Our friend @stevhep, has an excellent post on his blog Thoughtfullydetached which I’d recommend to anyone who has been looking at our recent posts here. He writes thoughtfully about the influence on our contemporary society of the ideology of extreme individualism:
which holds that the individual has absolute priority over the family or society such that indirect harm to these things is considered to be less important than the frustration experienced by an individual prevented from fulfilling her or his desires. Moreover it assumes that the meaning of the word ‘harm’ is self-evident but that is far from being true as debates around issues like abortion, euthanasia or the compulsory wearing of motorbike helmets testify
He points out the extent to which the Christian underpinnings of our public morality have been undermined, but not replaced by any other consensus. I think one has, and it is essentially the same as the economic consensus in favour of the free market – it prioritises individual desire in the name of ‘market forces’, assuming that ‘the market’ will be self-governing. Translated to the moral sphere, the assumption is that by allowing individuals and groups to pursue their version of ‘good’, under the general caveat that we must not ‘harm’ others, then we get in morality a version of what we get in the globalised free market – winners and losers but no sense of community. Those familiar with Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum will nod their heads in frustration at the extent to which he, and the rest of Catholic social teaching, have been put aside by modernity. There is, I think, a direct connection here: if we believe in free market choice in the economic sphere, it gets difficult to have a controlled system elsewhere; apart from anything else, a free for all in morality is economically profitable – as any business which deals with the ‘pink pound’ will testify. What’s not to like for business and commerce – two childless individuals earning salaries and with no kids to spent the money on – bring it on.
On the issue of same sex marriage, he writes:
The #lovewins proposition is essentially that marriage is a private contract and that society through the State has no right to override mutually professed love between two persons therefore marriage should be permitted to same-sex couples. That being so, however, there is no basis for the State to deny any two persons who profess uncoerced love for each other from marrying.
Society does, as it does elsewhere with behavioural matters, set limits as to what is to be tolerated. In the case of #lovewins, the essential argument is that if a man and a woman who love each other can marry, so should two women who love each other, or two men. @Stevhep sees this as an essential flaw in the individualist argument, because it allows the premiss that society can restrict liberty, but I think the real flaw here is his view that we are operating in an environment of extreme individualism. It is simply that what the law restricts is not what it used to when law-makers operated in a Christian framework.
We live in a society which priorities the economy over everything – as the debates in the UK over the EU show – nearly every discussion is about the economic consequences of leaving or staying; very little about cultural and social dimensions. In a society which prioritises economic choice, one can only expect a morality tailored out of similar cloth. With the Christian understanding of marriage no longer either understood or accepted by the majority of non-Christians in our society, it would be ludicrous to imagine that our lawmakers would continue to insist on it – on what basis would they do so in a society which knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing? Two women marrying each other because they love each other should, in the eyes of a society with no understanding of the sacraments, have the same rights as a man and a woman – and there’s the rub – the language of ‘rights’.
Those who want free market capitalism have it, but they also have a free market in morals – and if they think they can have the one without the other, it would be interesting to see how they imagine that is going to happen and who is going to vote it in.