Britain’s Lost Sense of Self


I recently read an article in The Economist in which the author states rather plainly that the violence and anarchy of the riots which began in London and have spread across England are the result of “moral malaise.” According to the article, British politicians are quick to hand out their ready-made partisan parlance: the Left says it’s the government’s fault; the Right decries: “criminality, pure and simple.” But The Economist calls both sides on the carpet for lazy thinking. The author instead appeals to an “absence of internal, moral restraints” combined with “near-American levels of [economic] inequality,” which is, of course, ultimately a moral dilemma as well.

I find this appeal to morals surprising on one level, don’t you? I thought we (the West) had moved beyond morality. Talk about “an inherent sense of right and wrong” is so passe. And yet, here we are… again. We can’t ever seem to shake it.

Darwinian psychologists, scientists, and philosophers tell us we need a standard set of morals to survive as individuals and thrive as societies but that there is no basis for such a standard, that the future will consist of those individuals who know there is no such thing as absolute truth but pretend there is in order to survive and reproduce. Is the truth about reality that we know what feels most real and true isn’t real or true and we have to lie to ourselves and pretend that what feels true–but we know isn’t–is? Or is it more likely that the ‘beneficial lie’ is really the truth after all? Did we invent the sun to explain the light and the shadow? Or do light and shadow prove the sunshine?

The article goes on to say the loss of moral norms and absolutes has resulted in a loss of self:

The widespread assumption that, for all their inequalities and fissures, the country and its capital are fundamentally orderly and harmonious, has been revealed to be complacent. The cracks in British society—economic and moral—have opened up, and they are deeper than they seemed.

The riots have been bad for Britain’s already stuttering economy. They have been ruinous for the people whose homes and businesses have been damaged and destroyed. They have tarnished Britain’s image around the world. But most of all, they have been desperately disorienting for the country’s own sense of itself.

This lostness, this social and individual identity crisis, is felt sincerely, not merely in Britain, but all across the modern world. We realize things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be and that morals have something to do with it.

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