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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.
It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.
Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).
On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.
And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”
Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.
According to a report by the West Australian, marriage rates in October 2017 had dipped below that of the Great Depression, the lowest in Australia’s history.
More surprising, however, been the conditions under which this decline has occurred. The modern decline in marriage appears to be the consequence of changing cultural norms and social attitudes that are dismissive, even hostile, to the idea of lifelong, monogamous marriage.
By contrast, the low rates of marriage during the Great Depression was largely the result of poor economics. Low wages, wealth destruction, and unemployment meant people couldn’t afford to get married, so they didn’t.
Similarly, research has revealed that marriage in the United States is fracturing along socioeconomic lines. Today middle and upper-class Americans are far more likely to wed than the American working class. Only thirty-nine percent of the American working class are married compared to fifty-six percent of members of the upper and middle classes.
Our socio-political culture has slowly but surely stripped marriage of the privileges that were once exclusive to it. Casual and extra-marital sex is almost encouraged, sexual licentiousness is no longer frowned upon, and the existence of the Welfare State means that women no longer have to rely upon a husband for financial support (rather, she relies upon the government).
Sexual behaviour is a key indicator of a society’s moral character. Ethical sexual relationships, including good marriages, are based upon love and respect. The problem with the modern conception of sex and marriage is that it has forgotten that sex concerns flesh and blood human beings. It has therefore fooled itself into believing that it can be divorced from emotions, responsibility, morality, and consequences.
While society continues to value licentious sex over long-term commitment, the institution of marriage will continue to decline. Things could change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
This is our weekly theological article
The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), is one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. His views on metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics have had a profound influence on virtually all philosophical movements that came after him. It was his views on ethics, however, that he is most remembered for.
Kant presented his works on ethics in two works. First, there was The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, published in 1785, in which Kant sought to find and establish “the supreme principle of reality.” Then there was The Critique of Practical Reason, published in 1787, which detailed his moral philosophy. (This was the sequel to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, published in 1781, in which Kant explored the foundations and limitations of human knowledge.)
Immanuel Kant is one of philosophy’s most ardent defenders of deontological ethics (think of this as the study of duty). Put simply, deontology asserts that it is the motivation behind an action that determines its morality, not its consequences. Kant believed that human freedom was based on the fact that human beings are endowed with a conscience that makes them aware of the power moral law has over them.
Immanuel Kant believed that human morality was based on an absolute and objective moral law that he referred to as the categorical imperative. There are essentially two kinds of imperatives: hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives. A hypothetical imperative refers to commands that are conditioned by your own desires. Attending medical school is only imperative if you wish to become a doctor, for example. By contrast, a categorical imperative refers to an unconditional command. You cannot refuse to pay your taxes, for example. Kant believed that moral imperatives were categorical because the individual cannot decide they don’t apply to them.
Kant split his categorical imperative into three maxims:
First: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Put simply, this means that you should not engage in a behaviour unless you are prepared to will that everybody else does it all the time.
Second: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” In other words, it is immoral to manipulate others for any reason whatsoever.
Third: “Act as if you were through your maxim a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.” In other words, you must act as though you are the ultimate moral authority of the universe and that everyone was is duty-bound to emulate everything that you do.
Kant’s moral maxims, therefore, can be summarised in the following way: don’t do something unless you are prepared to tolerate everyone else doing it all the time, never manipulate people, and act as though others are duty-bound to emulate everything you do.