Society On The Precipice: Hypocrisy of Law As Morality.
Our talents aren’t as important as the truths they are designed to reveal.
Our fortunes reflect our fictions, the stories we tell and the things we weld in order to think better of ourselves. Without these narratives we would be annulled, denied certainly, more so than we are. Yet because of them we turn what is dim into destiny, until we find ourselves accomplished and cresting.
How we achieve this routinely conflicts with our sense of morality, because morality transcends the stories we tell and the heights we scale to escape its constraints. Consider Manifest destiny and its myth. Despite our fictions, the moral demand remains as a reminder of our obligation. It also tracks our transgressions.
This demand prevails despite the defeats it suffers because of our obsession with success. Defeats occur because we misconstrue what matters most. In this regard, we prize success over morality and the responsibility it demands.
In fact, we behave as if morality is contraband, something to police, lest we possess contrary to public opinion. Other times we behave as if it is impertinent based on who is offended thereby. Our confusion produces stands without standards, which are interchangeable and expendable based on promised incentives or popular resistance.
If resistance is sufficiently hostile, we alter our stance whether or not doing so makes sense. Our efforts mimic but do not exhibit moral responsibility. Nor do they inspire emulation. Thus, every opinion is precarious because it threatens to carry us beyond what others offer as moral.
Contemporarily, incentives usurp moral demands because of the benefits they bestow, especially when our actions go viral. Going viral removes the moral from view yet not from judgment. Thus, we praise what we would shame if we were shrewd morally.
Despite our denials, scales that weight themselves judge us. These scales spurn critique and chasten pretense. Contention can’t shame them and corruption can’t sway them.
Moral verdicts prevail despite the shells wherein we seek to demoralize our actions, which is the contemporary trend. This trend upends morality by obscuring questions and multiplying answers. The result yields a protean relativism impossible to defend and discredit. In this climate, laws replace morality and courts sequester conscience.
Yet law as a facsimile isn’t the remedy for our intransigence because it can only answer so many dynamics. Only conscience can command or commute what matters most. Still, we use these counterfeits as counterweights to the moral demand. We use laws to decide because we are demoralized daily through ingenuous displays of human autonomy.
The question thus isn’t “Is it wrong?” but rather, “Is it legal?”
Laws rule unjustly in a demoralized society.
A demoralized society is in derision because of its decisions. Wrongly reached, decisions wretch the conscience and deceive the senses though they increase superficially our vitality. To be demoralized, however, is to be deprived of the power to act morally. Hence our tendency to act lethargically (and legislatively).
We seldom link loss of vitality with loss of morality. Even so, vitality lacks when virtue fades. Morality, in this regard, is virtue’s maid.
In serving virtue, morals serve us. In neglecting it, we become sluggish and enslaved to demoralizing snares. Thus diminished, what prevails betrays what matters most. Rightly regarded, morals mediate this; wrongly, laws subvert even as they sanction our descent. They also sanction the sinister, criminalizing morality by targeting groups whose gripes betray socially approved stripes.
Meanwhile we politicize the sense something is wrong without solving or asserting moral responses. Responsibility to this sense preserves a moral society. Presently, however, our moral commitment is satirical, superficial and compromised.
We compromise our commitment because of the convulsions conversion requires, especially when convulsions contest our traditions. Our response displays our ignorance of the origins of our moral traditions. Hence the conflicts that occur when we are called to answer for ourselves.
We find it easier to answer for others instead, enforcing frames we would defy if we were circumscribed thereby. Hence our tendency to castigate those who passed the gate wherein we deem morality to dwell according to our scales. In fact, history traces our tendency to force our codes and conceits on other groups. No wonder many people see morality as hypocrisy.
We fail, moreover, to acknowledge the illicit as intrinsic to human societies. Hence our moral pretensions which beget violence and intolerance. Yet we daub with our stories what we can’t deny with our strength.
In confining morality to our code, we kill its catalytic quality whereby it inspires others to seek honor through emulation. Our codes kill because others encrypt their own moral script whereby they sketch reality. Only by tolerance can intelligence amend its radical (and irrational) elements.
For many people, however, tolerance betokens timidity. These in their outrage seek to uproot whatever betrays their beliefs. They err because of their ignorance of absolutes, which, unconsciously, christens their beliefs.
Rightly understood, absolutes are axioms, not imperial prescriptions, which transcend our ability to embody. They remind us to mingle mercy with judgment in matters of morality because all fall short inevitably.
Moreover, understanding the constructed nature of our moral narratives enables us to embrace edits without being wedded to violence in response, especially in a linguistically sense. Linguistic violence is the vice of modern morality.
We use the language of morality unconsciously, incorrigibly routinely, because morals mediate relationships. We use it criminally when we code our cruelty in terms and text that betray the moral demand. Paradoxically, morality sustains society even as it subverts it when we ignore its contingent character. Morality provides the context whereby we correct (and command) ourselves.
Thus, no denial, however artful, abolishes the moral demand. Consequentially, laws enforce what morals inspire and conscience commands when it transcends provincialism.
Laws, however, cannot inspire the emulation that converts wretches and extend our reaches into more fertile moral fields. In fact, no society ever became great by obedience to laws alone. True greatness grows in moral ground wherein citizens assume the sacred task of moral perfection.
Consider America’s most moral codes: The Constitution and the Declaration. Rightly read, they inspire a sense of morality that hallows liberty. When read solely for their legal value, we violate virtue and venerate vice because morality sustains liberty and strengthens democracy.
Thus far, however, we use our liberty to regress into regions wherein failure is lethal and consequences are residual. Regression magnifies our omissions even as we multiply our transgressions. We do so partly because it requires persistence to reduce the distance between us and the moral demand. We prefer rather to substitute laurels for morals and law for conscience. Hence our craving to be accomplished.
By accomplishment, we seek exemptions, extensions, at least, of our moral leash. Hence also our apocalyptic politics and the moral pit they occupy.
Politically, morality is pertinent only in appearance. Too much, in fact, defeats success (i.e. re-election, fundraising, etc.). Hence the dialect we use to deflect the moral demand. Even then, however, we acknowledge its right and excellence. Hence our repulsion of moral pretension; we respond so because vulgar, like vinegar, is too tart for most tastes.
In neglecting the moral demand, we produce a society incensed by events that reveal its indifference.
A former corporate trainer and university lecturer, Dr. Joel Bryant is an avid reader, writer, speaker, thinker and dreamer. He is also the author of over 40 books on various topics, each exploring themes of change, growth and greatness. He holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from UNC Charlotte, where he spent five years lecturing in the Philosophy Department. He resides in Charlotte, NC.