“In the months to come,” writes Tony Woodlief,
England’s National Health Service will sterilize a young man with a very low IQ. In Philadelphia, a three-year-old who will soon die without a new kidney is barred from entering the organ transplant waiting list because she is mentally disabled. I suspect most of us have lost the moral language necessary to talk about either. We don’t know how to discuss these facts any more than we know how to discuss God or the soul or beauty or art, and if you want to understand the slow dissolution of human communities you can begin with the disintegration of moral imagination, and with it a language for good and evil.
Our moral language has become a language of utilitarian materialism, of incremental increases in human happiness.
And what is our moral landscape, from this vantage point atop our slide into the twenty-first century?
Universities justify their existence with their contribution to the gross domestic product.
Churches promise happiness, order, a beneficial life.
We have no moral language, then, because we have allowed the measure of things to be reduced to their quantifiable purpose, and the measure of us to be no more than the sum of our finely parsed parts. As a consequence, we have no way to judge good from evil, save by comparing the cost to our wallets of each.
Picture: Joan Miro, Blue III, 1961.