Saturday, December 30, 2006

Moral Fashion

When my five year old came home from school chanting:
"Eenie meenie mynie mo..."
I thought, here we go...
"Which will stay and which will go...?"
I'm sure we used to say, "catch a nigger by the toe." Ah hem. I flinch as I type this. "If he squeals, let him go..." Ah, stop! Excuse me. But no one battered an eye back then. I suppose a few did, but I wasn't aware. I didn't even know what a nigger was!

This year I've been fascinated to watch the new ethical fashions come and some of the old go. There's been a clear establishment of the view that drug sellers are bad while drug users are victims. With the five murders in Ipswich there's been a surge of acknowledgment that those selling sex are victims while the users are bad.

I think it's fair to say that these were not widely held views a generation ago. Fashions in morals seem as fluid as any other field. Perhaps more so with the abandonment of an absolute standard in the slide to a secular society.

There are issues we debate, and there are underlying assumptions accepted by both sides of the debate. A few swim upsteam... one columnist had the audacity to suggest that the prostitutes lives were of less value than most - no great loss, he implied. He was roundly put down by left and right, by legalist and libertarian. Most agree that an individual murder victim's social position should not prejudice the vigour of the investigation nor the exactness of justice. But that has not always been the prevailing moral climate. There is little reason to think it will remain as it is now.

There are two possibilities here. Either we have just arrived at the final and complete set of ethical standards for humanity... or fashion will change again. (It would be a remarkable coincidence if this is the age that finally figured it all out.)

It is a near certainty that our children, as post-enlightened adults (or whatever they'll call themselves) will look back on some views held today with a roll-of-the-eyes and mock embarrassment - "oh, that's just how people thought in those days." So I asked myself, what thoughts and values are approvingly smiled upon today by the great and the good, but will seem ridiculous to a new generation?

Perhaps discrimination against the thick will become unacceptable. Nowadays stupid people get an awful rough time, low pay, over-representation in prisons. In future, employees telling jokes about dummies will be frog-marched to tolerance classes. We'll observe Meat-Head Awareness Week, and Dim Pride! No longer will promotion by merit sound so noble... perhaps.

I'm not making judgements about what morals I approve or disapprove of here, I'm just wondering what current standards will prove less enduring than they feel today.

Any other ideas?


Peter said...

There seems to be somewhat of a moral pendulum rather than progression, with concepts swinging back and forth on either side of good and bad. The fat and overweight currently enjoy victim status, but perhaps the pendulum is swinging back on that one.

Matt M said...

It was always "catch a rabbit by its toe" when I were a kid.

Mind you, if our ethical approach towards animals changes in future that might seem almost as bad.

james higham said...

Interesting question. Usually it comes and goes in swings but this time there seems to something dragging it lower and lower and lower.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, I remember the rhyme as ypou do and you are right - nobody thought anything about it. I like this post - very thought-provoking. I'll be back. Happy New Year.

puddlejumper said...

I think fatism and ageism are becoming popular and are likely to continue perhaps in response to an aging population and an increase in obesity. American bashins seems very popular.

But I also see a bit of a backlash against old-style PC. But in a different way.

There was quite an interesting article in the guardian the other week which explores this with regard to comedy.

You might want to have a look,,1981706,00.html

I'd be interested to know what you think.

Onyx Stone said...

Thanks for the comments and links.

The Guardian article about comedy and PC was interesting because that guy is on the inside. He knows how careful the comedians are about whose sensibilities are offended. The non-pc image can be very much a facade.

Trouble is, I just can't bring myself to watch either Borat or Little Britain.