The riots in Great Britain last week are eliciting some interesting reactions across the pond. I am so used to unrest in America always being attributed to poverty or injustice or bigotry of some kind, that I was taken aback when Prime Minister David Cameron blamed Britain's problems on moral decline – and he is being taken seriously instead of being mocked in the media and by the late night comics (as far as I can tell). Cameron said,
“This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Mr. Cameron told an audience at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England. “Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.”
Social problems festering for decades. Interesting. We have been told for decades that how you live really doesn't matter. We have an entire social system set up to alleviate the consequences of moral relativism. Want to have sex outside marriage? Sure! Abortion and birth control can take care of the consequences. If you do happen to get pregnant, we have a massive safety net available. Want to drop out of school and not get an education? No problem! You don't really need to work. The government will provide. Truth doesn't matter. There is no right and wrong. Fathers are not needed in the home (they can actually be quite a bother). Do whatever feels good whenever you want to do it and there are no consequences.
As long as you don't hurt someone else (and who can really define that, anyway, at least in the long term?) be free and pursue happiness, as you define it. THIS has been the popular, accepted religion of the West for the past 5-6 decades now and it was brewing in academia and the arts long before that. Finally, it seems, some are realizing that there are consequences to removing any sense of a moral foundation from Western culture. Eventually, you are left with a society of thugs.
Cameron goes on to say,
“We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong,” Mr. Cameron said. “We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said, about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.”
“Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged — sometimes even incentivized — by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally demoralized,” Mr. Cameron said.
What the social libertines among us fail to recognize or admit is that there is a right and wrong and choosing wrong over and over again usually leads to some pretty severe consequences. When you actually incentivize wrong behavior and alleviate natural and societal consequences of wrong moral behavior, you end up with a broken society that does not know its left from its right and ends up calling up down and down up. When anger swells and riots break out, or when investment bankers swindle a nation driving it into economic collapse without any real consequences (and they actually make money off of it), we find that our entire society is bankrupt with little to stop it from spiraling out of control.
The same thing is happening in the US. Unreported riots are occurring in Wisconsin, Kansas, Birmingham, AL, Chicago, etc. They are being spread through social media and the regular media is not reporting it. The real driver behind these riots of young people attack pedestrians or creating flash mobs to rob stores is not poverty or lack of opportunity. It is the lack of imagination and moral certainty. There are no lines to cross anymore. Bradley Green, professor at Union University, points us to CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man predicting this turn of events by saying that when one generation changes the meaning of things from objective to subjective truth and ideals, then eventually, you will create "men without chests," or men who have no inner strength or moral fortitude. That is where we are. Still, the poets and prophets of our age tell us to continue on as if all is well when clearly it is not.
The truth is, the West has a 1500 year moral foundation that created the society that we now benefit from. Over the past 100 years or more (longer in some respects), that foundation has been systematically removed with the belief that the progress, prosperity, and cultural attainment built on that foundation would survive, because, after all, philosophical foundations are interchangeable and really don't matter much, right? We are now finding that not to be the case. Ideas have consequences and the removal of foundational ideas has consequences as well. There will still be a society and culture in the West – it will just look VERY different than what has come before.
More on this later . . . with some solutions.
See also the New York Times: Britain Debates Slow Motion Moral Collapse and Agenda: With George Friedman on a Crisis of Political Economy from Strafor.