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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Myth of the Moral Compass

“Our country has lost it's morale compass along with it's leadership and if you think Jeb or Hitllary are the solution then you are mistaken.” [sic]
- Anonymous, 4/22 12:36PM, The Romney Strategy, Stonekettle Station

 

Our country has lost its moral compass.

You hear that a lot these days.

Moral compass. Any discussion of crime or patriotism or guns or the current generation or gay rights or women’s health or voting reform or taxes or politics will eventually lead to the moral compass statement. 

Our country has lost its moral compass.

Right.

Listen, as soon as you say to me “the country has lost its moral compass" you and I are done talking.

Because you are engaged in a logical fallacy, a fantasy of your own making, and while that may be your right, it’s my right not to participate in your delusion.

The United States does not now have, nor has it ever had, a "moral compass."

We haven’t lost ours, we Americans, we never had one.

Morality is for people, not nations.

The very notion of a national morality is counter to liberty; it is tyrants and the totalitarianism of theocracies and ideologues which attempt to impose morality on the citizenry by force or threat.

Moral compass?

Who decides what is moral and not moral? The howling mob? Politicians? Celebrities? The media? Pundits? Religion?

Nonsense.

Morality is a human condition.

In a free society, morality must always be an individual choice. Always. Even, and especially, if others chose differently from you.

Free people decide for themselves what is moral and what is not.

Morality is a reflection of civilization, not the other way around. As such, morality will, will, change over time, it will evolve.

Morality is not an absolute, not now, not ever. 

For example, most – not all, but most – Americans consider slavery immoral today, but that was not always so. Most of us would say murder is immoral, but we have a long list of when killing another human being is okay, moral, even if illegal.

Morality is always subjective. Always.

Freedom, liberty, means each of us decides what code we will follow.

 

Having a code of conduct imposed on you by government, by political affiliation, by religion, isn’t morality … it is only obedience.

 

Free nations are governed by law.

In the United States, we are governed by our Constitution, by a social contract created from reason and argument and compromise, updated and modified and amended as necessary.

By definition, each person who agrees to live under that compact must make certain moral compromises and this, this right here, is the definition of a free civilization. If all three hundred and fifty million Americans embraced the same morality, the same ideals, thought and believed the same way, they wouldn't be free human beings, they'd be robots.

Governments are not moral.

Nations are not moral.

Government, nations, may behave ethically or not. They may act within the law or not. And those laws and ethics may or may not be based on generally accepted morality, don't kill, don't steal, don't hurt others, but such is the world we live in that sooner or later a government, a nation, will have to engage in behavior we as individuals find immoral.

A government may have to keep secrets from its people, it may have to lie.

It may have to put human beings to death and force others to live.

It may have to harm individuals for the greater good.

It may have to go to war.  And war is always immoral. There is no just war. War is killing and destruction and horror even when it is for the best of reasons and fought with the noblest of intentions and for all the right reasons. But sometimes even the most moral nation is forced into it, forced to defend itself or others, forced to attack, forced to kill and maim and destroy, forced to take immoral actions.

For a free people, morality is and must always be a personal choice.

For nations, for government, morality is impossible. Government can only act ethically and within the law, adjusting both as necessary for survival.

"The country has lost its moral compass" is a dog whistle.

Here in the United States when you pull the thread on "the country has lost its moral compass" what follows, clanking and banging like a string of tin cans tied to a dog's tail, is thinly disguised racism, misogyny, homophobia, hate, fear, bigotry, and nostalgia for the "good old days" when people who looked and thought just like you owned everything.

Every conversation that begins with "The country has lost its moral compass" always and inevitably ends with the only solution being the commenter’s religion. Always. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

And every single time you protest and tell me I'm wrong, as soon as you attempt to explain how "the country has lost its moral compass" you always plow through thinly disguised racism, misogyny, homophobia, hate, fear, bigotry, and the good old days on the way to your religion. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Folks, today is no better or worse, morally, than any other day. 

We haven’t lost our moral compass as a nation. We never had one to begin with.

And that’s a good thing.

We face problems as a nation, as a civilization, just as we always have.

The world is always going to hell, just ask anybody.

Attempting to impose your morality on the rest of us isn’t the solution.

It’s the whole damned problem.

89 comments:

  1. wow! so darned right on. thank you Mr. Wright. thank you.
    I do have to be amused that in the quote at the opening/top, the word moral is written "morale". If that's their spelling, then they are probably correct; their morale is tanking, and our morals are fine and dandy. If it's just a typo, then okay; carry on....

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  2. There you go again, right on the money. I tried to tell some arrogant twit that just because I didn't belong to an organized religion didn't mean I wasn't a person who didn't behave in a moral manner and he just didn't buy it. His loss. (Good grief, a pentagonal negative in one sentence. I'm lost in whether I'm a good person or not.) Well, my point was eventually the same as yours: personal responsibility for being a good citizen.

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    1. Pentagonal negative!! Funny. I won't belong to an organized religion either, yet I do think I've got a very good sense of morality. I try to do what's right just because it is. Especially when no one is watching.
      Thanks for the chuckle!

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    2. Technically, a quintuple negative. Grammar, not geometry.

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    3. Well, I've never been good at grammar; thanks! And it wasn't a geometric reference anyway--I'm more a chemical kind of person.

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    4. It might be a pentagon if one were to diagram that sentence? Maybe? If you got really creative with the diagram? Hee hee, does anyone else remember attempting to diagram sentences? Hell in a high school English classroom.

      woof.

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  3. Right on Wright! The US tried to legislate morality in a scheme called "Prohibition". A bunch of killjoys decided that "Evil Brew" was a damnation on America's soul, so nobody would be allowed to (legally) enjoy alcohol. Criminals got rich, bootleggers got rich, and lots of pollution from booze running into the drains and sewers. We cannot and should not legislate morality. It is up to each of us to decide what is moral and legal.

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    1. And the war on drugs followed in its footsteps. More rich criminals.

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    2. And to top it off, government officials during Prohibition poisoned the alcohol that still had to be produced for non-consumptive commercial uses. Can't remember off the top of my head the stats I heard for how many Americans died from this, but I'd say it provides a good fable for what happens when governments legislate based on morality (of a fanatical minority, no less)

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    3. In the system of governance used in the United States, it may well be incumbent upon each of us to decide what is moral. But the only possible reason why any one of us should or could decide what is legal, would be to pass judgment on a law passed by that government, and take organized, constructive action in concert with others so concerned, to change that law. If individuals decide individually that something is illegal and take independent action to right that illegality they are in themselves acting illegally. Few citizens on their own will attempt to define what is legal.

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    4. The 'fanatical minority' for cannabis prohibition was even smaller: 2 people. To wit; Henry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst.

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  4. People who don't know the difference between "its" and "it's" offend my sense of morality. Just saying.

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  5. At first I thought, What? I use that phrase!! But only for people I know that are unethical in many of their actions. And it's extremely rare that I ever say (or type) it. Just my way of assessing folks around me, and happily, there are very few I feel that way about. Thank you for, once again, clearly cutting through the bullcrap that gets posted everywhere.

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  6. Perfectly stated. I wish I was as articulate as you are. I love reading your essay's.

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  7. Yes, this is the argument my subconscious has been looking for. Thank you. Now I have the focus to use against that stupid-ass saying.

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  8. JIm, you write tough truths, but they are truths that need to be read. Many thanks and I wish you continued success and vastly increased readership.

    Cheers, your friend.

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  9. Write on, so that I may continue to refer friends and family to your site. You do a much better job than I ever have at explaining the insanity of politics.

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  10. Jim: You have said it so beautifully. You and I think much alike, but you can say it better than I. Great bit here.

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  11. Nope, I checked in the camping and tools sections, no Moral Compass's for sale on Amazon or Ebay. We might find one at that old Army/Navy surplus store off of Spenard if you dig hard enough. NEVER know what you'll uncover in there!

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  12. Thank you for this! THIS is why as a country we endlessly struggle over abortion, contraception and end of life decisions. These are moral and spiritual decisions that impact our individual liberty. And it is the reason there should be no governmental interference or regulation.

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  13. Ain't dat the truth!
    As I approach my 65th birthday, I'm wondering when were those good old days? And for whom?

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  14. Dear Jim Wright,
    Long-time reader , if a bit quiet, because your prose is so very elegant it does not require my comment. I'm pleased to hear that you will attend Sasquan, because I would be very happy to buy you a drink and allow my brain to revel in the delight of discourse that would sound like Mozart, if it were music. Cheers and thank you! and some chin scritches for Shopkat

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    1. Vivian, thank you. I'm very excited to be attending WorldCon 2015. I will see you in Spokane!

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  15. "'The country has lost its moral compass" is a dog whistle.'"

    And so it is, and that is a loss. The moral compass of the Framers lay in the Enlightenment ideals of freedom, democracy, equality, in the Deism that taught that rights were natural, not a thing that kings could take away, in the fine rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and the thoughtful analysis of the Federalist Papers.

    And all of these things are rejected by the people who are now screaming about moral compasses. These are the founding ideals of the USA, and we are throwing them away for a destructive hypocritical religious fanaticism, overweening greed, and above all a sick submission to fear of the future and the stranger.

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    1. On the other hand, many of the Framers thought it was morally acceptable (if not actually positive or obligatory) to own people, that it was right and wise for the wealthy to make decisions on behalf of the poor, and that land had to be taken by force from subhuman savages. Just sayin'.

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    2. They were not saints. But the lot that talks about "moral compasses" these days have many of their intellectual antecedents in the people who founded an entire church which interpreted the bible to allow—mandate, even—slavery. Every now and again that idea rears its ugly head again, even now.

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    3. They were human, not demigods. And today the Neimiah Scudder's of the world want to trash ALL of it. Dog whistle indeed. Have fun at WorldCom, blog about it a little, please.

      whitelilly

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  16. Thank you for another brilliant essay that says it so much better then anyone else. Keep writing, maybe you can change some minds. Barbara Schneider

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  17. > Listen, as soon as you say to me “the country has
    > lost it's moral compass" you and I are done talking.

    Right, because I hate superfluous apostrophes too.

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    1. Take it up with him, I'm just quoting the guy.

      Previous essay, bottom of the comment queue, goes by the name of "Anonymous."

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  18. So, extending that logic, did the Germans lose their moral conscience when they became Nazis? Apparently not.

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    1. Godwin is rolling in his grave.

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    2. Individual Germans? Maybe. It's not like the Nazi ideas were anything new. But yes, it is safe to say that individual Germans who had moral compasses if/when they became Nazis.

      Germany as a whole or the Germans as a people? Nations and peoples are fundamentally amoral.

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    3. See Hannah Arendt, passim. There were other philosophers who have addressed the question, of course, but that is the name that comes first to my mind.

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    4. Oh yes! Let's now roll out the great "Nazi Card" and smack it down in the center of the discussion table. The great, big, black, swastika-adorned, goose-stepping Nazi card. Let's remind everyone that Nazism popped up into the middle of gentile, western European civilization to become the paradigm of evil in the twentieth century.

      The only thing wrong with this is to ignore how history evolves and how peoples' minds become such and such that allows evil systems to overtake otherwise relatively normal, even (gasp: dare I use the word) moral people. The origins of Nazism are quite deep in many histories, so I think it might be nice just once at least, to NOT play the Nazi Card.

      Let's play the Brit Card, and discuss their systemic immoralities. Or the Portuguese Card, maybe. But no, doubtful anyone wants to hear about the origins of concentration camps...really, hear about them.

      No. Hollywood has seen to it that we think of Nazism as the Great Evil of Virtually All time. The politicians in Washington now like to reinforce this evidently, and more and more it is the Chinese...those sneaky people who just steal or copy everything, you know those hoards of people "over there". They are building islands in the South China Sea and building a large navy,so they are up to evil deeds, aren't they?

      Well, let's be consistent in our talk of immorality under systems. Let's now play a moral card not well played at all. Let's play the Japanese Card instead. Those folks make those benign Toyotas that everyone has to have. Those fine folks who invented the "Shanghai Pogrom", or the "Nanking Riverdance", whcih history ignores and Hollywood finds too difficult to understand because the Japs didn't wear black uniforms or wear swastikas.

      Or even better: Let's now play the "American Card". You know? The one in the game called "manifest destiny" where every dark skinned person on the prairie was good to kill, and entire civilizations of those little, dark skinned savages were marched into oblivion because they didn't exactly fit the white man's business plan. Hollywood doesn't do much with THAT evil either.

      And now we have Iraq and Afghanistan, the wheels of which still turn, their destinations unknown because some ignorant American president reacted to international relations challenges immorally and no-one, NO BODY since has been able to figure out how to put the immoral genie back into the moral bottle.

      But I do agree that "peoples are fundamentally AMORAL".

      Nations are merely a reflection of what the people who comprise those nations decide their nation will be. That construct is developed over generations and generations of diverse experiences that at some point in time, coalesce into a "nation".

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    5. Oh , dang.
      I was hoping Anonymous would answer Mr Wright's question.
      We could all speculate forever but it doesn't signify...
      Alaska Pi

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    6. Pfft. The ability to refer to Godwin's Law does not invalidate the point of the OP. Hitler is a convenient reference point when discussing institutionalized evil. Pushing Godwin's Law is little more than an attempt to divert.

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  19. I customarily prefer to refrain from absolutes. But in this case, I can't think of an exception. I do so love how you write right, Mr Wright!

    Gretchen in KS

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  20. A compass is a good tool but all it does is point North. If you don't know where you are and where you're going, it's useless. Everyone has their own faulty moral compass and none of them agree on True North.

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  21. Are we still allowed to say that certain politicians' moral compasses point due $, to mean that the sole ethic they possess is that they look out for the interest of whoever pays them? Because there seems to be a fair number of those.

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  22. This past Sunday one of my favorites TV programs "CBS Sunday Morning" featured a segment titled "Atheists: In Godlessness We Trust" that presented a refreshingly honest discussion of morality and its relationship (not) to religion. If you missed the program (perhaps you were in church, tee hee) you can read a transcript / summary by typing in your search engine "Atheists: In Godlessness We Trust". People are starting to push back on the notion that morality comes from religion, therefor if you have no religion you are, by definition immoral. One of the persons interviewed has started a blog called "Godless in Dixie" and has started a support group called Openly Secular. He's a loving, intelligent, responsible, good citizen kind of guy who had a job teaching middle schoolers in Mississippi - until one of his students read on his Facebook page that he "liked" an article on atheism so she agressively confronted him in front of a classroom full of students and asked him "are you an atheist?" He declined to answer which was answer enough and next thing you know he lost his job and was transferred to another school. No reason was given in his personnel record and the school administration declined a request to comment for CBS. This guy seemed to have a really strong moral compass but lots of folks think if you don't "believe" you can't possibly be a good teacher, a good parent, a good spouse or a good anything. Maybe "non-believer" will be the new "gay" and we can start to evolve a little bit. The fact that a major network presented a segment like this in the first place gives some hope that we're evolving.

    JZinFL

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  23. "In the United States, we are governed by our Constitution, by a social contract created from reason and argument and compromise, updated and modified and amended as necessary." Actually, we as individual people, are not governed by the Constitution. Our government is governed by the Constitution - which is very different and the distinction is important. The Constitution prevents the government from imposing any one religion's morality on the people. People who argue that our nation has lost its moral compass do not get this point and believe the government can and should impose their morality on the people. I find it amusing when people claim the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments (Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, etc.) In fact the Bill of Rights actually prevents the government from enforcing many of the commandments. I think understanding the role of the Constitution is the first step in accepting that one's own religion cannot be imposed by law. But our laws DO reflect our most basic COMMON morality (against murder, rape, theft etc. and whether we let people starve in old age for example) - and as you said that changes and is tested over time. I think because we are a self-governing nation and we elect our leaders based on their policies we do have a morality as a nation - just no one "true north".

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    1. Actually, Donna, I don't think our laws are there the reflect basic morality. Morality is an internal compass of right and wrong, and thus is individually determined. (Whether that internal compass is aligned with religion is another thing entirely - plenty of religious people engage in amoral behaviors.)

      Our laws are created to *prevent* anarchy, and to prevent people from infringing unduly on the rights of others. (Don't murder, steal, bear false witness.) They are meant to do so regardless of the morality of the situation, and regardless of the religion/lack of religion of the individuals.

      -LVW, Pittsburgh

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    2. Programs like SSI disability, labor laws, the death penalty are beyond what you describe and do reflect our collective morals - how we believe we should behave as a Nation toward our fellow man. I don't believe morality exists in a vacuum. "All men are created equal" is a statement of morals. And it was made long before it was reflected in our laws. It was the moral basis that allowed for the change in the laws. (BTW - in case it is not clear - I do not equate religion with morality.)

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    3. Donna - check out the distinction between ethics and morality. Interesting, valuable distinction in those definitions.
      Useful too.
      http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethics_vs_Morals
      Alaska Pi

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    4. They are often used interchangeably and are considered synonyms. Ethics depend on the morals of the individuals in the group - however it is they average out. So using the word morals for a group instead of ethics does not really change the meaning. You cannot have one without the other and this semantic difference distracts from the main crux I think was the point of the article - that you can't impose your RELIGIOUS beliefs on others through the government. Our laws come from our collective morality - which does evolve and change over time and as such is going to upset some people who rely on external dictates (i.e. religious) sources for their morals. I agree with the main point of the article but I think it was rather disjointed and focusing on the idea that nations don't have "morals" is unnecessarily confusing. If that was the point why not just say "Nations have ethical compasses not moral ones" and leave it at that.

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    5. "Our laws are created to *prevent* anarchy, and to prevent people from infringing unduly on the rights of others." There are lots of ways to prevent anarchy - how do we choose which ones to use? And isn't just the fact that all people have rights a moral choice? A national moral consensus? Morals and ethics are not mutually exclusive. And government imposition of ethics can be just as oppressive as any other government imposition. While I agree with the spirit of the article I disagree with how it is articulated and the emphasis that nations don't have a collective morality.

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  24. Disclaimer - I consider myself to be a Christian but am violently against what is often called Christianity.

    You are correct in that societies can not have morals but they do have mores and these change as the society changes. The Biblical term "righteousness" refers to these mores,
    Matthews gospel refers to 5 women in the genealogy - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (although not by name but by the phrase "she who had been Uriah's wife") and lastly Mary.
    The first 4 of these women would have been considered grossly immoral by today's extreme RW standard but they met the mores of the society in which they lived.

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  25. Terms are loosely defined here, but regardless, laws legislate morality, based on a general consensus of what is right and what is wrong. In this post, that understanding is partially implied, but contradicted in statements such as "Morality is always subjective."

    Morality has gray areas that can be controversial, as we see in litigation. But on a quotidian basis, it's cut and dried. We pay or barter for food and shelter. We work out our personal differences without resorting to grievous bodily harm. We have sex with consenting adults. Some people obey these laws because of their personal/religious codes of conduct. Others may observe them reluctantly, and only to avoid legal penalties or shunning. But with a few exceptions, those who violate legislated morality are removed from society by one means or another.

    The writing here may be a kind of "stream of consciousness," but the context is absent. Basic use of paragraphs (and eliminating sentence fragments) might make it easier to understand. I read it twice and the blogger's point is still murky. A lot of the comments are clear and to the point.

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    1. But Jude: the morality enacted in laws is based on subjective ideas. There is no objective morality. Or at least none that we can all agree on, therefore... it ain't objective, because the only thing that could make it approach objectivity would be if all humans agreed. And they don't. On anything.

      We do have general areas of subjective agreement, upon which we have based our laws. But legislated morality is still entirely subjective. Unless God, of course. But clearly we can't agree on Him Her It or lack thereof, either.

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    2. Jude -
      If you are attempting to read Mr Wright's bits here as a work of philosophy, with carefully defined terms and arguments structured for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( one of my favorite places to read ) type articles, you are missing something elemental, vital, and alive.
      Also, even, and as well - I would suggest you are blurring the line between morality and ethics.. Important distinction- philosophically, legally, and Wrightly.

      Alaska Pi
      http://www.diffen.com/difference/Ethics_vs_Morals

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    3. Laws legislate the structure of civil society, I don't believe they legislate morality.

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    4. ebrke:

      Morality says: it's wrong to kill.
      Law says: It's a criminal offense to commit murder (except when it isn't).

      Morality says: it's wrong to steal.
      Law says: it is a criminal offense to buy and then quickly sell stock using inside information.

      Laws don't create morality, but they sure as hell are based upon the generally accepted morals of the citizens. Hence:

      A few people say that morality requires active homosexuals to be stoned to death.
      Law says: Homosexuals must have the same rights and protections as everyone else, including marriage. Because most citizens are not stuck in the sewer that is bronze age nomad morals. We ain't lost the compass. Hell no. We just got us one that tells true North in the 21st century. As opposed to 2000 B.C.

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  26. It's so refreshing to read someone who understands and can expound upon the difference between morality and ethics, Thank you for this wonderful essay.

    In other news (?), since you are coming to Sasquan, I would be honored if you would enter some of your awesome woodworking into the Art Show.

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  27. In my experience 99% of the people who ululate about moral compasses are, 99% of the time, really only speaking to other people who also ululate about moral compasses, and who understand the phrase "we have lost our moral compass" always to mean "No way do I want to pay any tax at all if even some of it is going to get spent on babies born out of wedlock to welfare mothers or to put food on the tables of, or roofs over the heads of, shiftless lazy bastards who don't work. In other words people who think they are where, and have what they have, because of their own efforts and nothing and no one else. Sometimes they even come right out with it and say all our problems are down to "urban parenting habits". I have to get out my own moral compass and hold on to it tight to avoid punching those people in the nose.

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  28. "whomsoever it is that seeks, either to take or give, Power above and beyond the Law -
    Suffer it not to live!"
    This time, Kipling was right.

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    1. Thank you, I've been saying since we went into big rock candy mountain that its time we reread our Kipling. And isn't it ironic that the only 2 nations that said "yeah go for it" were Russia and England, both countries got their a$$ handed to them there.

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  29. There's a metaphor waiting in there, somewhere, about how a compass points only to a mythical magnetic north, and is not the true indication of morality. That a compass can be easily swayed, easily misread, and doesn't show the way to true north anyways.

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    1. Well said. We need a "moral GPS" instead - and an understanding that even it depends on having all its satellites properly aligned and calibrated.

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  30. I think there is an argument to be made that "America" is not its governmet, but rather is its people. Remember "government of the people, for the people, by the people." People as a group, and even as a large group, can, I believe, be said to have a moral compass when they act in concert, which people in groups certainly tend to do.

    When a government declares war, I would agree with you that the term "moral compass" does not apply. But when the people of a nation express support, or lack of support, for that war I believe that term does apply.

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    1. Don't forget the only 'no' vote to enter WW2 was cast on 'moral' grounds that no vote for war should be unanimous. This same women also voted no for the WW 1 declaration for much the same reason.

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  31. well done Jim.
    "moral compass" similar to the age old question - which came first... the chicken or the egg? In this country it's become Moral compass = religious dogma. In either case when it comes up, I just smile, walk away and get in my car and turn up the volume to "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAbY2cmEsS0

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  32. Cloaked risks are profit opportunities, unpayable debts are corporate assets, and everyone hates congress. USA USA USA

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  33. You are always so succinct. Mr. Wright. Thank you.

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  34. Epic smackdown followed by a thorough schooling. You've outdone yourself, which in itself is a hell of an achievement, considering the high bar you've already set. Outstanding!

    The shame of it though, is, the poster you are responding to has demonstrated his small mindedness by virtue of even thinking what he posted. The likely result of that small mindeness is that he will be incapable of grasping the concepts you've laid forth.

    Thanks for trying though, We need more of this.

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  35. THANK GOD you said it and there are millions of us who agree with you. Another great Stonekettle gem.

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  36. At the risk of repeating myself, you are a brilliant thinker and writer. Thanks for another essay that will be bookmarked and passed along. And the caliber of the folks who comment on your stuff speaks well of the audience that follows you. Bravo!

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  37. Once again Jim, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. Although I come at the issue from “the other side” (i.e., as an adherent of what is reputed to be an “organized religion”), I so admire your dedication to logic, charity and truth, and your thoughts are not only refreshing, they are life-giving.

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  38. Bravo Jim, as always, spot on ;)

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  39. I'm trying to decide whether or not I'm an exception to your rule. I *think* I am. But if I weren't, I wouldn't know it, would I?

    See, I don't have a religion. But I've used that phrase, though not very often. Mostly, what I mean by it is:

    "There used to be a tacitly accepted code of ethics, mostly involving business. What it was acceptable to do in order to make money, and what it wasn't; what one had an obligation to do in support of the community when one *had* made money, because everyone's a part of the same community, and those who have done well there have a responsibility to give back to it in some way in return. People mostly don't think like that anymore; it's assumed now that it's OK to do anything whatsoever that's within the law, as well as everything one can do to change the law to let you get away with more -- and that rich people don't have any obligations to the community because the community didn't have anything to do with their getting rich. I don't like where this has gone very much, and I'd like to return to a pattern of behavior where people get rich, sure; but when they do, the people who work for them make a bit more too, because if the company does well, so should everyone whose work made it happen.

    "I'd like it to be assumed that taxes are not theft, but a normal part of the process whereby a free people decides democratically together what their group projects are going to be, and what they're going to cost, and then everyone pitches in to help pay for those projects -- grumbling, sure; but not actively and openly trying to escape payment. I'd like to see people with money feel that it's their pride just as much as the rest of ours, to live in a nation of laws and not men; and therefore they are better off when there's not a two-tier justice system, one for them and one for everybody else.

    "I'd like there to be the public awareness that there was when I was a kid, that being born rich or even being born smart makes you luckier than other people, but not necessarily *better* than they are. 'Handsome is as handsome does,' I used to hear quoted at people who thought their beauty or talent or natural ability meant they didn't have to behave well. I don't hear it anymore.

    "I don't grudge anyone the money they've earned, or even really that which they inherit. But I do grudge them their assumption that that money gives them the right to do anything they please... that it makes other people their tools or their playthings.

    "There used to be a concept that there were some things which, not only *couldn't* money buy, it *shouldn't* be able to buy them. I'd like to see that concept back in public awareness again."

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    1. Naomi,

      What you are describing is rampant inequality - that is, when the Haves are closer financially to the Have Nots there is more in common between the two. Today the Haves are VASTLY more well off than the Have Nots. Thus, the rich don't even consider the poor as even worthy of the same air. The old rules no longer apply and traditional "values" are meaningless.

      Hope this doesn't sound like gibberish. Maybe someone else can expand and clarify.

      Peace
      Chris in S. Jersey

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    2. Chris: Oh, I know. I know *WHY* the moral compass is spinning wildly out of control instead of guiding people in a vaguely sane direction. Knowing why doesn't help very much, though. I do what I can to try and change the whys; so far with limited success.

      None of it stops me from wishing we could just have the sanity back already.

      Donna: I'm not quoting anybody. I'm translating, from the shorthand version I say out loud when I grumble something about the nation having lost its moral compass into the internal, detailed version that I really mean. I should be saying it more carefully; I recognize that. Some days, I just don't have the energy.

      The grumbling is totally useless for the job of resettling our society in a position which is stable, sustainable, and doesn't involve a two-tiered system where the people with either gobs of money or gobs of power (or usually both) can do anything they want and the rest of us are considered objects at their disposal. I get that. But sometimes it helps me bleed off the anger and frustration and disappointment a bit, so I can get back to the task at hand.

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  40. It used to be "morally" acceptable in this country to beat women and children. It used to be "morally acceptable in this country for children to work long dangerous days in the Mills and Mines. It used to be "morally" acceptable in this country to poison our water, land, and food. It used to be "morally" acceptable in this country to have a system of terror through lynching people and blowing up their churches. It used to be "morally" acceptable in this country not to pay our Veterans for their service. Those are the good old days that those calling for a return of our supposed "moral compass" are yearning for. Thank you, Jim, as always.

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  41. "Our country has lost it's morale compass along with it's leadership"

    Everyone here seems to be missing the real point of that sentence. (and here's a hint, it's not the misspelling.) That sentence is suggesting that the country no longer has any collective sense of morality, it is saying, loud and clear, that when OUR country lost control the White House (ie when a black man got hold of the 'leadership') that was when OUR country lost control of the moral guidance without which everything will decay and fall apart. Its all about white racists hating on people who have a different skin color and the boogie man of "loose" morals that has been scaring them since they lost the right to go out lynching on Saturday night. It's the line the Republicans have been trying to sell for ages now: we don't need to tax the rich, all we need to do is change the behavior of those shiftless poor people!
    It's mental garbage, in other words. What's sad is how many people will buy it.

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    1. Good reading of the sentence - those who care will object to being imcluded as "the lost", and those who don't care will not even imagine any sort of compass.

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    2. When they say the compass is "lost" they don't mean the compass can't be found. They mean "we've got the compass right here in our hands but that black guy ain't paying attention where our little is pointing anymore! That's no fair!"

      What they can't see is that the black guy in the white house has a compass that works pretty well and he's paying attention to it and it points most of the time pretty close to true north. And the reason they can't see it is only because of the color of his skin.

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  42. I've just been out to post my vote, one part of The Social Contract between myself and my Government. The other parts of that Social Contract are to pay my taxes, direct and indirect and not to break The Law. On the other side of The Contract, my Government is supposed to take care of infrastructure and social structure. There seems to be a break down of this mutual respect in all the western democracies, it seems that our respective Governments and not the people who have lost their Moral Compass.
    Once again Jim thank you for putting into words ideas that I've been trying hard to articulate for myself, this seems to go for a large number of other people as well.

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  43. Thank you. This simple truth and logic somehow always tends to evade registration in the minds of the religious kind. This is a very clear conclusion of what morality is. If you'll allow, i'll try to direct them to this article so they can shove it down their own throats.
    Once again - thank you, Jim!

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  44. Mr Wright,
    Might one construe "moral compass" to mean that the majority of the individuals of a nation have lost their compass? and therefore the nation has lost its "compasses"?
    And, "Morality is a reflexion of civilization, not the other way...." is not correct when the individual's morality is the foundation as you hold; civilization only reflects that which is demonstrated /manifest by the individual.
    Thus, the nation has lost its individuals - free, critically thinking citizens. Of this your essays rightly abound.
    Keep writing and agitating!
    Thankyou for your compass, sir.

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  45. The only moral compass in our new Oligarchy is the one pointing towards money. Nothing else. Our government could give a flying flip about our citizens, UNLESS that citizen owns The Venetian!

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  46. I wish that I could get these thing across as well as you do. I will pass this along to all of my non choir friends. Maybe some will read it.

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  47. I like what Robert Reich has to say about morals and politics:

    "But Republican morality is about private personal decisions – to marry a gay partner, to have an abortion, to pray or seek redemption. Democrats must talk about three fundamental principles of public morality that give context and meaning to key policies....."
    His three policies: People who work full time shouldn't live in poverty. Every American should have access to high quality, free education from preK through college. America should not have a privileged aristocracy.
    Here's his Facebook post with more details.
    https://www.facebook.com/RBReich?fref=nf

    Note that he says' "Democrats must talk about ...public morality" - they propose policy based on these ideas, but don't do a good job explaining the basis for these ideas.

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  48. Thank you. This simple truth and logic somehow always tends to evade registration in the minds of the religious kind.

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