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Photo: flickr.com/Ted Eytan

A Conversation About Our Current Moral Compass

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According to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia have climbed for the fourth consecutive year in the United States. This raises the question of whether or not America is becoming more promiscuous or immoral for some. Here’s a view from the “right” side of the inquiry.

My first thought on reading this is, “Am I premature in saying “so much for ultra-liberal” ideals? Let’s see if I am jumping the gun here, or if I am reaching for a more righteous mind? Here are some thoughts on the direction our society is headed.

The data from the CDC shows that nearly 2.3 million US cases of these sexually transmitted diseases were diagnosed last year. This breaks the previous record by more than 200,000 cases, according to the data. But does this mean we are rolling down the path of iniquity? For scientists STDs occurring is a function of probability. But for society overall their prevalence must, at least in part, be a direction along our moral compass. Enter social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is quoted as saying that morality is “like the temple on the hill of human nature,” in this story at The Atlantic. The social scientists goes on to proclaim that morality is “our most sacred attribute,” as other experts cited reveal our perceptions of our individual saintliness. But does our physical promiscuity reflect a morally bankrupt society? Experts do not directly address this, but scientists like Haidt do research the eastern versus western morality limits.

As a “for instance,” Haidt’s research showed that people who live in countries where there a higher prevalence of disease also place a higher value on purity, as well as loyalty and authority. But does this mean that America’s healthiness has led to a lack of moral fortitude? Maybe, but it’s more likely that higher rates of STDs are (in part) a function of liberals tending to focus mostly on care, fairness, and liberty, rather than loyalty, authority, and purity. This can only be true, of course, if we accept the six moral guideposts of Dr. Haidt, who just happens to be a New York Times bestselling author on these subjects.

Haidt has developed something called the social-intuist model, which says our morality is based on automatic processes–moral intuitions–rather than on conscious reasoning. Without getting into genius level social-religious theory here, suffice it to say liberalism and conservatism play a major role in our ideas of long-term, individual, and collective morality. Haidt would content my discussion here is a kind of right-wing political centrism, perhaps. But in his book The Righteous Mind, the author discusses the effects of political psychology on our belief systems. He also gives lectures on reducing political divisions as a means of society achieving “true and good” policies for the future. And you thought my moral judgemental approach against supra-liberalism was crazy?

Society’s becoming more promiscuous leads to higher rates of STDs, this is not even debatable. But what is food for thought is the level and direction of tolerance we exhibit as a society. I refer here to  Marilynn Brewer, a social psychologist and professor emeritus at Ohio State University, whose studies (also via The Atlantic) on ethnocentrism among tribal groups in East Africa bear out some of my contentions. Her work shows a moral progression in that smaller and more ethnocentric groups tend to “live and let live.” Meanwhile, more developed groups (like American society) become more depersonalized as they become larger and more complex. Brewer says that:

“...the institutions, rules, and customs that maintain in-group loyalty and cooperation take on the character of moral authority.”

flickr.com/Ryan Welsh

This leads us to our ideas of morality in America today. According to the scientist, this progression leads to a collective idea where “different” means “immoral” – which, as you can imagine, can reflect on the pervasive liberal or conservative trend. Or to be blunt, as society adopts more liberal psychology, conservative prerogatives like chastity (for instance) becomes immorality. This reversal of ideas is what has happened to America. We see the evidence in an ever-increasing incidence of problems that stem from a breakdown in personal morality, which in turn leads to the a need for more police, courts, prisons, social programs (health programs in the current context), and so forth, in order to cope with the resulting social problems. In this story for the Trumpet, published by the Philadelphia Church of God, author Joel Hilliker says:

Morality has always featured heavily in America’s history. But the morals being promoted and preached today are unlike any the nation has ever seen.”

Right or wrong in as far as the Church of God’s overall mission, Hilliker’s discussion on a “New Great Awakening,” to a new definition of morality is spot on. According to Hilliker, this new moral imperative ensures:

“There are no absolute virtues: Depending on the individual and the circumstances, excess, indulgence, intoxication, arrogance and greed may all be praised as Moral or condemned as Immoral.”

While I do not agree with all of Hilliker’s jabs at this new moral celebrated across America, it is clear he’s right with regard to the decaying fabric of our society. Hilliker offers us a window into a bold new brand of moral inquisition, and epidemic level STDs are least of its symptoms. Nevertheless, STDs are behavior-linked diseases that result from unprotected sex. Furthermore, behavioral, biological, and social factors contribute to the likelihood of contracting an STD. 

Finally, Americans are misinformed by mass media messages about sexuality, sexual behavior, and sexual responsibility. Premarital sex, cohabitation, and nonmarital relationships are depicted as the norm in the media, but the same media provide little frank and informed advice about STDs, sexuality, contraception, or the harsh realities of early pregnancy and parenting. So, to what prevailing sentiment can we attribute this? Is the empowered generation a product of old-fashioned conservatism? A recent study found an average of 10 incidents of sexual behavior per hour is shown on network television during prime time. Do you think this fact is playing any role at all in the transmission of STDs? The CDC says STDs are one of the most critical health challenges facing the nation today.” A recent study I found deals with American promiscuity, and not STDs specifically. The results as far as political affiliation are interesting:

“The residents of Promiscuous America are predictable in many ways. They’re less likely to be married and more likely to be divorced. They’re several times as likely as their less adventurous peers to have cheated on a spouse. They watch more porn. They’re more likely to be political liberals than moderates or conservatives.”

Is the latest report on an STD epidemic a sign America’s immorality is crumbling the nation? I’ll leave that study up to the reader. What is certain is that religion and previous ideas about morality are being toppled. This article at Media Monitors Network offers an interesting perspective on our crumbling morality. Author Stan Moore portrays us now as Jerry Springer junkies who not only hate the old moral compass but who want to destroy any semblance of conservative values utterly.

“It seems as if America has gone beyond amoral, and has now come to a status of popular culture in which anti-morality is the order of the day. Anti-morality is “cool.” It is certainly profitable. It drives government policies in many ways. To promote morality itself is now considered outrageous and provocative.”

Is an STD epidemic a symptom? Maybe we should ask blood pressure patients if passing out on the stairs is a sign of a problem?

Author: Winston Smith