Something Rush Limbaugh said recently:
I just spoke eloquently, I think, too, about the lack of any moral authority in our culture. There isn’t anybody with any moral authority. Nobody’s allowed to have any. That has been one of the objectives of the left, is to destroy any sense that anybody can define morality. Morality doesn’t exist. What you want to do is what being an American means. And there is no limit to it, and anybody that tries to limit you is a bigot or is prejudiced or is racist or is homophobic or is whatever else. There is no morality. Nobody gets to define what’s right and wrong, because the left knows that if anybody’s able to do that other than them, they’re gonna be on the wrong side much more than they’re gonna be on the right side. And they don’t want that. They hate judgmentalism. They despise it. And that’s what they think of morality. Hence, that’s why we have the culture war. Some simple concepts as right and wrong.
“You don’t get to determine that,” they tell us. That’s not up to you, and it’s not up to anybody, and it’s not up to the Bible, ’cause they don’t believe in the Bible. The Bible is a bunch of phony baloney, plastic banana, good-time rock ‘n’ rollism. Not the Bible. The Bible is a bunch of gunk. God didn’t exist. That’s just made up by a bunch of people to give them authority and power. They don’t want to think about it. That’s why the environment is God or any other inanimate object becomes the deity, because there is no learned morality that descends from it. Nobody’s allowed to have any. That has been one of the objectives of the left, is to destroy any sense that anybody can define morality.
What he’s pointing out is the decline of Christian moral authority in the face of a cultural attack that seeks to up-end all morality. But I’m not sure that the aim is to allow people to do whatever they want to do. I think that the aim is to replace Christian moral authorities with secular ones – and have scientists and doctors and experts become as unquestionable authorities as bishops and archbishops used to be.
Because that’s what’s actually happening. Contemporary healthism is a moral crusade against smoking, drinking, and eating. Smoking bans enforce an antismoking morality. The healthist goal of living as long as possible is a simplistic moral goal. Global warming is all about having faith in climate scientists, and doing whatever they say needs to be done.. The people behind it have very strong ideas about what’s right and wrong, although they like to pretend to be impartial scientists.
We’re living in a very dangerous time, when an ancient ethical code – Christianity – is in seemingly terminal decline, and is being superseded by rival ethical codes. Islam – or Islamic fundamentalism – is one. So also Green/environmentalism. And globalism. And all of them are as authoritarian as Christianity ever was. All of them believe that people must be bullied, blackmailed, and scared into conformity.
It’s a world in which absolutely anything can be upturned at any moment. Gay marriage and transgender bathrooms: did anyone see those coming? In fact, did anyone see smoking bans and soda bans and sugar bans and salt bans coming either?
Nor does there seem to be any rationale behind any of these changes. There just seems to be some sort of consensus that is somehow reached, perhaps in a show of hands in some think tank that I’m not a member of. Gay marriage? Please raise your hands if you’re in favour. Good, we’re all agreed on that one. Transgender bathrooms?
We’re entering a period of moral chaos, as ancient ethical codes are replaced by a rapid succession of contradictory new ones. If you think the world has already been turned upside down, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
One result of this is likely to be that people will start to begin to think hard about ethics in ways that they have hitherto been disinclined to, because they didn’t need to, because they shared the same values as pretty much everyone else, and didn’t need to defend them. But in a world in which hitherto unquestionable values are being tossed on the bonfire, and replaced with hideous new ones, such complacency will no longer be tenable.
My own belief is that we need to discover the rationality that underlies our ordinary everyday behaviour. I notice that when I go from A to B, I usually adopt the shortest route between the two. In more or less everything I do – whether it’s cooking or cleaning or shaving or shopping – I’m almost always trying to get it done as quickly as possible. Before I enter a supermarket, I usually have my path through it planned, optimised to collect everything in as short as possible time. I hate it when I suddenly remember something that’s right up the other end, where I’ve just been. And we are continually doing this, all day every day, right down to where we position our cups of tea or coffee, and our knives and forks, and our discarded bedroom slippers. We all seem to share an ethics of Least Action. It’s not often that, instead of showing people short-cuts in doing something, we show them how to do it much more slowly.
Such small concerns may seem trivial by comparison to the pressing ethical questions of the day – abortion, capital punishment, etc -. But perhaps in ethics we might find that if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. And we should start with the least pressing and simplest ethical puzzles, and gradually work up in stages to the more difficult ones – like whether to step into a busy road to let an old man pass, or make him do it instead.
But that’s just a suggestion. I don’t wish to pretend to be any sort of moral authority or expert. Because I’m not. And have no wish to be one.