It has become very clear that we no longer share a moral and ethical standard in America. To the majority of the population the US as a nation state has been overthrown by a minority that has lost all concept of morality, ethics and compassion. This was accomplished by blatant manipulation of a corrupt districting system in specific states with direct propaganda assistance by foreign governments. The result was an election victory by a group and an individual running for president who is obviously incompetent, suffering from major personality disorders, dictatorial, an uncontrolled liar, and appears to be at the mercy of foreign interests. The stunning realization that this could happen and was the result of at least forty years of growing political corruption has been very difficult to accept.
The justifications presented by the minority who supported this process are very nearly incomprehensible. How did this process destroy the common standards that made the US the leading economic and political state for the thirty years previous? Can this be fixed? The resulting split in the population is obviously part of a much larger process of change that has made these parts of our population unable to communicate beyond very basic and concrete things.
There is a growing body of writing attempting to analyze this disaster specifically on the loss of a moral system in America. umair haque recently wrote identifying this as a critical part of the collapse of American society, economy, and political system. I have also addressed this as a continuous and ongoing tragedy but that’s not the point here.
The question now is how do we go about restoring moral and ethical standards with vibrant and healthy spiritual awareness? As with almost all elements of human society we are steadily accelerating into unknown territory with technology driven paradigmatic change. This dramatic and immediate political collapse has shocked American into its first real case of adult self analysis. Needless to say this is not going well. One serious aspect of that has been the loss of, not only morality but truth beyond the abstract legal system. And that has become a zero sum game with wealth as the handicapping system.
This has finally begun to be recognized on a practical level as a frightening loss of trust.
This loss of trust has resulted in a concurrent loss of truth. Accepting a statement as true requires trust in the source of the statement and that may well be without any independent, objective means of verification. If you have no trust then all statements must be false if you do not have the knowledge or the means to determine independent truth. Science relies on trust even as an objective experimentally based system. Scientific trust is based on the shared understanding of scientific methodology and the confirmed laws and scientific theories that provide its foundation. So the loss of morality is deadly as it leads to the destruction of science for which there is no substitute.
I think a very large reason for the failure of a shared ethic and moral system in America is the bizarre role of religion in this culture. We need to outline my reasons for believing this briefly to understand this bizarre role and moral loss so that we can, perhaps, get to the process of repairing it.
Religion as history
Very briefly western religion, Judaeo Christian Islamic, grew to dominance in the period generally defined as that of classical civilization in the Mediterranean world between 1000 BCE and 1000 CE. This produced a linked set of formal religions that evolved to meet the needs of emerging urban based populations subject to alienation as they lost links to their neolithic past. This peak of religion in western civilization began to fail after the Renaissance around 1400 CE and seriously after the scientific revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The most modern version of this religious group, Islam, was the youngest and most minimal system effectively designed to reach new populations in early tribal or kingdom cultures. It worked effectively to spread the knowledge of civilizations and, for a while, the scientific knowledge until it too began to fail. The extant versions of these pop religions (Judaism was and is linked to a specific defined group of people) continue to move in simpler and simpler forms to marginal populations in preindustrial societies.
Eastern civilization produced similar religious systems although these were not so linked to neolithic mythology in preindustrial societies until the 20th century. The process of decline has been accelerated for them.
The Enlightenment had no use for traditional religions as they were obviously wrong empirically and were tied to barbaric social traditions.
America produced a bizarre offshoot of the western tradition due to its founding by European colonists specifically escaping the early decline of religion in Europe. The real problem came at the establishment of the American political experiment created on the geographic fringe of the 18th century Enlightenment. In an effort to gain broad support in the colonies a diverse set of religious traditions, some obscure and dating back two hundred or more years, had to be dealt with. The Enlightenment had no use for traditional religions as they were obviously wrong empirically and were tied to barbaric social traditions. But politics is politics and the working compromise in the American revolution that met basic Enlightenment standards was simply isolating religion from public, i.e. political life.
In the new America the new articulated right of religious freedom this was understood to also be freedom from religion. Among the educated European descended population under Enlightenment influence this was clear and understood. That proved to be a critical mistake. By removing state control of religion and erecting a single, simple barrier between government and these religions the easiest way to demand additional rights and special privileges was to use religion as the ultimate justification..
The result was the creation new versions of the old and dominant Christian religion in the agrarian populations of the south and west as the new nation grew. This is included millenarian cults and what is now known as fundamentalism in its various political forms. The later was a religious system designed to counter science and empirical knowledge, to protect the immigrant European population from the inferior indigenous population and, particularly, to maintain domination of the immigrant African populations brought in as slaves.
Roughly from the 1830 up to the late 20th century these versions, many still claiming to be authentic Christianity, worked steadily to destroy the constitutional barrier between private and public life. It took literally until the late 1950s to break the barrier as a direct result of the ideological conflict between Russian Marxist communism and American radical capitalism. This is probably most clearly marked by the change of the Pledge of Allegiance to include the words “under God”. On the political front this meant that major, national, political candidates had to be formal members of mainstream protestant Christian churches. This was exactly what the Enlightenment founders had thought would never happen.
This process was further marked by the controversy of John Kennedy being from a Catholic family and running for president in 1960. From that election on, intrusion of American versions of Christianity into the national political process became more and more intense as these same religions were in steady and obvious decline. The problems of religion that the Enlightenment founders of the American Experiment had considered solved became more and more obvious as they were completely entangled in racist and misogynistic bigotry. That entanglement was the result of the old problems of religion as justifiers of racist bigotry and the unquestionable authority of religious government.
This is closely interwoven with much of the accelerating collapse of America socially, culturally, economically, and politically. The loss of shared ethical and moral standards is directly the result of the hijacking of morality by versions of an antiquated religion and the rise of a totally immoral form of predatory capitalism supported and justified by the surviving religionists.
The absence of anything like morality in the Trump era made the disaster of having no shared standards blatantly obvious.
In the 21st century the irony of the increasingly rapid decline of the old religions forms concurrent with the rise of politically corrupt administrations claiming validity from that religious membership exacerbated the loss of any viable public morality. The absence of anything like morality in the Trump era made the disaster of having no shared standards blatantly obvious.
Restoring public morality
Moral and ethical standards did not really disappear. They were distorted in economic and public life by the radical ideology of predatory extreme capitalism. On a positive note this opened the opportunity for the redefinition of public and private standards that had been in process in the west from the 1960s. This is a whole topic to itself but is one of the main points of divergence between Europe and America in the last half of the 20th century.
A great deal of the social revolutionary counter culture of America, unlike Europe, in the 1960s and 70s was escaping the old institutionalized authoritarian structures by bringing back versions of European paganism with expanded exploration of East and South Asian religious, philosophical and spiritual thought. While the European goals were based on a more aggressive socialism or a greater implementation of Marxist principles in government, the American movement was caught in dealing with a far older problem of irrational religion justifying social oppression and authoritarianism.
While the more popular elements of this in America became institutionalized and satirized in the New Age counter culture, there was a natural linkage to the European and Asian movement to focus on public health and welfare as a primary responsibility of government. This was a very clear and evolving difference between Europe and America during beginning in the 1980s.
From the rise of Reagan as a reaction to all elements of civil rights and the responsibility of government for public welfare, America became increasingly radical and abandoned all but financial profit as a social goal. By the end of the 20th century the rise to planetary economic power of Japan, China, and India included a growing interest in public happiness and welfare in balance with economic opportunity. This was initially obscured by the problems of poverty and then rapid industrialization but became increasingly successful and apparent to the world after 2005. The US as a nation state was already becoming seriously behind the rest of the industrial and post industrial world in the ideals of asset allocation and public welfare.
Obama’s administration, that had been seen originally as a great step in correcting thirty years of neglect, became an increasingly desperate attempt to repair damage that had already badly damaged American society. The sudden and complete collapse of the US Republican Party and the manipulation of a confused, ignorant, and increasingly poor population to gain control of the US government both the extent of years of damage and the failure of Obama’s desperate attempt to turn things around.
By this point in America two generations had lost touch with the concept of public well being and had been brutalized by omnipresent and relentless competition. At the same time the population had bifurcated into a majority increasingly fed up with a corrupt political system controlled by a vastly wealthy elite but optimistic at the opportunities for progressive change in the digital transformation and a minority frightened by that accelerating change and the planetary diversity of 21st century digital urbanization who were seeking authoritarian protection for their traditional prejudices.
. . .the progressing economic and political slide of many authoritarian tending nation states into dictatorial, strongman regimes makes reestablishment of a countering ethical standard essential.
By 2010 the tipping point had been reached plunging the industrial and post industrial societies into paradigmatic change on all social and intellectual levels. The absence of shared values, the need for a very new understanding of society and government, and the progressing economic and political slide of many authoritarian tending nation states into dictatorial, strongman regimes made reestablishment of a shared ethical standard essential.
Major paradigmatic shifts are the essence of confusion. This doesn’t happen often on the scale that we are experiencing it at the beginning of the 21st century. Historically fundamental changes of this order have been simultaneous with spiritual and intellectual changes. After all paradigms are the base metaphors for life and our universe.
The major religious changes in human history are part of major paradigmatic shifts. One of the reasons they are so disruptive is because they change how we see ourselves in the universe and in society. That includes spiritual concepts and spiritual understanding as those things are inherently part of our evolutionary structure. In this context we can posit the very early transition to language and self awareness as the first case of this.
Historically the change from Neolithic to early civilization is marked by the transition from “earth mother” to male “sky or warrior gods” as a second transition. The rise of classical religions and civilizations previously mentioned here is traditionally identified as the Axial Age by Karl Jaspers represents a third transition. In the west we can include the rise of popular mystery cults leading to Christianity as another transition with the Protestant Reformation as a leading component of the last great paradigmatic shift of the scientific revolution that removed religion from the center of the paradigm. My point is not detailed but only that spiritual changes are a major component of paradigm change.
My brief coverage of these transitions is to place what we are now experiencing on a planetary level as the newest and, perhaps, largest paradigm shift historically. The role of human spirituality, that was considered dispensable in the previous shift, has created massive problems for us at the end of the era requiring an active and creative recreation of public morality and ethics clearly based on rational and personally based moral and ethical standards.
Historically what is now defined as religion was a unified composite of human knowledge at that stage. Paradigmatic change was, historically, the place where these large changes had first and primary effect. Since the Scientific Revolution, originating in Islamic and European civilization has spread around the planet, it now encompasses the planetary human civilization. This is true whether or not there is an active effort to deny it in cultures who are still working this out. To deny science they must do it in a scientific world view. The irony of this very visible. Fundamentalists use television and digital media to spread their message while having to couch there alternative view of the universe in the terms of physics and astronomy. We have recently had a fit of flat earth enthusiasts working to do the same thing.
What comes out of these changes is a new spiritual life that places us in the new paradigmatic universe and answers the age old questions in the new language of life.
So we do not need to build a new spiritual reality from scratch or struggle to revise an old one to the new order, although many will spend their lives attempting this, but simply looking at the new shared morality that is emerging in the digital world around us.
The new spiritual universe
It seems increasingly obvious that the new spirituality is built, not surprisingly, on diversity and a very personal spiritual order. Our highest knowledge is a scientific understanding of our universe at a subatomic as well as a macro level with the instantaneous interconnections point and wave dichotomies of quantum mechanics.
Both our awareness of ourselves and others is a factor in our nature and how we understand everything around us. But you don’t need to be cosmologist or physicist to know that this exists. At the paradigm level these are new metaphors that help us share how we understand and function in the world. You don’t need to know the details of Schrodinger's Cat to maintain that as icon of our universe. In fact its power is its mystery that many of us have become comfortable with knowing as a mystery.
This is actually, in one sense, a return to the earliest human spiritual systems in animism and shared family gods.
Hence the rapid decline of the classical religions, and the concept of religion itself, among the newest post industrial generation being replaced by simpler spiritual knowledge that is defined for each individual. This is actually, in one sense, a return to the earliest human spiritual systems in animism and shared family gods. This has very deep roots but the new forms are better suited to our digital and virtual age. Simplification removes the conflicts and errors of earlier efforts to explain everything with an unquestioned narrative. Incidentally dealing with this problem can be seen in Chinese religions tradition as the differentiation between Confucian moral philosophy for public life and a heavily modified Taoist tradition to handle mystery and the unknowable.
This also connects the steady growth in Buddhist spirituality in the western post industrial world. What at first glance may be taken as an acceptance of a classical religion is rather the acceptance of a modern adaption of fifth century BCE spiritual practice in India later adapted to China with its own tradition of philosophical spiritual systems. For many people this fits very neatly into the 21st century need for self awareness and recognition of the self as an illusion for a personal spiritual center. The traditional Buddhist religion is otherwise dying exactly the same all other classical religions are dying. They no longer meet our spiritual need in this age.
Coming soon: The role of ritual and meditation in the new spirituality