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Monday, May 13. 2019
Dystopian fiction is fun, but dystopias rarely come about. Even the Dark Ages weren't so 'dark'. Dystopias, when they occur, do tend to be regional in nature, and often (though not always) occur for short periods of time. The future is almost always brighter than the past, which may be why dystopian fiction is popular, particularly among sci-fi fanatics. The fear of a frightening future most likely prevents it, or should prevent it. Always expecting things to be good and wonderful can create a society of Pollyannas. Of course, it also creates Cassandras.
The one thing that worries me, more than anything else, is a decline in standards. I don't mean a decline in standards of general behaviors. There is politeness in good society and there is excessive or unnecessary politeness. Miss Manners was never my friend.
I'm referring to standards of right and wrong. Too often, we choose people as role models of what is good and just. I used to do that, but have not for many years now. I trust no politicians, even those I like or prefer. Athletes, celebrities, businesspeople, all exist in a pantheon of model humans. None for me. I will admire individual traits, and focus on those. No whole person is perfect, and we can't really expect them to be. That inability to have a perfect role model (for what it's worth, I'm not including Jesus here, though certainly He is a great starting point) creates misunderstandings about what is good and bad in humanity.
When right and wrong become fungible, as it seems they slowly are, we need to worry. When 60% of Millenials surveyed don't distinguish between right and wrong, it's time to start discussing what we're teaching our kids.
Long ago, I attended a 'witch trial' in Williamsburg. The judge asked the audience to vote as if they lived in the 1600s and knew only what those people knew. Was she a witch? I raised my hand yes. I knew it was wrong, using modern knowledge, to vote this way - but I'd been instructed to think as they did. I was rather shocked how many people did not raise their hand. She clearly was a witch. Does this mean between that trial in the 1600s and today what is right and what is wrong changed?
No. Right and wrong are still the same thing. What changed was our ability to have both deeper and broader insight into the world. She was never a witch. We know that today. Some people knew that, back then. But knowledge was not sufficiently deep enough, or widespread enough, to know for sure.
We face fewer and fewer challenges like this as our knowledge advances. But there is, increasingly, a lack of understanding the nature of the difference between a consistently moral judgement and one that is simply based on what is known at the time. The assumption that slavery was considered to be not immoral 200 years ago doesn't mean right and wrong changed. It was, in reality, known to be immoral by a very large body of people. In fact, many people who practiced it didn't agree with it, probably knowing it was immoral. They just viewed it as 'how things are'. That's an important distinction.
I've faced this challenge many times at the office. Today, in a modern office, hearing that someone is doing something because 'that's how it's done' will often lead to disastrous results. The decisions made often aren't of a moral/immoral nature (though I certainly have been involved in several that were). Rather, just whether they are more efficient or not.
There is a line in the Harry Potter books that always stuck with me. At one point, Dumbledore is speaking with Harry and tells him, "Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right."
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A Millenial Who Gets It
“I’m sitting in a small coffee shop near Nokomis trying to think of what to write about. I scroll through my newsfeed on my phone looking at the latest headlines of Democratic candidates calling for policies to “fix” the so-called injustices of capitalism. I put my phone down and continue to look around. I see people talking freely, working on their MacBook’s, ordering food they get in an instant, seeing cars go by outside, and it dawned on me. We live in the most privileged time in the most prosperous nation and we’ve become completely blind to it. Vehicles, food, technology, freedom to associate with whom we choose. These things are so ingrained in our American way of life we don’t give them a second thought. We are so well off here in the United States that our poverty line begins 31 times above the global average. Thirty. One. Times. Virtually no one in the United States is considered poor by global standards. Yet, in a time where we can order a product off Amazon with one click and have it at our doorstep the next day, we are unappreciative, unsatisfied, and ungrateful.
Our unappreciation is evident as the popularity of socialist policies among my generation continues to grow. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently said to Newsweek talking about the millennial generation, “An entire generation, which is now becoming one of the largest electorates in America, came of age and never saw American prosperity.”
Never saw American prosperity. Let that sink in. When I first read that statement, I thought to myself, that was quite literally the most entitled and factually illiterate thing I’ve ever heard in my 26 years on this earth. Now, I’m not attributing Miss Ocasio-Cortez’s words to outright dishonesty. I do think she whole-heartedly believes the words she said to be true. Many young people agree with her, which is entirely misguided. My generation is being indoctrinated by a mainstream narrative to actually believe we have never seen prosperity. I know this first hand, I went to college, let’s just say I didn’t have the popular opinion, but I digress.
Let me lay down some universal truths really quick. The United States of America has lifted more people out of abject poverty, spread more freedom and democracy, and has created more innovation in technology and medicine than any other nation in human history. Not only that but our citizenry continually breaks world records with charitable donations, the rags to riches story is not only possible in America but not uncommon, we have the strongest purchasing power on earth, and we encompass 25% of the world’s GDP. The list goes on. However, these universal truths don’t matter. We are told that income inequality is an existential crisis (even though this is not an indicator of prosperity, some of the poorest countries in the world have low-income inequality), we are told that we are oppressed by capitalism (even though it’s brought about more freedom and wealth to the most people than any other system in world history), we are told that the only way we will acquire the benefits of true prosperity is through socialism and centralization of federal power (even though history has proven time and again this only brings tyranny and suffering).
Why then, with all of the overwhelming evidence around us, evidence that I can even see sitting at a coffee shop, do we not view this as prosperity? We have people who are dying to get into our country. People around the world destitute and truly impoverished. Yet, we have a young generation convinced they’ve never seen prosperity, and as a result, elect politicians dead set on taking steps towards abolishing capitalism. Why? The answer is this, my generation has ONLY seen prosperity. We have no contrast. We didn’t live in the great depression, or live through two world wars, or see the rise and fall of socialism and communism. We don’t know what it’s like not to live without the internet, without cars, without smartphones. We don’t have a lack of prosperity problem. We have an entitlement problem, an ungratefulness problem, and it’s spreading like a plague.
With the current political climate giving rise to the misguided idea of a socialist utopia, will we see the light? Or will we have to lose it all to realize that what we have now is true prosperity? Destroying the free market will undo what millions of people have died to achieve.
My generation is becoming the largest voting bloc in the country. We have an opportunity to continue to propel us forward with the gifts capitalism and democracy has given us. The other option is that we can fall into the trap of entitlement and relapse into restrictive socialist destitution. The choice doesn’t seem too hard, does it?” Amen and Amen
I love your name, and the comment.
It's true, though. The concept of moral ambiguity, and not understanding how far we've progressed, go hand-in-hand.
She is an exceptional writer and thinker at
Indeed. These over-privileged youngsters do not recognise prosperity, because they have not had to earn it, an action which implies a movement from something that was less than prosperity. They are like fish who cannot recognise the water. If they get their way, they are in for some shock.
To the more general point of the article, and the worry about the future, I am reminded of AN Whitehead's statement that 'the instability of evil is the morality of the universe'.
Re dystopian fiction being popular... I'm rather dubious about that. There were some noted YA Dystopian books in the last couple decades (The Hunger Games, Divergent) but they're more assigned to kids than read voluntarily (like the massively popular Harry Potter series) so that skews the trend.
There's times I wonder if they're trying to get kids discouraged about reading because the fiction they're pushing is so bleak...
FWIW, about five years back I cancelled my subscription to Asimov's SF/Fantasy magazine. I realized I REALLY wasn't liking the stories - there were rarely any endings that I considered a positive outcome. So I cancelled, and wrote a note to the editor as to why.
The response I got back was interesting. Seems like they can only publish what's submitted, and apparently it's negative dystopian dreck. I suggested that as the EDITOR she could communicate with the authors and try to guide them to more positive stories.
I never heard back. Which makes me think the magazine was going pretty much in the direction she wanted...
Gibson is probably the most noticeable major dystopian author - and none of his dystopian claims came remotely close to a reality, but he was insanely popular, and people still view him as some kind of 'visionary'. I found his stuff interesting, and fun, but not particularly visionary.
He's not the only one. Much sci-fi is dystopian. Bradbury was very negative. And much of it is still very popular.
Talking about Dystopia? I've been a Democrat all my adult life but seldom vote for them anymore.
When right and wrong become fungible: This survey is fake.
When researchers wish to see how people would respond to a moral or ethical dilemma, they use what is called a "boundaries of conscience" test. This test gives increasingly ambiguous questions, so that a curve can be generated; with "strict" on end of the scale, and "permissive" on the other end.
But people are denied access to this test, because it's too honest. Fist first all, certain ethnic groups are much less interested in moral behavior than others. Secondly, moral questions can be categorized according to the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is not driven by reason; it's only purpose is to meet instinctual needs. The ego is more concerned with wish-fulfillment. And the superego is the moral aspect of personality; it's the ideal.
So here's a test question: 1. Would you steal food if you were hungry?
The id would say "Yes." The superego would say "No." The ego would be a blend of both; it's answer would be "Cathexis.' Cathexis is a form of internal-frustration; it's the point where the decision actually gets made. Each person, when making a decision, places a value on "Sin" and "Fraud." For an angry person, these might even become positive values. By administering this test, it's possible to generate an exact map of a person's values and conscience. If the map reveals an internal conflict, it can be treated through therapy.
But what if people actually had a map of their own values? Well, they would start to think for themselves.
Maybe it is 'fake' but I'd say it's just not designed as well as it could be. That doesn't make it wrong.
I see/hear lots of young kids - all sitting outside my office - justify behaviors that I find questionable simply because they are common or other people are 'successful' doing it.
Many view 'success' (in its varying formats) as justification.
Hence my finishing line of what is right vs. what is easy.
Morality can't be rationalized by behaviors or outcomes.
If I kill someone because I believe he/she may go kill thousands of people, I've still done the wrong thing. I don't know for certain they would've killed thousands. I can rationalize it and say I saved them, but it doesn't make it 'right'.
Most of the time, I'm forced to make decisions in the name of efficiency. Other times, I have to make decisions that can, legitimately, put the corporation in the path of facing some very trying ethical questions. It's one thing to do something for efficiency's sake. It's entirely different when it's a question of ethics.
Would I steal if I was hungry? Maybe. Self-preservation is a strong motivator. That's why wars are ethical dilemmas for many. Is the stealing wrong? Sure. Most people will put ethical dilemmas to the side for the purposes of self-preservation.
I understand the psychology of it, but I see what's happening not as a psychology problem, rather one of a justification problem.
Slavery was bad. I had nothing to do with slavery. But I'm white, so I have to pay for slavery, even though my ancestors weren't here when slavery takes place. This is the logic of reparations. Are reparations morally right? I can't answer it because:
A) I wasn't here
B) My ancestors weren't here
C) I was raised to oppose slavery and racism
D) Why is there a potential that someone can pass a law to take my money and give it to someone else to assuage their guilt?
E) Are reparations theft from me? Yes, without question.
F) Are reparations theft from a family of former slave owners?
...........I'm not going there. It gets too complicated.
Point is, and I'm using the slavery/reparations example to show this, Millenials today are making a mistake. They think right and wrong change over time. They believe the Constitution not only permitted, but ENDORSED slavery, when in fact it did neither. It just didn't outright reject slavery, and that was a matter of timely pragmatism. Morally wrong, but as understandable as people today voting to let the witch go in my Williamsburg trial. It's a question of time and place, not morality.
The same goes for the food when I'm hungry.
Millenials today will justify taking the food BECAUSE they're hungry, and that makes it 'right'. They lack the distinction older people make.
Justification is often a form of projection. The kid might say "I stole the bread because I was hungry." But behind that statement there is a moral code. For example, he might go on to say "society is unfair" or "everyone else does it." That's an ego defense that the kid uses to justify his actions. An interesting point is that projection (and other ego defenses) must be unconscious in order to be successful in reducing anxiety.
My Scotts/Irish ancestors on my dads side were brought here likely as indentured servants or slaves in the late 1600s or early 1700s. My German/Austrian ancestors on my moms side didn't arrive here until the late 1800s-early 1900s. My 2nd great granddad on my dads side fought for the Union during the Civil War. Lost a lung to a musket ball. Spent a horrible time in Andersonville prison. Pretty sure none of them ever owned slaves. Am I allowed to demand reparations? Seems a fair question. Who would I get them from? The Brits? I guess I never felt anyone owed me anything. I was fortunate enough to be born in the greatest country the world has ever known. That's good enough for me.
We, everyone in North America, Europe, Australia and the rest of the 1st world, live in unusually good times. This is not the norm and prior to 100 years ago had never really happened before. It will all end someday probably by war or possibly be something like what Venezuela is going through today. These incredibly good times may never happen again. What we are experiencing is not normal and not sustainable.
The USA is responsible for this. Great Britain was good, if Imperialistic. The USA helped create a world in which, if they chose to do so, countries could lift people lift people out of poverty. Unfortunately, you might be right.
The British allowed the Irish to starve to death in their millions as recently as the nineteenth century. They refused to come to our aid and continued to pursue the economic policies which led to the famine. We in Ireland would not agree they were 'good', not in that instance, at any rate. PWe had Christianity and a civilisation before the British, only for them to invade and wreck our country. How much reparations would nine centuries accumulate?
However, one cannot visit the sins of the fathers upon their sons.
That is the popular story and there is enough blame to go around. But in fact the British did come to the aid of the Irish with food. Also it is likely that the number of deaths due to the famine were greatly exaggerated and in fact most of those were simply people who left Ireland probably to come to America. But it is a much better story if we just blame the British and inflate the death totals, right!
Both sides of my family immigrated here to get AWAY from "socialist utopias". One utopia confiscated their farmland in the name of "land reform". The other utopia threatened to shoot them for not wholeheartedly supporting communism.