Read this interesting post on Political Correctness in the Roman Empire. Then come back.
OK, welcome back. The Roman historian Tacitus might have been waxing idealistic, and might have just been disgruntled with the breakdown of Roman society, when he reported that Germanic tribes where hippie communes, but the author’s comparisons with the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau are what caught my eye.
Rousseau went further, however. Instead of being content to think that eighteenth-century French society and its institutions were corrupt and corrupting, and to imagine another people that was morally superior because their natural goodness had remained intact, Rousseau generalized: man in his natural state was naturally good, and all corruptness sprang from society and its institutions. His Noble Savage was not just a particular group of Germanic tribesmen but simply man in his naturally good state before the degradation brought by the institutions of society--any society.
The interesting thing is that these guys act like they’ve never seen the societies they’ve envisioned (and in fact they hadn’t). Whereas they would have noted in all cultures the strict structures needed if you are to avoid a western-style legal system. In and of themselves the moral codes of primitive societies probably acted like a legal system.
Holding the believe that it’s the institutions that bring us down and not our own imperfection, that by our nature we’re good and decent people, will always lead you down the wrong path to enlightenment regarding human behavior. Think about it; if people were generally good, how could their institutions be inherently bad (being created by, you know, people)?
Every time some institution, or program or agency, gets created in this country or elsewhere, the motives for doing so are typically benign and good. We’re doing it to make better worlds. All of them better worlds…
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes.
However, those well meant institutions inevitably get populated by people, who far from being inherently good, tend to abuse the system they’ve been presented with. Why do you think we get so worked up over things like “loopholes?” It’s because if everyone in this country took every law and statute they were presented with and followed them under the “Spirit” of the law instead of it’s actual legal text (to the letter!) don’t you think we’d be a bit better off? If people were inherently that decent, would we need laws in the first place?
Far from that happy place is where we’re at. There’s a reason that nations with rule-of-law social structures in place are the safest and most liberal in the world (although being far from perfect themselves), and that’s because people are decidedly NOT good by nature. Romans 3:23 (“ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”)
Interesting that in our rampage away from God even relatively smart people will grasp upon delusions they create even for themselves. This post above was noting that the tendency to create idealized societies as examples of how evil or corrupt the west is (or the U.S. is) is alive and well in the 21st century, as we appear to learn nothing over the millennia. And alive in our own hearts, as I’m sure you and I could find similar self-delusions about a great many things in our own lives, much less the international stage.
Actually, as a final note, I think that it requires a strong cultural moral system in addition to a legal code. It’s disturbing to think that the increasingly flexible moral system in our country is giving way to a much more flexible legal system. One definitely supports the other.