All right, all right; I used a clickbaity title. This is Rome, I did the thing. So sue me.
All of those things are problems. All of them. But I want to take them all as pieces of the puzzle, as symptoms of a much more fundamental issue that our societies are having. I’m proposing that there is a larger, more all-encompassing problem. And it is this issue that I wish to glorify with the label The problem.
Did you see how I pluralized “society” there? It wasn’t a mistake.
America is no longer a single society. It’s two. And the problems that America is having with this are not limited to America. We can see exactly the same problems in the Islamic world, in Europe, in Africa, in China and Japan, in Russia–all of humanity seems to be battling itself, and the root of the problem always seems to be the same.
It all boils down to externally versus internally imposed morality.
I got to thinking about this after I posted an article on my Facebook page concerning a statement made by the Great Blowhard, Rush Limbaugh. You can read the thing if you want, but the focal point of what he said really boiled down to this quote:
“You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.”
The comment thread I have on this is pretty predictable. Because of course consent is the thing that truly matters. What in the fuck is he talking about? It went beyond being disgusted with Mr. Limbaugh and came out in a place where we were simply confounded by him. But someone in the world is listening to this guy. A lot of someones. And they are buying what he is selling. So I sat down and began to think long and hard about how, exactly, that happens.
The first thing you have to do to understand these comments is make two very simple assumptions. Ready for this? Here they are:
Assumption #1: All sex that is not a single man with a single woman outside of marriage is wrong. If you have sex outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage, you have done an evil act. And the act itself was evil, regardless of whether you consented to having sex. So consent doesn’t figure into the values judgment.
Assumption #2: Sex within a marriage is the right of the man and the duty of the woman. Therefore, consent doesn’t figure into the values judgment here either, because the man is entitled to the sex as part of his due for being a husband, and the woman no longer has the right to refuse consent because she is now a wife.
Boom! All one has to do is assume two basic assumptions, and suddenly consent is meaningless. Of course, those two assumptions make the progressive morality most of the people reading this article have recoil in horror, but nevertheless. The comments make sense. Which means the people listening to Limbaugh’s little rant and nodding their heads take those two assumptions as a given in their own morality.
The next question I asked is: how? How in the heck do we get here? Now, I’m an atheist, so my first knee-jerk response was to blame religion, but that’s not exactly en pointe. Religion figures in, but I know an awful lot of religious people who share the same horror as I do about that particular mindset. So it’s not religion, exactly.
And then I hit it. The only way one gets to those assumptions in life is by starting out with them, and refusing to change. Someone with that kind of morality has it because they:
1. Were instructed in what is right and wrong by some form of authority figure. This could be a religious figure, but it could also be their parent, or a community leader, or really anyone that was seen by the subject as an authority figure on that which is good and that which is evil. In addition to this, the subject also must
2. Adhere to the belief that questioning the externally-imposed morality is, itself, immoral.
As soon as I started looking at the world, and the people in it, this way, everything made sense. Religion is only one vector for externally-imposed morality. It’s a strong one, but it’s only one. If you look at the world, though, almost all our social problems stem from the fact that people have been taught what is good and evil, and not how to evaluate a thing for being good and evil. In the externally-imposed morality, reflection and insight are discouraged. Adapting and evolving one’s sense of right and wrong are discouraged. Right and wrong are presented as static lists of things to adhere to, not as a way of thinking about the infinite number of possible situations one may encounter in one’s life.
Bigotry, racism (hell, the very concept of race as opposed to culture), misogyny…all of these things make perfect sense when viewed in this light.
Ever since the combined movements of the Civil Rights and the Vietnam Protests, we’ve been shifting away from an externally-imposed morality system to an internally-imposed one. And that makes the people who still exist on the old system nervous. We progressives actively engage with the concepts of right and wrong; we evaluate and consider a thing based on its merits. What alt-right conservatives really hear when they hear “Make America Great Again” is “Get Everyone Back in Line with What is Right.” And to them, Right is the thing their fathers or their pastors taught them; and those people were taught by their etc, etc, etc.
How do we fix this? No idea. But all fixes start by identifying the problem, and I think I’m finally starting to figure out ours.