Happiness, Part 4

Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on November 30, 2011

…Should we in the West try to return to a more virtue-based morality?

I believe that we have indeed lost something important—a richly textured common ethos with widely shared virtues and values. Just watch movies from the 1930s and 1940s and  you’ll see people moving around in a dense web of moral fibers: Characters concerned about their honor, their reputation, and the appearance of propriety. Children are frequently disciplined by adults other than their parents. The good guys always win, and crime never pays. It may sound stuffy and constraining to us now, but that’s the point: Some constraints is good for us; absolute freedom is not. Durkheim, the sociologist who found that freedom from social ties is correlated with suicide also gave us the word “anomie” (normlessness). Anomie is the condition of a society in which there are no clear rules, norms, or standards of value. In an anomic society, people do as they please; but without any clear standards or respected social institutions to enforce those standards, it is harder for people to find things they want to do. Anomie breeds feelings of rootlessness and anxiety and leads to an increase in amoral and antisocial behavior. …One of the best predictors of the health of an American neighborhood is the degree to which adults respond to the misdeeds of other people’s children. When community standards are enforce, there is constraint and cooperation. When everyone minds his own business and looks the other way, there is… anomie.


"Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Haidt. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group."
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