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Life Without Morality

Jeffrey Tucker

Posted September 15, 2022

Jeffrey Tucker

Why have we allowed kids’ brains to become so poisoned? Whether it’s the high school sophomore who shot up a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, or the 18-year-old who shot up an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Both of these shooter schools were closed by the government. That cut them off from peers and normal social life and the civilizing effect that has. They lived online. That same disruption affected millions of others, robbing people of a center and clarity about life’s meaning. The grotesque ideology adopted was the replacement for morality. 

In Freudian terms, the last two years provided every pathway for the Id to displace the Superego, leaving nothing but instinct fueled by resentment and hate. Behavior is but a sign, a marker. Millions more have been so affected, as we lost two years, not only of education but also of socialization opportunities. Networks have been shattered. Expectations that life can be stable and good, and always will be, are gone for many among a whole generation. 

Deprivation

What kinds of things unleash this Freudian Id that is always just beneath the surface? Isolation. Despair. Deprivation. This is linked to a shattering of social bonds (via “social distancing”) and also material loss. These cause hope to evaporate. A happy future starts to seem unattainable, and so there is a loss of desire to work toward that end. Instead, the psychology of reversion takes place: to behave in a primitive, anomic, and violent way. 

Freud is a good guide to this tragic process, but to see the other end of the moral spectrum, we can turn to Adam Smith’s masterwork The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It is heavy on the analysis of what it means to feel empathy, and not only to feel it but to rely on it to the point that our own well-being is connected to the belief that others too are experiencing something like a good life. 

What instills this higher sense in our minds? It is the practical experience of depending on others and finding value in their labor, productivity, contribution to community life, and coming to see our own well-being as bound up with the fate of others. This is what the market itself encourages: the gradual recognition that others, and indeed all people, are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. 

The universalization of this sense is never complete, but as civilization and prosperity grow, we make progress toward that end. This is what grants us ever better lives. Without it, we can very quickly descend into barbarism in the way The Lord of the Flies describes. This is particularly true in the volatile years of youth when the search for meaning is active and the mind is malleable in both good and dangerous ways. 

Take away community and you take away the thing that instills that Smithian sense of empathy. All of this is contingent on a functioning market and social order. Without that, a decline in mental health can lead to violent outbursts and even genocide. 

The World Can Be Broken 

Like you, I never wanted to live in a society that is devolving ever deeper into moral decay. Along with that is, inevitably, a fall in overall prosperity. 

Years ago, I was having lunch with one of the great economists who had dedicated his life to studying economic freedom the world over. He developed the metrics to quantify this progress and ranked countries. I asked him the big question, whether there was ever a chance that in the West we could lose what we take for granted, and find ourselves falling back to ever more primitive ways, eventually losing both freedom and prosperity. 

His answer came quickly: there is almost zero chance of that. Markets are too complex, the law is mostly good, and humanity has learned the right path. The foundations of civilization are so strong that it would require a mighty effort to break them. I was relieved to hear this and went on with my naive ways. 

Two years ago, in spring, this confidence in the future was shattered. A friend just now described it to me as a nightmare unfolding in real-time, as ruling class elites play willy-nilly with sacred rights and liberties while smashing so much of what it has taken hundreds of years to create. 

The results are all around us. It’s not only about educational losses, inflation, falling financials, empty shelves, declining health, and shortened lives. Above all else, it is about the decline of society’s moral sense. 

We saw public officials engaged in the unthinkable and that sent a message to everyone else. There are no more rules. Nothing that we thought mattered really does matter. The elites turned against religion and left whole societies vulnerable to believing anything. The replacement is not rationality but primitivism and the destructive mindset. 

How Bad Can This Get?

Many are now asking the unthinkable: just how bad can this get? We have examples from history of how forces like inflation can prompt rapid devolution. Venezuela is a good example: a prosperous and civilized country falling into the abyss when the money fails. Germany too comes to mind. One or two things going wrong can cause a crack in civilized life that exposes whole social orders to the unthinkable. 

What’s awesome and terrifying to contemplate is just how many things have gone wrong all at once. The quality of money has taken a huge hit and will likely endure many more. 

But we also have a health crisis, a psychological decline, massive learning loss, dependency on government largess, a loss of work ethic, an ideological putsch against basic tenets of traditional liberalism, a revolt against religion, and a wholesale loss of trust in elites, even as the administrative state alongside intellectual elites remain firmly in control of the apparatus of power at all levels. 

This is an extremely dangerous mix, so much so that it is hard to find historical examples. Our moral sense is getting dulled by the day. We are getting used to rising crime, falling purchasing power, the loss of opportunity, diminished hopes for the future, and rising social chaos. 

Our friend networks have been shattered, our communities broken, small businesses beaten, and so many of our leaders co-opted into a machinery of evil. The tools we thought would save us and lead us into the light have betrayed our rights, privacy, and liberties. 

Perpetual decline and fall are not inevitable. It is fixable but every powerful force out there, especially mainstream media, seems to stand against that. It is all designed to demoralize us and cause us to give up. Simply put, we cannot accept this fate. It strikes me that there is still time, providing that we understand what is happening and the grave consequences of letting it all take place without a fight. 

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