Morality Needs an Upgrade

Every year our phones, computers and television sets get upgrades. Although many of us grumble at first, they’re usually improvements. Improvements of this magnitude, and at this speed, have become the norm, the to-be-expected, with technology.

Why not with morality and psychology, as well?

In terms of morality, we’re still in the Dark Ages.

As I wrote to someone on Facebook the other day, “Our culture is a sickening combination of hypocrisy and self-conscious do-gooderism. It’s all based on the faulty premise, as Ayn Rand wrote about, that man is his brother’s keeper and his only purpose for living is to serve others. Survival and self-fulfillment are bad, even though we all need and want those things. Yet most of us feel compelled to engage in the pretense that we’re motivated by entirely the opposite. It’s no wonder mental health professionals like myself are so busy. It’s no wonder addiction continues to be a massive and widespread problem. So sad, and so unnecessary! Morality needs an upgrade to the equivalent of our 21st Century technology, or beyond. Yet in moral and psychological terms, we’re barely out of the Stone Age.”

Ayn Rand, my favorite philosopher, wrote the following about morality in the modern era. She calls that approach to morality “altruism”. I’m not a philosopher, but I am a therapist, and I know her point speaks deeply and clearly to the underlying issues within a lot of people’s subconscious, faulty thinking habits. Rand wrote:

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

That’s the key. It’s not that being generous is bad or wrong. But if your whole worth depends on whether you give yourself away, then ethically and psychologically, you’re sunk. Because without a self, there is nothing to give. There’s nothing that a fully and truly “selfless” person has to offer. Selfless people do not become rich, not in property and not in spirit, either. Just as material wealth takes concentration and effort to earn (and maintain, even if you inherit it), psychological or inner wealth takes even more concentration, focus and effort to earn, and still more to maintain.

Conventional morality, as Rand pointed out, means that your whole moral justification for living depends on how much you sacrifice for miserable and unhappy others. Now think about this for a minute. Your self-worth as a decent, moral person depends on others being unhappy, miserable or in need so that you may care for them. If Mother Teresa is to be the ideal, then there must be starving hordes for whom she will sacrifice.  Doesn’t this strike you as a little sick? Be honest. The truth will set you free.

Morality needs an upgrade. I don’t mean to imply that standards of right and wrong can or should shift with the whims or fads of the time. I do mean to state explicitly that we have, by and large, chosen the wrong timeless and universal principles to guide and sustain us. Survival comes first. Self-fulfillment and personal happiness come a close second. With whatever’s left over, by all means feel that you can or may share with anyone or everyone, if you wish. It’s your life. But you’re not obliged to do anything other than take care of yourself, which includes any commitments to others you freely and willingly take on.

The best way to evaluate a moral code is to visualize what would happen if everyone practiced it. A moral code of self-sacrifice leaves everyone miserable and destitute, perversely depending on each others’ suffering to provide one with opportunities to make sacrifices. A moral code of self-interest and self-responsibility, if practiced by everyone, would be the closest thing to utopian bliss imaginable. Will everyone ever practice any moral code? Of course not. But it reveals a lot about the moral code to imagine what would happen if they did.

You’re free to disagree with me about morality. But I fear that without this attitude that self-preservation comes first, we have no basis for a free society and the democratic republic the United States has always attempted to be. If we really are each others’ keepers, then it makes logical sense that the government will compel us all to do so, in some form of authoritarian or even totalitarian regime. It starts with universal health care and ends with universal obedience to the rulers of our government. It always ends that way, and America is not immune.

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