Why cultural morality is better than governmental morality

In our busy modern world, we have a tendency to try to handle problems through centralized authorities. As with all things, sometimes that method is the best.

With the rise of Libertarianism in America (as Plato predicted would happen at this point in a civilization’s life cycle), we see another method of ruling: letting a free market decide, which is usually more flexible and responsive than a centralized authority, especially a bureaucratic one. Again, sometimes this method is best.

There is another method we should consider: cultural rule, or letting standards of behavior be enforced by the population. When there is a cultural norm, there is a values system inherent to the civilization, and people tend to want to be friends with people who uphold it and eschew those who violate it. Sometimes this is the best method, and I’d argue that most day-to-day things are better handled by cultural morality and free markets than bureaucracy.

The best example I can think of is downloading of music. Although music downloading is illegal and some would argue immoral, it allows someone to explore far more music than they could otherwise — on a factor of tens or hundreds. In addition, it enforces a “cheapness” to music that makes it easier for less exceptional stuff to fade into the background.

If it’s not great, you download it and it sits around until one day you notice you don’t care, then you delete it. On the other hand, the things you really liked you bought — or would, if we had a cultural standard of morality for music downloading. As it is now, we’re polarized. Some hate it because it’s illegal and possibly immoral, and others love it, and push themselves to an extreme position of demanding that it be considered legal and moral. There’s no middle ground there.

In a society that isn’t so polarized, and where law enforcement is less of a focus than proving that one’s own character is good, the people who are going anywhere in life might download music, but they’d also want to show a shelf full of the things they did like that they bought. Otherwise, people might suspect they’re only freeloading thieves and distrust them.

We need a middle ground. Downloading music offers a way to try so much more than buy-before-try, yet letting go of the reigns and deciding to not care whether people steal or not is equally broken as requiring people to buy everything before they hear it.

Where governmental morality creates a fear of getting caught, and an equal and opposite reaction of resentment and thus a desire to violate the law more, cultural morality creates a positive force: behave well so you will be considered good and rewarded with friendship.

If humanity is to get past its current stagnation, it will be through the exploration of more flexible systems of self-governing, including culture and free markets. The old way of appointing a Nanny State is just too primitive to deal with the future we face.

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