dinsdag 30 juli 2013

Moral vacuum

Most of us, at least outside the bible belts, are not afraid anymore of an allmighty, punishing God who monitors all of our comings and goings. And as to the omnipotence of nature, we mostly feel (rightly or not) we manage to reduce it to acceptable proportions.

It feels like progress that we are more able to relativize the absolute demands of the high authorities of the past, so that there is no longer a massive set of rules that everyone must obey. We now believe that every person has a right to their own opinions and that other opinions should be respected, even if it produces a multitude of viewpoints.

But where does that progress bring us? Does this trend not necessarily end in a cacophony of opinions and touchiness, or otherwise in aimlessness and indifference?

The Dutch historian Thijs Kleinpaste treats that question. Indeed, he says, we accept each other's equality, but there are many indications that we hardly want to consider the implications. Because real equality would mean that we are aware of the tragedy associated with the collision of several conflicting but legitimate views. Plurality of views means that irreconcilable opinions rubb painfully against each other and that nevertheless you want to keep it that way, says Kleinpaste.

Michael Sandel discusses the same question. He notes that with the disappearance of the great moral legislators (God and Nature) also the moral debate has disappeared. Important issues are only addressed yet in a technocratic or administrative way. We are so aware of the fact that we think differently about the public good, that in the public domain we try to be as neutral as possible and set aside our moral convictions. Hence the embrace of the concept of the free market: that is supposed to be neutral also.

But meanwhile, Sandel says, people yearn for public debate on major ethical issues. He notes that with his students. During debate colleges their faces radiate because they feel included in a community by the debate. Precisely because of the respectful exchange of views, however different, a sense of belonging is created.

But apparently that happens too seldom, Sandel thinks. You might conclude that progress has not yet sufficiently advanced. We hang halfway: God and nature can not scare us any longer with absoluta, nor do they give us moral guidelines. But there is nothing yet which has come instead.

What could possibly take its place? What is needed so that we again get the feeling that something is at stake?

In line with what Sandel says, I think we can take each our own and other people's opinions more seriously. With the effect that we not just tacitly allow everyone to have his opinion, but that we more actively question each other's views. Not in a panting or sensational way, but definitely curiously and eagerly. Because strange enough, that creates commonality.

Also see Holy Fire, Polyphony and Secular Varieties