Saturday, 20 October 2007

Jonathan Sacks: What happens when we lose moral consensus?

(Ed: this article by Jonathan Sacks is superb.)

What happens when we lose moral consensus? Morality is reduced to taste. “Good” and “bad” become like yum and yugh: I like this; I don’t like that. Imagine two people, one of whom says: “I like ice cream”; the other: “I don’t”. They are not arguing. Each is simply declaring his or her taste.

We have lost the basis of morality as a shared set of values holding society together. We are living “after virtue”; that is to say, in an age in which people no longer have roles and duties within a stable social structure. When that happens, morality becomes a mere façade. Arguments become interminable and intolerable. The only adequate answer to an opposing viewpoint is: “Says who?” In a debate in which there are no shared standards, the loudest voice wins. The only way to defeat opponents is to ridicule them.

If there is no agreed moral truth, we cannot reason together. All truth becomes subjective or relative, no more than a construction, a narrative, one way among many of telling the story. Each represents a point of view, and each point of view is the expression of a group. On this account, Western civilisation is not truth but the hegemony of the ruling elite. Therefore, it must be exposed and opposed. Western civilisation becomes the rule of dead white males. There are other truths: Marxist, feminist, homosexual, African-American, and so on. Which prevails will depend not on reason but on power. Force must be met by force. Lacking a shared language, we attack the arguer, not the argument. Read more

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