What’s Wrong With the World – Sex and the City Syndrome

Related Book: Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Coop.

In exploring what is wrong with the modern world, one problem sticks out that is quite prevalent; cultural materialism. Cultural materialism is distinct from philosophical materialism (that matter is all there is and there is no supernatural) in that cultural materialism is simply, “material progress at any cost.” It’s an obsession with all things fashionable, all things popular, and with people who live exorbitant lifestyles.  We can call this “Sex and the City Syndrome.”[1] I choose to use that term for a few reasons:

1)   It’s humorous, so it’s easy to remember

2)   Sex and the City is a show about women being rich, buying expensive items, and attempting to change modern morals (i.e. they try and show that it’s okay for women to sleep around and it’s okay for men to sleep around)

3)   Sex and the City gained a huge popular following and the first movie did well, even though the series has absolutely no redeeming value (i.e. it says nothing about the deeper things of life and how we should deal with them

The show/movie exemplifies what it is to be a cultural materialist. In a materialistic culture, progression at any cost is seen as good. In fact, progression is valued as a virtue while tradition or anti-progression is viewed as a vice. To tell someone, “You’re living in the past” or “You’re using a 2,000 year-old book” is viewed as an adequate negation of a person’s beliefs. If we can show someone that his beliefs are old, we automatically think that we’ve somehow proven that our path is the correct one.

When we buy into cultural materialism, we evaluate our worth by what we have and not by who we are. In fact, we often view who we are by what we can do and what we have. This means that whoever has the most recent toys wins. In fact, there was a popular “No Fear” brand t-shirt in the late 90’s that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” While catchy, it completely ignored the fact that he who dies still dies. The reality is, in death all men are truly equal. You could have over one billion dollars and die in a plush bed and have a golden casket or you could die in the streets, penniless, and simply get thrown into an unmarked grave, but one constant remains; you’re still dead. Thus, “he who dies with the most toys wins” is an asinine idea.

The above shows  what cultural materialism is and why it poses a threat to a stable society – it creates an unthinking, immoral, shallow society. Such a society cannot sustain itself.

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What’s Wrong With the World – Emotionalism

Related Book: Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles by Peter Kreeft

A problem facing Western society today is that, as a people, we tend to be more emotional in our responses and thinking than we are rational. Though there’s nothing wrong with emotions or being emotional at times, when our thinking and actions center on our emotions, we run into many problems.

Before going further, I should note that I am not against reacting emotionally to certain instances. Even Jesus was overcome with emotion at the death of Lazarus, even though He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. When a man sees a woman being robbed, the rational thing is to call the police; the emotional response might be to protect the woman before calling the police. In these situations and others, an emotional response is completely justified.

Instead, I am talking about emotionalism, or constantly using our emotions in our thinking and our rhetoric. Rather than thinking deeply about an issue, we instead go with our gut reaction. Rather than evaluating the merits of a statement, we instead jump on our prima facie understanding of what was said and, regardless of further clarifications, continue with our original understanding.

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What’s Wrong With the World – Selfishness

Related Book: Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before by Jean Twenge

In exploring what is wrong with the world, I think we must discuss the aspect of selfishness. It’s not difficult to realize that we live in an incredibly selfish society, mostly because selfishness drives our economy.  Unfortunately, thought it has created a good economy, it has also created a morally bankrupt society, which ironically enough is leading us to a financially bankrupt society as well.

What is selfishness?

Selfishness can best be summed up as, “Looking out for myself first and all others second.” A selfish individual is someone who will look to his own desires first with little to no consideration for other people’s desires or feelings.

The other night I was walking into a store and saw a young person trying to wrestle away a case of beer from a security guard. When other people began to intervene, the young person dropped the case of beer and ran off. In this case, the young person represented what it is to be selfish; he gave no regard to the people who would lose money by him stealing that case of beer (most notably the store employees), but rather only cared that he got what he wanted. This, however, is an obvious and extreme example of selfishness.

Another form of selfishness is when we ask ourselves, “What can I get out of this?” For instance, if someone asks for you to donate money to the crisis in Haiti or to some other crisis and you respond you don’t have the money, you might have a legitimate excuse. Of course, if we find out that you’re paying money to keep your cable TV, your internet, to buy new clothes (when the ones you have aren’t tattered), or other uses to spend on yourself, it becomes apparent that you are selfish.

Some might read that and go, “I worked hard for that money so I should be able to use it how I desire.” And that is true to a certain extent. There’s nothing wrong with having luxury items or being rich – the problem is when we fail to use that money for good as well. It is popular in our culture right now to lament against the rich and accuse them of being the epitome of selfishness, but most of the people who complain about the rich are just like the rich, only with less money. It doesn’t matter if someone is a millionaire or lives from paycheck to paycheck; if both use their money for luxury items (like cable TV or a yacht) and barely come to the aid of those in need, then both are selfish, regardless of their income.

Even in our ethics we have become selfish. The ethic of hedonism has invaded America in full force. The belief is that so long as you don’t bring physical harm to someone, who cares what you do? If it makes you happy then do it. This argument is often used in the debate on homosexual marriage, that since two people getting married doesn’t impact anyone else (since we’ve forgotten that marriage has major social consequences), who cares what two individuals do? If an individual wants to use drugs, so long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else, who cares? Look at how many men and women don’t want to have kids because it would ruin the lifestyle they enjoy, of going out late, not having kids crying in the home, and so on. Or how many women don’t want children because it would ruin their body, or how many men bolt when they find out their girlfriend is pregnant or become emotionally distant when the wife is pregnant. The reason is we’re selfish and can’t imagine sacrificing our desires for someone else.

This ethic, however, is ignored in other cases. In the case of abortion and even some proponents of infanticide, even if the individual’s desires brings harm on the fetus or infant, that’s fine. We irrationally and unscientifically declare that the fetus or infant is not really a full human or not a person and therefore justify our selfishness. In the case of Judith Jarvis Thompson, she even acknowledges that the fetus might be a person, but still allows harm to befall the fetus in the defense of personal happiness and comfort.

We can look to the numerous cases of a man leaving his wife for another man or a woman leaving her husband for another woman and, regardless of how much that action hurt the spouse or the children, such an action is celebrated because it brought happiness to the offending party. Or what about when adultery occurs, but we justify it because “It makes the person happy!” In these cases, harm is done to an individual and a victim is created, but so long as happiness exists, for the offending party we don’t care.

So even the hedonism in America with the one clause, “Do not harm others in your pursuit of happiness” is not consistently followed; even if our pursuit of happiness will harm others, if we can justify such a harm, then we can continue our pursuit. We allow the harm to occur because we are selfish.

Selfishness is found in all aspects of our society, from the rich to the poor, among all races, all classes, and all business structures. We are a society founded upon looking out for ourselves first and other second.

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What’s Wrong With the World – Cynicism

Related Book: Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion by Dick Keyes

One of the biggest problems with the world right now is cynicism and sadly enough, it’s difficult to point it out because the cynic will only begin to mock you and others will join in so they’re not mocked as well. Being cynical of someone or something has its place and can often discover what is truly wrong with an idea, but more often than not in our culture, a cynic is simply someone who assumes the worst in most people.

What is cynicism?

Cynicism should be differentiated from being cynical. To be cynical is to find the alternative motive for someone’s action or to discover that what appears to be good is actually bad. Cynicism is viewing all actions as having ulterior motives based on selfishness. If the CEO of General Motors were to say that his company needs another bailout, but this time it’ll work, we would be justified in being cynical of his need for a bailout. A bad history with the company and their lack to get the first bailout to turn them around makes us cynical that a second bailout would work. Alternatively, to someone who buys into cynicism, even Mother Theresa was ultimately selfish or not that great of a person. The best of the saints are still mocked.

Another aspect of cynicism is the mockery involved. If a cynic disagrees with you, no matter how well laid out your argument is, they’re going to treat you like you’re stupid, ignorant, and haven’t studied the issues. Look no further than most atheistic blogs or message forums when Antony Flew became a theist. None of them looked to his arguments on why he had become a theist. None of them gave him the benefit of the doubt. Rather, they almost collectively adopted a cynical attitude and accused him of going senile in his old age. Or look to many conservative responses to President Obama. No matter how well laid out an argument might be or how truthful an argument might be, if he’s the one saying it, then some conservatives simply assume he has the worst motives in what he’s saying and discredit everything he says.

The mockery often leads to overreactions to ideas. Rather than there being an exchange of information and a rational discussion on issues, people tend to overreact to positions they disagree with. Cynicism is so focused with discrediting the opposition that it simply doesn’t allow for the opposition to ever be right or to be partially right. “You’re a conservative Christian, so if you disagree with me it’s because you haven’t questioned your faith or thought of alternatives!” “You’re a liberal, so you’ve never had an intellectual thought in your life and you can’t possibly be right!” No one is treated as an individual and the merits of arguments are ignored; rather, we simply attack the people because it feeds into our cynicism.

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What’s Wrong With the World – Introduction

G.K. Chesterton wrote the book, “What’s Wrong With the World” and what I find so interesting is the lack of punctuation in the title. Is it a question? Is it a statement? Could it be both?

Undoubtedly, all of us come to the point when we read about how the world has forgotten about so many people who are suffering where we ask, “What’s wrong with the world?” Or we read about a preacher who condemns homosexuals and calls them the nastiest things having sex with male prostitutes and wonder, “What’s wrong the world?” Asking what is wrong or complaining about something being wrong is good because it shows that someone has thought enough about an issue to notice that something is wrong. However, if the person stays there then it betrays that the person is not a critical thinker. He knows enough to know things aren’t as they ought to be, but he’s not willing to find a solution.

I want to do a series on what I believe is wrong with this world. Instead of asking “What’s wrong?” I will instead make a declarative statement, “This is what’s wrong.” But I don’t want it to end there.  I also want to point out solutions to each problem.

I don’t know how long this series will go, how many posts it will consist of, or how often I’ll contribute to it, but I do want to cover what I see as some of the greatest ills facing the world at this moment.