Monday, June 27, 2022

Suppressed sophistication...

In recognition of its perhaps belated timeliness, the New Yorker has been re-seeding this 2018 article on America's abiding discomfort with unbelief. 

A former business partner of mine from Scandinavia memorably used to pronounce that the USA is the sort of country where almost everyone would rob banks if there were no cops around to stop them. I suppose I'd be inclined to finesse this observation by pointing out that it is the fear of punishment, earthly and Divine, which seems to underpin American moral thinking. 

No matter how many new faiths and traditions have been added to the mix, this is a nation with an essentially absolutist, Puritan take on right and wrong. Indeed, there is an overbearing personal righteousness across the political discourse, on all sides. 

We can see this right now in the exchanges over the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe vs Wade. Neither side appears capable of recognising the ethical complexities behind the underlying issue, with the majority Justices themselves copping out completely by sententiously repeating the unhelpful truism that a document fabricated by a small group of men in the eighteenth century makes no specific mention of abortion. 

This absence of ethical sophistication in the USA is both real and wilful. As Casey Cep observes in her piece, there remains a widespread fear and distrust of people who might reach conclusions on ethical matters without reference to authority. Better to regard the sceptical as irredeemably immoral. 

This is of course no way to run a modern democratic state, where an appreciation of nuance in argument and in belief is more important than ever. 

As Denis Diderot, an enlightened contemporary of those founding fathers observed: 

"The philosopher has never killed any priests, whereas the priest has killed a great many philosophers."

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