A totalitarian society cannot be moral. It can only be immoral. The few moral people in it retain their morality only by defying authority. In such a society, the Young Werther isn’t a screwup, he’s a saint. In our society morality is a choice. Even as we drift into a totalitarian consensus that exchanges choice for obedience, individual opinions for mass media and civilian weapons for a police state, the power of choice still allows us to choose the right track or the wrong track.
The American can still choose to push a man in front of a train, kill a class full of children or vote to turn over his freedom and that of his friends, neighbors and countrymen to the state. Those are all choices that come up on the wrong track. The wrong track is the mass track. It is the track of letting the signals make the choices and of a willingness to kill and die just to appear for a moment as a ghost in the media’s fame machine.
Choice requires a moral culture. It requires a weight of decency to overcome the darker impulses that lead men to take the wrong track. It requires us to think not only of our destination, but how we get there. It demands that we see ourselves not as the train running over a fragile body or as the passengers clumping together for safety while turning over the movement of the train to the driver, but as the drivers of our own train.
A moral society is based on the awareness of choice. Not the empty Wertheresque drama of it, but the knowledge that our choices define our lives and those of our neighbors. They call on us to be good people because the goodness of our society does not come from the law or the state, but from ourselves.
When the American society was hijacked from a consensus of the people and transformed into a top-down programming mechanism for the big thinkers and the deal men, its moral consensus became corrupted by that power. Its morality became a top-down operation, rather than a bottom-up faith, and as the media management has decayed, its mixed signals and the ugly madness that it often broadcasts for its own profit and entertainment have become the ugly madness and mixed signals that lead some of its viewers and listeners to the wrong track.
Originally published at Sultan Knish on February 3, 2013.