Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pagan Morality and Monotheistic Morality and Social Regulators

Nietzsche famously divided the kinds of moral systems into "master morality" and "slave morality." By master morality, he simply means a moral system that sees things as either good or bad; by slave morality, he simply means a moral system that sees things as either good or evil. One could just as easily re-label these as "pagan morality" and "monotheistic morality" and have the same dichotomies. That the latter became "slave" morality is an accident of history insofar as the pagans were the masters against the oppressed believers in the monotheistic religions -- at least, at first.

The difference between these two moral systems is considerable.

If you believe in good vs. bad, you believe the bad is a trait that can be overcome. If you are bad, learning will fix the problem. If you are bad at basketball, practice will make you good at it. There is something you can do to overcome the bad in you. Weakness is bad, cowardice is bad, and dependence is bad. Strength, courage, and independence are good. Yet, things are not so clear as that. You don't have cowardice on one end and courage at the other. Courage (good) is a mean between cowardice (bad) and rashness (bad). This is of course Aristotlean virtue ethics.

If you believe in good vs. evil, you believe evil must simply be destroyed. If you are evil, there is nothing you can do to fix the problem. You must either be destroyed or you must seek radical, discontinuous conversion to whatever will grant you salvation from your evilness. Evil is anything that destroys, opposed, or creates strife. A world without destruction, opposition, or strife is what the good person seeks.

Nietzsche also -- and I think correctly, if you really understand the last sentence of the above paragraph -- argued that socialists were a kind of Christian, embracing slave morality. Socialists of all parties seek to create an economy without destruction (including creative destruction), opposition, or strife. We can thus see why the communists consistently murdered all opposition, since anyone providing opposition were obviously evil, and evil must always be destroyed. This also makes sense of political correctness. Political correctness is the expression of the good vs. evil moral system in the postmodern world view.

I bring all of this up because it raises some interesting issues with the series of social regulators about which I have previously written.

Most of the shame cultures about which we are familiar are/were pagan. The ancient Greek culture, for example, was a pagan shame culture. But it is entirely possible to have a monotheistic shame culture as well. We see this in some areas in the Middle East. The result is violence against anyone who causes shame. Interestingly, if the tragedies are any indication, shame in a pagan shame culture results in violence against oneself rather than against others. One is ashamed of one's own badness, at one's own failure to be good. But with a good-evil moral system, the one causing shame is evil and, therefore, must be destroyed. That is why it gets externalized.

The example of a pagan guilt culture goes to the Roman Republic/Empire. The source of the guilt was the Roman law. The example of a monotheistic guilt culture goes to Medieval Europe, about which we are quite familiar. The source of the guilt was of course God's law.

We can only guess what a pagan responsibility culture may have looked like. The Stoics were trying to move Rome in that direction. However, the Christians managed to take over the Roman Empire, keeping Europe a guilt culture, even if the source of the guilt changed. We do of course know what a monotheistic responsibility culture looks like -- it was and is expressed in Protestantism and the Age of Enlightenment. We still hear the rhetoric of responsibility from those in that mindset -- mostly socially conservative Protestants. Responsible people are good, while irresponsible people are evil. Further, that irresponsibility is inherent. That is why one doesn't put up with irresponsible people. However, a pagan approach would see irresponsible people as people who need to be taught to be responsible, and who can be taught to be responsible. And the way to create more responsible people would be to challenge them.

While Nietzsche's critique made us aware of the distinction between master and slave moralities, it did not necessarily make us exchange the one for the other. The move into collective guilt was being made prior to Nietzsche's writing, with the socialists and Marx, and even Rousseau. Nietzsche correctly identified socialist thought as nothing more than an extension of slave morality, of Christian morality. Marx is little more than atheistic slave morality. There is clear good and evil, with the proletariat being the good and the communist utopia heaven. The evil bourgeoisie would of course need to be destroyed. Which is why every communist country has engaged in mass murder. The postmodern critique of grand narratives makes leftist support for Marxism less likely, but it hasn't blunted the good-evil moral system, which finds its postmodern expression in political correctness on the left and neoconservatism on the right. With political correctness, the oppressors are all evil and must be destroyed (not literally, just have their lives and livelihoods ruined), and the oppressed are all victims who, by their very victimhood, are good. Anybody with any sort of strength or perceived power is evil; all weak, disempowered people are good.

So what would a pagan postmodernism look like? Well, for one, there wouldn't be any political correctness. There would be a recognition that everyone can and should learn from everyone. It seems to me that something closer to W.E.B. Du Bois' ideal would have been realized, but involving all groups of all kinds. To the extent that we do in fact find this present in society, it is because there are in fact many who have adopted and accepted good vs. bad rather than good vs. evil as their moral systems. Are we therefore more pagan? Perhaps. Or perhaps, despite the efforts of the Marxists, monotheistic morality cannot survive the death of monotheistic religion as the major driver of culture. 
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