Moral Absolutism and the Rise of Authoritarianism in America

The idea of moral relativism has become an object of scorn and derision over the past few decades in America. The new millennium has witnessed the burgeoning growth of a heretofore unknown style of authoritarianism based on a moral rigidity that is far too simplistic to have any real application in the modern world. This authoritarian strain puts forth the idea an absolute morality not only does exist in the world, but can actually be contained and restrained in the pursuit of security and justice for all.

Concepts relating to social justice originate from codified morality; all aspects of society that are subject to inequalities can be traced back in some manner to a written moral code. In the US that code is based on a set of Judeo-Christian ethics that range from the Ten Commandments to the Epistles of Paul. In the Middle East, the code traces back to the Koran. Far Eastern nations derive their concept of social justice from the teachings of such masters as Buddha or Confucious. It is in the arena of codified ethics that the problems of trying to enforce ideas of absolute morality enter the fray. In a more Utopian society, social justice would be proscribed by simple moral truths that would approach something closer to the absolute. For instance, the social injustice levied against minorities, women and homosexuals in America can be directedly traced back to the Biblical precepts either misinterpreted or reinterpreted by the prevailing powers. Over a hundred years ago, it was unceasingly difficult for Americas growing up in slaveholding states to correctly perceive that owning another human being was as horrific a social injustice as is possible. Today, though clearly the situation is far less obvious, many Americans seem incapable of perceiving that denying or restricting certain rights to homosexuals is a social injustice. Why?

For those growing up during the age of slavery, this difficulty in perception was the result of many forces. For one thing, slavery had become so institutionalized and naturalized in the minds of people that it came be regarded as a natural fact. Also contributing to this widespread rejection that slavery was a social injustice was the fact that black people had been dehumanized to the point where they weren’t just regarded as property, but as lacking a soul. This mindset was not established out of thin air, it is a direct result of the philosophical musings by some by very esteemed medieval philosophers that provide a Biblical justification for slavery of blacks. In fact, this justificatino became dogma among the Christian denominations that grew to power in the South.

The same thing is happening today as people base their unblinking acceptance of discrimination against an entire group of people based not on any individual offenses, but rather on a morality deemed unacceptable based on interpretations of the Bible. Moral absolutes are no place upon which to base a framework for social justice. Blankly condemning all black people or all homosexuals is perhaps the worst example of how absolutist approaches are doomed to fail.

The purveyors of moral absolutism in America have drawn a line in the sand by claiming that life begins at conception, therefore abortion is murder, and therefore it is morally reprehensible. At the same time, the expression of Americans through both polling and voting indicate that those who are the most morally outraged by the so-called murder of a fetus are also the core supporters of wars in foreign countries, executions of the innocent by police officers, caged children and perversions of humanity like Roger Stone. Moral absolutism can be blamed for the mistaken perception of priorities, but what about the rest of society that ignores such an egregiously ironic circumstance as killing 50,000 civilians–or even just half that–in the name of bringing freedom and democracy to those very same people? To paraphrase a famous observation, the death of one pretty blonde American teenager in Aruba is murder, but the deaths of 50,000 faceless foreigners is just a statistic. And, apparently for a pretty large group of people—especially the ones in charge–a fairly meaningless one at that.

The politics of distraction remains perhaps the single greatest obstacle in America for renewing the call for social justice here. What observations can be made about a country that knows more about and cares more about the mysterious disappearance of a formerly anonymous teenager in Aruba than it knows about the far less mysterious murders of thousands of lower income minority women and children and men? Where is the sense of social injustice that the disappearance of an attractive blonde Caucasian girl was deemed worthy of nightly coverage on the national news when every single day Americans of all ages, races and and income levels go missing? Why, exactly, was Natalee Holloway’s disappearance seemingly capable of getting high ratings while other crimes that have far more impact of every American went unmentioned? More to the point: who even remembers anything about that case today aside from her family? At one time…almost every American.

Blaming simple racial bias for the lack of concern about real social justice misses the point. The induction into the American consciousness of the Natalee Holloway saga revealedconsiderably less about the racial divide in America than it did about about how radically Americans views on social issues are shaped by the media. Perception informs us that the media in America is an entity of liberal thought hellbent on inculcating leftist ideology into the minds of viewers. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Which is not to suggest that the media is a conservative entity.

The real issue so often overlooked by those who unquestionably accept the lies about a liberal media being sold to them by the likes of Hannity and Carlson and Limbaugh and that blonde talking skeleton–what was her name?–is that the media is shaped by economic need; in order to survive it must sell advertising time and in order to charge the most for that time it must achieve the highest ratings. The end result is a complete absence of creativity and imagination by the news media in America; it has become just another cog in the machinery of entertainment. News is no longer provided for information purposes, but for entertainment purposes.

Issues involving social injustice are only deemed worthy of coverage in the media when there is exciting visual accompaniment. Proof of this can be contained in just two words: George Floyd.

The underlying problem with such media control of the transmission of information is that it serves to reinforce among Americans the issues they feel they need to be concerned most about. Take the issue of immigration. Most of the time most of the people in American never really give much thought to immigration. Every two or four years, however, it suddenly becomes this massively important issue. Or so we’re told. This was true even before the guy promising Mexico would pay for a wall to fix the problem spent fours years in office not building a wall which Mexican didn’t pay for. A tiny fractional minority of people in charge of media have deemed it a moral absolute that illegal immigration is an evil threatening to destroy America and so every two or four years we can continue to be fooled into thinking once again that an issue most of us never even think about most of the time is one of the most pressing issues of our day.

The concerns over what are seen as injustices in America are obviously influenced to a great extent by the lack of imagination and engagement of Americans. With so many distractions at our disposal, the time that most Americans spend thinking about the concept of injustice has fallen to all time lows. Yes, every one of us realizes that thousands of stories could potentially be covered by news organizations every day, but it has become subconsciously ingrained into our psyche that the stories that receive coverage by all the media outlets must by definition be the ones that are most important. Obviously, in more than a fair share of cases, they are not the most important.

For Americans to work their way back to actually caring about social justice in this country, one of the requirements will be we get past some of these institutionalized moral codes that presuppose absolute views. In addition, Americans will be required to dig past those stories being fed them by the media. It’s not enough to simply understand what the media has decided is an important issue affecting us all, we must look to the causes of both why that issue has arisen and also why that issue has been chosen for coverage by the media. The typical route taken in America is to ignore the complexities of the causes behind social injustice and rather attack the more easily digestible symptoms. For instance, the influx of illegal immigrants has been shaped as a causal effect contributing to myriad problems in America. In fact, illegal immigration is a but a symptom of a convergence of other causes that do not, unfortunately, lend themselves to sound bites and fifteen second video clips.

Facing up to the real causes behind social injustice requires a commitment to critical engagement with the issue and that is simply too time-consuming. It is far more efficient to take an absolutist approach and condemn all evils equally. A relativist approach opens the door to explanations and justifications that all too often tend to undermine the very codified morality that engendered those moral precepts in the first place.