May 19

A Capital Idea Part 7: Moral Capital

We have probably all heard the term "moral authority" on occasion. I submit here that there is such a thing as moral capital, which may be more important ultimately than financial capital, and which, neglecting as it seems to be in our nation currently, leads to disaster.

The United States used to have a sense of moral authority. We were the nation which led the world in democracy, and rode our white horses to the rescue of besieged nations around the world. However, our international corporations, our leaders, and their militaristic supporters have been unable to restrain themselves from building an empire, have not been able to prevent themselves from supporting dictators who support the United States' government, and have failed to stop themselves from becoming the world's bully, feared and despised around much of the world. I guess this is just another example of the "top dog" phenomenon, or maybe a "big pig" phenomenon. People who want power, all too often want power for power's sake. They wallow in it like pigs in the mud, no matter how they got there, and they cannot prevent themselves from abusing their power. The old saying "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" comes to mind.

What are we to do about the erosion of the United States' moral authority? One thing we can do is to elect leaders who are not interested in world hegemony, who are uncorruptible and retain a sense of moral authority, if such candidates can be found. Barack Obama may be such a leader, and has given the world much hope, but so far, this remains more of a hope than a reality. Another thing we can do is to encourage the United States to work in a cooperative and egalitarian or even altruistic manner with other nations, rather than an authoritarian, militaristic manner. We need to build good will again, and respect other nations and their governments within reasonable limits. We need to build schools, roads, and all types of infrastructure, not guns, bombs, warplanes and warships. Third, we need to strenthen a sense of moral authority within the United States. We have reached a point where the financial bilking of the public is being rewarded with huge bailouts, and have long since reached the point where misanthropic behavior by celebrities is largely excused or denied by the media most of the public. The rapists of America -- as in those who are raping our great nation -- are hiding in plain sight, under the cover of public self-delusion.

Sigmund Freud had only 19 patients during his career as an early psychiatrist in Vienna, Austria, circa 1900, and the vast majority of them eventually revealed to Freud how they had been molested as children. However, upon presenting his theory that sexual molestation was a major cause of psychological disorder, he was disbelieved and discounted by his colleagues. Afterward, Freud decided that no molestations of his patients had actually occured. Instead, he postulated that such reports were childhood fantasies about one's opposite sex parent, an idea which became a cornerstone of Freud's theory of psychosexual development. As a result, Freud's radically different and sexy theory became wildly popular, despite its appalling inadequacies, and set back the search for truth in psychology and the treatment of victims of child abuse, by something like 100 years. Yet here we are, in the year 2010, still in a state of moral denial for the most part, regarding the behavior of our nation and its more prominant inhabitants. We have learned to take the mistreatment of women and children, and minorities of all kinds -- those less able to defend themselves -- more seriously than in the past, especially among those of us who are aware of these problems and their consequences, but far too many Americans still harbor biases which lead to the unfair treatment and victimization of blameless people. If the people of the United States wish to be world leaders, it must be in a moral sense -- as a shining example of what humanity is capable of -- not in a "top dog" use-of-force sense.

Finally, we owe it to ourselves to be persons of good conscience. Moral capital exists on both societal and personal levels. How is personal morality rewarded? For one, people of moral integrity reward themselves through having a clear conscience regarding their actions and decisions. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, the final stage of personality development, in late adulthood, involves the quest for a sense of integrity. Psychologically healthy people have moral integrity, but psychologically unhealthy people do not. Furthermore, abundant evidence by modern psychologists shows that having a clear conscience is indeed good for people, both in terms of psychological and physical health. On the other hand, there is nothing worse for a person than living under siege from one's own conscience. Secondly, moral behavior is usually rewarded by other people, especially by those who know and love us the best. Successful marriages and parent/child relations are based largely on the integrity of the marriage partners and of the parents, respectively. The kindness of strangers or acquaintances, even, tends to represent a sort of reciprocity. People tend to respond in kind to others who introduce themselves in a friendly, trustworthy way, as a person with integrity. There is a strong and good tradition of valuing reciprocity and prosocial behavior, found widely among religions and philosophical traditions of the world. This helps create a better world and happier lives for all of us, and especially, for those of us who practice peace, love understanding, and kindness as a matter of course.


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