Morality requires constant exercise — and Big Government leaves us morally flabby
Don Quixote and I got together for lunch today, and the conversation drifted to innate human goodness. Neither of us believes in it. We both noted that, if people are rich and powerful enough to do so, significant numbers of them readily abandon ordinary morality, with sexual debauchery usually heading the list of their moral collapses.
Monogamy (or even four wife polygamy) is good for the “little people,” but if you’re a president or a movie star or a ridiculously rich person, why limit yourself? Unless you’re as unlucky as Tiger Woods was, your money and power will insulate you from exposure, and you can abandon middle class virtue with impunity. Virtue, apparently, isn’t hard wired. Instead, not only is it learned, but it’s kept in place by constant external pressure and constant internal vigilance.
The same holds true for kindness. Anyone who has ever raised children knows that children are innately selfish and brutal. (Red of tooth and claw, if you will.) Only arduous socialization, put into place using carrots and sticks, and operating both within the house and outside of it, shapes children into civilized beings who can engage in the minimal altruistic behavior that makes society function.
Don Quxiote and I both commented on the fact that even now, in our middle age, we must constantly work to be “nice.” I mean, really, why should I stand in line or pay for things I want or be constrained by speed limits or speak politely to idiots or hold a job (which includes being pleasant and responsible), or do any of the other thousands of other things that I daily do against my instincts?
Why do I do all that? I’ll tell you why. Because I have to eat. If I revert to my two year old monster self — that is, if I don’t make the effort to conform my behavior to normal societal constraints — I will lose my job, I will lose my family, I will lose my home, and I will lose my food. In a moderate climate, one can manage marginally well without shelter, but once you start betraying your food sources, you’re really screwed.
There are rewards for good behavior other than food, of course. Living in a society that promotes individual virtue, morality and altruism means that you’re living in a very good society indeed. Everyone is on his best behavior, because there are fundamental survival rewards for that: Food, shelter and, if you’ve got some free time on your hands, procreation.
What happens, though, when people in a socialist society get food, shelter and sex (but no babies) without having to make the effort? I’d posit that these people lose their incentive to be moral, virtuous and altruistic. On a vast scale, their sociability reverts to a toddler/lizard brain behavior level. Look at Hollywood, look at JFK, look at Bill Clinton, look at England — absent the hardcore morality police in, say Iran or North Korea, if there is no benefit to morality and altruism, people abandon those behaviors. They are not hardwired, they are learned, and we must practice them constantly to maintain them.
In other words, absent morality police armed with acids and the threat of concentration camp, socialism destroys morality and altruism by removing the external pressures that force people to practice these virtues. Do you agree? If so, speak up! And if not, please explain why not.
Cross-posted at Bookworm Room