Since the 1960’s the West has increasingly become gripped by a new zeitgeist which might be summarised as ‘everyone should be free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t directly harm anyone else.‘ Some might add ‘without their consent‘ on the grounds that if people wish to be harmed why should anyone else stop that? However that might be the shorter form has all the force of an apparent truism. What reasonable person would unnecessarily restrict the freedom of another? Surely only the authoritarian or the bigot could oppose such an obviously fair proposition.
On closer examination though the idea can be seen to contain fatal flaws. It proceeds from an 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. The combination of these two errors is toxic and capable of producing great harm before the zeitgeist runs its course.
To take the second point first. In the West pluralism is normative, a thousand flowers bloom a thousand schools of thought contend. What this means is that there is no unified moral consensus nor is there an agreed basis upon which one can be formulated. The previous era was united around the propositions of Christianity a religion which is increasingly being rejected and attacked by Westerners. Nonetheless nothing has emerged which can both replace its moral formulae and command near universal support. Definitions of ‘harm’ produced by that system remain the default ones but non-Christians do not necessarily have any coherent arguments to defend these definitions which seem to persist merely by force of habit. Against this individuals and groups whose desires or appetites were suppressed or disapproved of under the Ancien Régime can advance their case, fine-tuned to speak the language of the zeitgeist, and those forces that feel uncomfortable about the demands can command no intellectually respectable arguments to counter them….click here to read more