PHOENIX — It seems to me that many people have lost their way.
The social contract that we all seemed to have with one another has crumbled. It has been replaced by a more malleable and fungible methodology that is good when it benefits us and our clan, but is villainous when applied by others who are not our kind. The most recent past election in the U.S. and the politicization of a global pandemic is only one way that this has been weaponized against us, the masses.
The Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and other moral directories were provided as a basis for ethical behavior across all segments of society were “interpreted” to allow disperate groups to justify their behaviors and vilify the other groups who did not subscribe to their version of the law. To those stooped in religious beliefs, these laws and guidelines were literally handed down by God Himself. How can one then move against them, re-interpret them, and use them for personal gain and tools of oppression?
The application of such moral guidelines was to be pure, precise, and universal. Now, they are used piecemeal instead of as the solid foundation for moral grounding. As full of holes as Swiss cheese, people nowadays apply morals to suit their own needs and desires. It is ok for us to obtain, but when you do it; it is stealing.
How come we lost our social, moral code? There was a time, not long ago, when most of us followed those basics ethical rules in society—always tell the truth, keep our promises, not judge others, be dependable, have personal integrity, be forgiving, patient and loyal, tolerant of others and their opinions, respect oneself and one another, have humility and generosity, not cheat, and be responsible. For the past few decades, and within the last five years, we have observed a pervasive and dangerous erosion of our social, moral code.
The moral code of our society developed over thousands of years. And has been passed from generation to generation. However, during the most recent pandemic and current political environment, the holes in our morality have become more evident. The moral compass is broken. Each groups’ needle is now pointing in different directions.
Survival needs forced our ancestors to band together and work cooperatively to protect the family, clan, tribe, and village. It is one of the most basic tenants of humanity. It is encoded into our DNA and in our psychology and social systems. Cooperative efforts always work better than those of small groups or the sole individual, sociologically speaking. Even though we have differing opinions, favorite sports teams, and even racial groups, we are still programmed for cooperative efforts. The dividing and manipulated opposition of this natural tendency is used to separate, control and weaken groups and societies. This has, pardon the pun, reached epidemic levels in our community.
Despite our flaws, we are still driven forward by survival. When we initially banded together and formed small groups that eventually evolved into nations, it necessitated an abundance of food, social hierarchies, and the ability to regulate the group by implementing enforceable laws. For any society to succeed, these laws must be based upon a socially accepted moral code—a social contract for all to agree to and follow willingly. When the cooperative effort to obey these laws breaks down or when they are used as tools of leverage against another targeted group, then the basis of that society will start to splinter into further polarized sub-groups and mini-cultures.
It seems that in 2021, we are there. There is no longer an “us” but a “we.” And the “we” do not like to share or even cooperate with those who do not accept their version or the laws that their moral code has interpreted. Each group then analyzes morality, rules, and acceptability of behavior based upon their own group’s worldview.
There are multiple opinions as to how we arrived at this splintered social reality. Many blame the breakdown of the family, pleasure at all costs, the decline of religion, cultism, social media, and many others factors of dissection. Historians will no doubt write tombs about our time. However, it is necessary to try and look past the present and examine how we can stop this de-evolution.
Instead of fighting over the existing laws, it would behoove us to sit down and start over and examine the moral basis for these laws. Begin as if from the beginning, under the Bodhi Tree or at the summit of Mount Sinai. Re-examine the moral foundation and rebuild laws to help support that. Instead of arguing the “why” of the issue, let us begin again with the “how” to make our society whole again.
The reality is that the holes in our morality have grown too large. Everything that was considered ethical or moral 10 years ago is up for grabs. The retreat of many into smaller bands separated by race, color, philosophy, and politics is degrading society. The observed cultism is not the cause of this decline in universal morality, but a consequence of it.
As an expert witness in forensic physiatry, I have noticed a reality in our courtrooms, the very place where these laws are supposed to be upheld. A lawyer will do their best to isolate a miniscule portion of evidence and push for an accepted interpretation of such by the jury. Once archived, they will then characterize the greater whole as precisely like that nano-particle of evidence. It is like judging an elephant from a single one ot its eyelashs. Or, like interpreting an entire movie from a single frame (a picture) of film. The goal is to dissect any issue to its most minor or primitive form and then rebuild it to meet the reality you want to create. Many cultish groups and the like use this same method to justify their existence, beliefs, and prejudices.
So, what is the problem? The problem is that reality is a movie and not a single frame or picture. Context means something. Context gives perspective and history, and precedent. Single snaps shots do not. However, we can edit movies as well. The acceptance of holes in our morality has significantly altered reality for many of these people and groups. Their leaders dissect the film into multiple photographs and modify it to fit the reality we want to either believe or create. It can be an unconscious process or designed to achieve a specific goal, either social. Political, economic, etc.
If you listen to any argument today, it usually dances around a picture with the two sides arguing about the meaning of that image, its colors, and its meaning. In its simplified and static form, we can address it without complications beyond our individual interpretation. With a full movie, however, we get context, nuance and a totally different experience of the whole. That is why it is seldom discussed. A picture is simple, static, unchangeable whereas a move is complicated and doesn’t always end the way one predicts. Therefore, it rarely satisfies the Super-Ego. Instead, it challenges it.
The solution may be simpler than we think. The answer is to communicate more, allow ourselves to give the opposing side the benefit of the doubt to a certain extent, and trust that both sides follow the moral code we all agree to accept. If we continue to retreat into our self-preservation and exclusive groups, then we ostracize ourselves from one another. We stop communicating. We only doubt. And we continue to expand the gap between each disparate group.
Had we had some unifying and consistent leadership, we could have done so much more during the past year. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that teamwork works. Those shunning this reality for a “me first” attitude are endemic of the problem. It will take a significant external threat to all humanity—aliens landing or a (cough) global pandemic to unify us. That is if we choose to do so by reestablishing trust, social mores, and universal values for the whole of our society.
As a physician, I took an oath to “do no harm.” At a minimum, if we all chose that as a rule, we could more easily risk taking a peek outside our personal bubble and begin to fill the holes in our Swiss cheese superego morality. Certainly, we would be significantly better off. Doing so is challenging, painful and a bit frightening, but isn’t life and survival worth it?
Dr. Lauro Amezcua-Patino is the clinical voice of The Only You (Solo Tú), a podcast dedicated to simplifying the complex issues of the mind and mental illness. Originally from Mexico, Dr. Amezcua-Patino has been practicing in the metropolitan Phoenix area for over 30 years. Twitter: @SuSaludMental.