by European traders and the brutalization of those millions of slaves on the land to which they were brought.
So if we look back over the centuries, we will likely find that, historically, some conditions were better while others were worse. However, something very different and very serious happened in the 20th century - unprecedented indeed - and it is still happening.
The 20th century - a turning point
The historians Jarrick and Söderberg note: "In the 1930s the murder and murder curve rose again and unfortunately this trend has continued for more than half a century since then."
According to many commentators, the twentieth century saw a sharp decline in morale. As an essay on moral philosophy states, "You can clearly see that society's view of sex and what is morally acceptable has changed dramatically in the past 30 to 40 years - from society to clarifying what morally correct are strict rules for a freer and more individualistic view. "
This means that sexual behavior and other aspects of morality are things that most people today think they can choose for themselves. To illustrate this, the article cites statistics showing that only 5.3% of all children in the United States were born out of wedlock in 1960. In 1990 it was 28%.
In a lecture at the University of Notre Dame, US Senator Joe Lieberman described the morality of our time as a "vacuum of values". . . where traditional notions of good and bad gradually faded. "According to Lieberman, this phenomenon has been fermenting" for almost two generations. "
According to historians and other analysts, what is the reason for this remarkable development in the 20th century? "One of the most important changes in society in the last two centuries has been secularization," notes the book Manniskovärdet och makten. Secularization meant that “people can position themselves from different angles. This idea. . . has its origin among the enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century, who were the first. . . reject the Bible as the only source of truth. "As a result, religions, especially those of Christianity, are no longer in demand for moral guidance as they were in the past.
But why did a philosophy formulated in the 18th century take more than 200 years to spread? "These ideas did not spread easily to the public," explains the cited book. "The movement towards secularization has been slow."
Although the tendency to abandon traditional moral norms and Christian values has been largely slow over the past 200 years, it has accelerated significantly in the 20th century. This has been the case especially in the last few decades. Why is that?
Selfishness and greed
The rapid technological and economic development of society in the 20th century is an important factor. An article in the German magazine Die Zeit states that we are living "in a dynamic age and not, as in previous centuries, in a world characterized by static". The article stated that this led to a market economy system based on competition and driven by selfishness.
"This selfishness," continues the article, "cannot be stopped by anything." As a result, the brutality that characterizes our daily life is growing, as is the corruption that has even affected the government in many countries. People think of themselves and the maximum satisfaction of their desires. ""
Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow found through in-depth research that Americans are more focused on money today than they were a generation ago. According to the study, "many Americans fear that their hunger for money outweighs other values, such as respect for others, honesty at work, and participation in the community."
Greed in society has continued to grow as many corporate executives have given themselves huge salary increases and lucrative retirement benefits and have urged their employees to keep their salary requirements moderate. "The problem with corporate profit making is that their attitudes are contagious and lower the moral threshold of people in general," notes Kjell Ove Nilsson, associate professor of ethics and theological director of the council. Christian from Sweden. "It is clear that this is having a devastating effect on morale - in society and on a personal level."
Media culture is another important factor contributing to the rapid moral decline of the second half of the 20th century. "The new channels of value are television producers, tycoons, fashion advertisers, gangsta rappers and a host of other players in the electronic media and cultural complex," said Senator Lieberman. "These trendsetters have extremely strong control over our culture, and our children in particular, and often have little or no sense of responsibility for the harmful values they convey."
As an example, Lieberman cites an album by a heavy metal band called Cannibal Corpse. The singers describe in detail the rape of a woman with the tip of a knife. He and a colleague asked the record company to remove the record. But as Lieberman reports, it was in vain.
As a result, responsible parents are now caught in fierce competition with media culture to see who will influence and raise their children. But what about families where the parents are not conscientious? "In these cases," says Lieberman, "culture is not challenged as a normalizer, and a child's sense of right and wrong and their priorities in life are primarily shaped by what they see from television, the big screen, and the like CD player learns ... “And more recently, the internet can be added to that list.
Back to the "moral stone age"
How do the effects of these negative influences show up on young people? On the other hand, in recent years more and more children and young people have committed cruel acts of violence against other children and also against adults.
A shocking case occurred in Sweden in 1998. Two boys, aged five and seven, suffocated a four-year-old companion to death! Many asked the following question: Don't children have a built-in restriction that tells them to stop if they go too far? One child psychiatrist made the following insightful comment: "We must avoid going too far," she said. “It may have something to do with it. . . What role models do children play and what do they learn from the adults around them? ""
A similar phenomenon can be observed with violent criminals. According to Sten Levander, professor of psychiatry in Sweden, between 15 and 20% of all prisoners today are psychopaths - extremely self-centered people, without empathy and unable or unwilling to understand the concept of good and good. not correct. Even in children and adolescents who appear normal, observers have noticed dullness in the moral senses. "We are immersed in the moral stone age," says Christina Hoff Sommers, professor of philosophy. She noticed that most of them react very insecurely when confronted with their young students as to what is right and what is wrong. Then they answer that there is no right or wrong. They believe that everyone should consider what is best for them.
Recently, many of his students have opposed the principle of the unique dignity and worth of human life. When asked what they would do if faced with the choice of saving the life of their pet or that of someone they did not know, many said they would choose the animal.
"The problem is not that young people are ignorant, suspicious, cruel or treacherous," says Professor Sommers. "To be honest, they have no idea about the concept." She says that many young people today wonder whether there is good or bad, and she regards this attitude as one of the greatest threats to society.
The weakening of morality in our time is therefore a reality. Many fear that dire consequences could arise. The aforementioned article Die Zeit said that today's free market economy "could gradually degenerate and perhaps one day collapse, as the socialist system recently did".
What does it all really mean? And what future should we expect?