The State Is No Substitute for Personal Responsibility in the Age of the Smartphone

Nov. 10 2017

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.

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More about: Jonathan Sacks, Religion & Holidays, Technology, Western civilization

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship