The Earth, it seems, is imploding in the West and exploding in the East. While ISIS gains power and rages through the Middle East, we in the West have become fearful for our very lives. Indeed, if ISIS or one of the other terrorist organizations fueled by Muslim fundamentalism gets hold of a nuclear weapon, one cannot help but wonder whether that would spell the end of existence on this planet. It would seem that as science comes ever-nearer to fully understanding the earth's beginning, religious fundamentalists are hellbent on it's end. However, is that all we have to fear?
As our worried eyes turn inward, toward our western democracies, are we to worry less? Perhaps, we mustn't worry for our bodies, for the law certainly protects us, but what of our souls? I use this word for lack of a better one. I not referring to the concept of "soul" in any immortal sense I assure you, I am merely referring to the part of humans that seeks to transcend itself. The portion of our consciousness that motivates us to build rather than destroy, to plant rather than uproot, and to "become all I can be" instead of become what they want me to be.
As we look upon our free societies we can see a sort of moral decay. People seek money, fame and decadence, abandoning wisdom, truth, and goodness. The religious speak of their high moral standards, yet many of their so-called high standards have nothing to do with human happiness on this world whatsoever. The atheists speak of their morals as well, but how many can be said to study them, master them? Ethics may be the most important area of study today, and it is absent from most of our children's curriculum. Money has become as powerful as a god. Money represents survival, more money, more survival, and thus, more power. People are killing, stealing, and as selfish as ever. The world pursues temporary fleeting pleasures and not lasting friendships, strong ethical characters, and the thirst for knowledge. People seem not to notice the other, that is, whenever we are not actively hostile toward them. Which evil is worse, indifference or cruelty?
What is the source of our society's moral decline? I would like to posit that it is consumerism. The constant "need" for the next best thing. The misery of the present and the lust for the future. The great enemy of happiness. Consumerism is the confusion of "want" and "need." It is apparent to me, that this deadly confusion, this mixing of terms, has caused modern man to feel his very survival in jeopardy. When we are told that we do not have, and that we need more, how are we to focus on our moral fortitude? How am I to care for the less privileged when it is I who am lacking? When my lust is not satiated, why worry about them, the disgusting other. In fact, is it they who prevent my happiness, and more importantly, my very survival.
This moral implosion, this ethical decline, will spell a cruel end to our civilization. We mustn't be confused, there is a real threat of death that hails from the fundamentalists of the Middle East, but we are no utopia either. We are strangling ourselves with self-imposed misery. Our society of individual rights and equal opportunity, is the platform necessary for a strong and happy civilization, but alas, without individual morality, without studied and taught ethics we are nothing more than a jungle of beasts disguised as civilized creatures.
One may read into this that I am calling for a socialist movement; that my enemies are the big corporations. This analysis would be dead wrong. I have not the interest in this essay to explore the positive and negative aspects of the many varying social orders, I am merely calling for something much more simple, yet sublime. A return to values. We need to study ethics, teach ethics, live ethics. Scholars of history today know more than they ever have.We have seen many systems that have tried and failed. We have watched many revolutions against tyranny only gain power and become tyrannies themselves. Who better than we to create a lasting ethical code? One that seeks the best for the individual, whilst not forgetting the whole. One that embodies the morality inherit within each of us. One that is led by rational discourse.
The first step, I believe, is to live by the maxim: "Who is happy? He who is happy with his lot." Once we reestablish the distinction between "want" and "need," once we realize that our survival is not in jeopardy we can climb Maslow's pyramid and begin to focus on actualization, both of the self and society. Once accomplished, I believe humanity without much help, will begin to peek out from their material caves and seek to build a civilization based on values, based on respect and acceptance of the Other, based on ethical imperatives.
This analysis may, of course, be wrong. Consumerism may be not a cause but a symptom of the moral decline. One way or another, these are the discussions we should be having, we need to be having, or nuclear annihilation is not the only thing we should fear.