Last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald carried two opinion pieces on greed, ethics and a “broken” western society that presented a disturbing picture.
Greed and economic meltdown
Paul Sheehan discussed the current world economic instability in Greed of boomers led us to a total bust. He argued that greed, over consumption and “a culture of entitlement” by the generation born after World War II were mainly responsible:
This is a crisis of consumption and self-absorption, a desire for more thn was needed or expected by previous generations. It is a crisis of moral and economic obesity.
Sheehan argues that “the baby-boom-and-bust generation” has been “fattening the world with its debt”, and now we face “a decline in expectations and lower living standards” and “a return to the more frugal times of previous generations, when expectations were lower, houses were smaller, and consumption was fuelled by what we could afford, not what we could borrow.”
Ethics and a decline in public behaviour
In Old-fashioned morals can rescue societies broken by bad behaviour Alexander McCall Smith considered some less savoury aspects of modern western society, including:
- the recent public disorder in British cities;
- studies that showed that almost half the british population was prepared to steal and commit fraud; and
- a US study showing that three quarters of US students were regular cheats.
Smith points to a couple of causes of what is now being called a “broken society”:
He says “the destruction of the family as the fundamental social unit” would be fine if we had replaced the family with something else, and so “devised ways of ensuring children had stability and security”. But we haven’t, and so “considerable numbers of them are brought up instead in chaotic households where there is no consistent authority”. he says we should therefore expect “behavioural problems and damaged lives”.
we are creating …. a culture in which we seem to have abandoned many of the values on which we based our civilisation.
Smith argues that the cause of this breakdown is ‘moral pluralism’:
- “Schools cannot teach values because not everybody shares those values.”
- He also suggests that the reality presented by TV and film “celebrates dysfunction, violence and anti-social behaviour” – popular films are “highly aggressive in tone” and reality TV accentuates “selfishness, shallowness and often sheer nastiness”.
Are these commentators correct? Is western society ‘eating itself’? Are these just growing pains, or something more endemic and serious? Do we have any answers?