[Image © Pixabay]
Few would argue that a concept of morality is not a universal human trait. Universal in the sense that, there may be variations across time or culture, but no matter when or where, by-and-large, people know right from not-right and they want to do the right thing.
We have a term for those among us who do not possess this universal human trait; we call them sociopaths.
Sociopathic behaviour is said to be marked by several characteristics:
- Lack of emotion
I would argue that these characteristics are becoming increasingly commonplace and indeed acceptable in modern New Zealand society. And if that is the case, what does it say about the direction of our society today?
The past two years have been trying times. And they’re not over yet. But a look back over how things have changed could give us a good indication of where we are headed.
Political figures have always borne the brunt of jokes about being dishonest. For a long while, we have had a low-bar for the honesty expected of those in political office. It has been pretty much expected, that they say one thing on the campaign trail, which bears little resemblance to what actually occurs once they’re in office. Largely, we accept that it is next to impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time.
But during the past two years, and I would argue even earlier, we have become accustomed to political figures stating bold-faced lies, while looking us squarely in the eye. And this, at least in most cases, is a new phenomenon. The entire concept that elected officials should be honest, and act with integrity, seems to have become a relic of some bygone age. We simply don’t expect it anymore.
I see an increase in irresponsibility in society too, not just among the elected, who currently seem happy to run roughshod over the very principles from which a democratic and enlightened society is constructed; the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as just one example. But among the citizenry too, who seem to know little and care less of the responsibilities we each shoulder to exhibit those principles, regardless of the cost, especially in times when they are under threat.
New Zealand’s media have been utterly shameful in this way, prostituting their role as the Fourth Estate in holding the powerful to account, for the countless millions funnelled into their pockets through direct subsidies and limitless government advertising.
Doing what is right is seldom easy, or without some cost but when we choose not to do what we know to be right, simply because it is easier or expedient, then we ourselves steer our whole community in a dangerous and dystopian direction.
The past two years have been times of unprecedented manipulation. Political figures and the media have blatantly used fear to manipulate the populace into conformity with an agenda that makes New Zealand seem unrecognisable. Internal borders manned by police; showing one’s papers to gain admission to public areas and services, such as a public library.
Were these measures reflective of the actual risk faced by the nation, it would be one thing. But we have driven a stake through the heart of what makes New Zealand home, for the sake of, as FDR put it, ‘fear itself’.
The true risk is that posed to our genuine emotions. We seek to silence those whose words make us feel uncomfortable, when it is that very discomfort that is the seed of personal growth. How do we as individuals and we as a community become more, when conflicting ideas and beliefs and principles can no longer be heard, let alone debated?
Without emotion, we lose our ability to consider anything outside of ourselves, and that is a sentence worse than death.
Without emotion, we lose our ability to aspire and be inspired.
Without emotion, we lose our ability to discern right from not-right and the impetus to want to do what is right.
These are trying times, and they are not over yet. But we are not committed to becoming a society of sociopaths. Each of us can still recognise the feeling of rightness and we can each want to do the right thing. When we do, we will each have a hand at the wheel that is steering this nation and in determining the direction in which we head.
Published 25 January 2022
By Colin Ford