I received a comment from Anonymous on an old post about Mel Gibson's great film, Apocalypto:
Well, I think Durant's quote has moral sense as well. A society that loses its moral bearings loses its direction. If right and wrong become relative to personal interpretation, then there can be no unifying principle to hold the civilization together. It is a "house divided against itself." There is no truth or fairness in trade, respecting the elders, or loving ones neighbor. Every man is a law unto himself. on Mel Gibson's Apocalypto and Will DurantSo I had to actually stop and think.
First, it immediately brings to mind ancient writings from Ancient Egypt's Time of Troubles, which I think preceded the Middle Kingdom after the breakdown of the old Kingdom. When I start thinking about something, I usually start around Ancient Egypt, although sometimes I start back in the ancient Sahara desert at a time when there were numerous paleo-lakes and greenery where there now is only sand. I definitely do not go back to the Big Bang.
The business about each man being a law unto himself brings to mind gun laws and stand-your-ground laws, indicating that the moral breakdown of any society - not just ours - may actually be surprisingly enough a normative breakdown! That is, moral failure may be promulgated by a society's laws.
The fact that these laws probably were designed to prevent social breakdown adds a layer of irony to the murky business.
However, I mentioned that I perceived the problem in Apocalypto to be not a lose of moral bearings, but a radical adoption of pernicious norms: the tribe taking slaves for sacrifice has committed itself to a vile and baneful course of action with a unanimity of evil darkness that is portrayed in overwhelming color and detail!
Nobody lives without moral bearings.
What is important is the Story of Morals that we have learned since childhood: is it supportive, is it nurturing, does it inculcate virtue and not moral weakness and indulgence?
And what of the Training in Morals? Do we all "walk the walk" and not merely "talk the talk"?
And most importantly, can we distinguish between Good and Evil?
Even in an Age of Political Correctness, the religious rituals of the Central American tribes as portrayed in the film Apocalypto must deserve the name of perniciously vile and evil practices, not merely because of the suffering and death, but because of the extra-human and inhuman scale at which they take place, a scale which seeks to maximize the negative emotional powers available in the awe inspired by naked evil!
If there were no God, then everything would not be allowed!
If there were no God, we would have the added burden of being virtuous as well as proofing our own moral code.
So much of the pain of the 20th and 21st century has been due to the illogical conclusion that mankind is not innately moral, and this is due to the fact that the quest for Good is so difficult and time-consuming that we choose not to do it.
Rather, we accept our morals ready-made from someone else. That someone else could be anyone, even Jim Jones of Jonestown.