Reflecting on the rush to buy the latest model of the iPhone, and on recent research into the social and psychic effects of the new age of electronic connectedness, Jonathan Sacks sees a problem ultimately rooted not in technology but in the collapse of traditional morality:
Between the Reformation and now, the ethic that bound society together was drawn from religion in one or other of its Judeo-Christian forms. Yes, there was a progressive secularization of power. But religion had a huge influence on society, some of it harsh and hypocritical but much of it admirable and altruistic. It strengthened the bonds of family and community, encouraging personal and social responsibility. It spoke of virtue, fidelity, and service to others. It told stories that made sense of our place in the universe and enacted rituals that inspired humility in the face of eternity.
For 50 years the West has been embarked on an experiment whose true cost we are only beginning to realize, namely the creation of a society without a shared moral code, an ethic known to academics as “expressive individualism,” which roughly means “do whatever you want and can get away with.”
People believed that the collateral damage could be dealt with by the state. It would care for the children of broken or abusive families. Its regulatory bodies would enforce financial and business ethics. Its tax regime would guarantee fairness in the distribution of rewards. But the state is no substitute for an internalized code of honor and personal responsibility. Unfettered freedom still means today what it meant to Thucydides long ago: the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.