Thursday, March 21, 2013

Decadence, Anyone

Our friend Tip posted the following in the comments section last Saturday. It was linked by the Maggie’s Farm blog, and thus deserves more serious attention. My thanks to Bird Dog for the link.

Tip offered a slight variation on an old saying that we apparently owe to Augustine:

We're created to love people and use things.

In our decadent society, we love things and use people.

Augustine did not say that such a society is decadent, but Tip is correct to describe it that way.

The strange part is, more than a few contemporary thinkers believe that using people is moral behavior. They argue that human relationships always involve exploitation, and even abuse. Thus, the best you can do is to enter into an arrangement of mutually agreed-upon exploitation. I use you; you use me.

When you use people you diminish and demean them. You are treating them like things. Unfortunately, the people who most often rail against objectification would have us believe that it is alright to treat people like objects as long as they consent.

Of course, the same thinkers rail against people who love things, but when they banish love from human relationships it has to go somewhere.

In many cases mutual exploitation seems to play out most clearly in sexual relations. Sophisticated thinkers believe that all forms of sexual experience are equal and that they are all about attaining pleasure and achieving release. If that is true, there is no such thing as a more or less meaningful sexual encounter. Thus, if two consenting adults agree on a mutually acceptable form of exploitation, they are acting morally.

The current BDSM craze, as typified by the sales figures for a book called Fifty Shades of Gray, shows happy we are to see two adults use each other. Doesn't it seem that hooking up and friends-with-benefits arrangements are ways to use people?

In a morally degenerate culture people use people for more than just sex. They use other people to advance their careers, to boost their egos, to introduce them to the right people and to enhance their prestige.

In a culture of narcissism, everyone is out for No. 1. Everyone is so obsessed with his feelings that he has no regard for anyone else's feelings. Thus, disrespect becomes the order of the day. If you show respect and consideration for others you will feel like an outsider.

Aristotle recognized that some individuals choose friends who will be useful to them. Like Augustine after him, Aristotle declared this to be the most ignoble form of friendship. He argued that we should love our friends for what is best in them, not for what is worst.

Your best is your good character. The same applies to your friend. If you develop an affection for an individual because he is trustworthy, reliable and honorable you are rejecting decadence. You will probably have more, better friends.

A man who uses his friends is assuming that their worst is all they can offer. But he is also saying that he himself has nothing good to offer a friend. 

Having lost the meaning of friendship and having forgotten how to relate to other human beings, we have transferred our love on to things. We are obsessed with electronic gadgets, to the point of creating cults to the Apple computer company. Often we love our cars more than we love our spouses. And many young people manifest great passion for the newest and coolest pair of sneakers.

One understands the appeal. Objects always do as they are told; they never talk back and never hold us to account. Objects are also more reliable than people. We might lose them but they never reject us. Many people feel that this makes objects supremely lovable. 

Of course, the culture does not oblige anyone to follow these rules. The culture tempts people; it does not force them. Then again, if you should choose to love people and to use things many people will probably find you bizarre. Thus, acting ethically toward people will feel like a slog. It will make you feel like you don't belong. 

If it counts as a consolation, when you act well toward others and others do not act well toward you, you know to a high degree of certainty where the problem lies.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post!!
Very relevant for the day.
So many men and women use each other... Use their friends...
Hook-up Society of openly using each other for one-night stands.
Even worse:
Men pretending to be nice guys while using women up like napkins.
Women pretending to be nice women while stringing men along like beads on a necklace.
Be true to yourself, knowing you will sleep better at night when YOU know that you are living the righteous life...
If someone tries to use you, you'll still sleep much better than them, rest assured.
I've seen way too many people try to "out-slut" the other sex, thinking that THIS would make them feel better....
NO, the only thing that makes you feel better is knowing that you've lived a good life, and have avoided as many sluts as you possibly can...

Bobbye said...

Thank you for this post. One of the best, and most helpful I have read. Also makes it easy to check if my priorities are correct. Its like an Easy button for relationships.

Bob said...

Good topic. Linked here:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the link!