I’ve been sensitized of late to a troubling disconnect on the part of the modern human between morality (and moral language) and everyday life. This disconnect is all the more troubling because it seems to be shared by the educated and the simple folk alike. More so by the former, I’d venture to say, if I were a betting man.
It’s also troubling, not so much because it’s puzzling but precisely because it’s understandable, all too well understandable. And yet,the preponderance of evidence doesn’t come from ordinary usage, for expressions such as “get off your high (moral) horse” or “stop moralizing” are ample proof that the respondents are quite at home with the intricacies of moral language and the intended effect, that they don’t regard it in any way as being fantastic or fictive. They know exactly what you mean, they just resent it! Which only compounds the trouble because a perfectly natural question suggests itself:
Since we’re all so much at ease with moral language and the terms of moral discourse, why don’t we see it employed more often when discussing ordinary affairs, public or private? Why is it that the only time we’re really up in arms about moral talk is when it’s directed against us? Why must we always be reactive whenever morality is concerned, rarely if ever pro-active? Why must our attitude take the usual form of resentment or outright dismissal? Why doesn’t it manifest itself more often in a modicum of humility and a moment’s pause, a pause prompted by the invitation (OK, provocation if you insist!) to take a step back and reflect, to take a reckoning of ourselves?
I can well understand a reactive, if not downright hostile, stance whenever we’re being criticized for many of our faults, the kinds of things people usually criticize one another. There’s a perfect reason for this. We all know the bulk of such accusations miss the mark by a mile and are really beside the point. They’re superficial when it comes to it and far from being constructive; and we’re so very right. The well-anticipated reaction is but a natural human response to another's stupidity. Stupidity which manifests itself not only by not getting to the bottom of things and treating as significant what in the final analysis is trivial, but that stupidity which also reduces the art of communication and its underlying purpose, the building of relationships, to mere bickering.
But morality, the one and only aspect which goes to the very core of our being and defines what it means to be a human? For we all know, as the foregoing attests, there is no valid kind of criticism unless it’s moral criticism since all follows from that. There are no other grounds, everything else is fluff. It’d stand to reason, therefore, we should be more receptive to moral critique than any other kind of critique, and our responses less hostile. And yet...