“If It Feels Right” then…

14 09 2011

Felling is not my forte, but it is this culture’s. Being ’emo’ is ever so popular, portrayed by the black & white shots of sad, never-look-at-the-lens pictures. Sensitivity is on an upswing, we have to always be on the watch to not offend, as feelings have taken over our foundation for morality. ‘If you are offended, there must be something the other did wrong.’ If your feelings are hurt, it is grounds to demand an apology. It is all, as they say, baloney.

To defend myself from criticisms of being a stoic biased against emotion, I call upon David Brooks for reinforcements. In his NY Times Op-Ed column titled, “If It Feels Right”, Brooks explores the rusting of the moral compass particularly in American college-aged youngsters. Having never really thought about scenarios of right and wrong, it is inevitable that what they are most familiar with, feelings, would fill this void of moral ignorance:

When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

To add to the moral ignorance, individualism (in it of itself not necessarily bad) acts to further decay the already gangrene infected sense of morality.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

And so, individualism only eliminates all possible standards outside oneself (social or cosmic) and begins to trust the one thing left to guide them: conscience led by emotion. The conscience is normally helpful but without an outside standard of morality, it merely becomes an excuse behind a nebulous impetus. Brooks’ diagnostic conclusion is a bit frightening:

In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.

It’s frightening because justice, which encompasses rights and wrongs, always points to an outside standard by way of acknowledging a shared standard. Thus, this individual morality based on feelings is as good as no morality. Imagine someone feels like punching a random person on the street, and it makes the puncher feel good (and it most definitely will). Does this make such an act right? This outrageous example simply illustrates that it does not take much thought to realize the necessity of an agreed standard. The discussion of moral origination between social construct or divine institution is for another time and place, but one thing they share is the fact that they do not originate in each human individual. If you were to place morality on a continuum of evolution based on coherence, privatized morality founded on feelings would be from the stone age, morality of social consensus would locate itself in the medieval era, and morality sourced from an divine outside origin would place itself in the modern age. So like I said, it’s frightening. If what Brooks reports is true, we’re devolving…


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3 responses

15 09 2011
charles

i laughed at the thought of punching a random stranger. then i got angry when i thought about the flash mobs in center city jumping random strangers.

15 09 2011
Paul Park

Exactly. The natural reaction of anger towards injustice assumes that there is a standard. It implies there there is an outside source that determines what we can and cannot be angry about, or at the least an agreed upon standard. If morality was individually based then not only would we have no ‘right’ to get angry, but it would amount to absurdity.

22 09 2011
Joon

Hey Paul,

Yes I do have a blog and it was was my pleasure to give you some PR, PMM is worth it.

I’m in Wednesday CG with Sarah Chau. We got started this weeks, so feel free to visit.

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