One way to measure the health of a society is to look at how the ruling elite of that society protects the things that are important to the society. Just as the management of a company cannot micromanage every aspect of the firm, the ruling class cannot make sure every rule and custom is strictly enforced. It has to focus its energy on the big items that make the society possible. From there this attitude will flow down to the lower levels who will enforce the smaller rules.
What the ruling elite of a society does by enforcing the big rules, especially those that manage the affairs of the ruling class, is set the tone. A disciplined ruling class reinforces the idea that the rules matter, and they must be respected. This attitude becomes a habit of mind for the people. On the other hand, a ruling class that has no respect for its own rules helps foster a culture of cheating. If it is okay for the bosses to cheat, then only a sucker follows the rules.
The easy example of this is the Roman Republic. When the families at the top of the social order strictly abided by the rules that governed patricians, the plebeians followed their lead in the minor things. The republican virtue that was necessary for their society was a habit of mind. Once the people at the top stopped enforcing their rules, the rest of the culture followed. Caesar was simply the logical end point of a process of decay that began long before he crossed the Rubicon.
In this age, things like the rule of law, the orderly transition of power and the respect for rational inquiry are the big items of society. Liberal democracies are supposed to be rule-based societies that seek to progress by advances in knowledge. That is done by allowing people to investigate the natural world looking for better solutions to the problems of life. These investigations are to follow a set of rules and ethics that reflect the general morality. Progress is orderly and open.
Recent events make plain that the rule of law has broken down across all levels of American society. The rich always have advantages in the law, but now they operate under a different set of rules entirely. America is now ruled by a pirate class that is free to do what they like to the people. Similarly, the orderly transition of power through the mechanism of elections has become a farce. No one involved has any respect for the rules of democracy and no one can trust the results.
Those seem like things that could be fixed once the geezers at the top of the political system are replaced by a new class of people. There is no guarantee, and the odds are not great, but it seems to most people that there is some hope of fixing these problems through a renewal of the liberal democratic spirit. On the other hand, the respect for rational inquiry and debate appears to be hopelessly lost. We are rapidly reaching a point where dissent is explicitly forbidden in America.
That in itself could be lumped in with the other bits of the system that need reform, but the corruption has gone beyond suppression. It is becoming clear that the culture of mendacity that plagues the political class has become the norm within the realms of science and medicine. A culture of rule breaking at the top of society has fostered a culture of dishonestly within the academic community. Even in the hard sciences the willingness to cheat and lie has become quite common.
A good recent example is the Elizabeth Holmes trial. Everything about her career and the company she created was a fraud. This was plainly obvious to many, but they remained quiet as there is no reward for enforcing the rules. Breaking the rules can make you very rich, so lots of people break the rules. The fact that the state is struggling to put this woman in a cage speaks to the legal corruption. The fact that she exists speaks to the corruption in the academy.
She is not alone. The chief executive of biotech firm Athira Pharma was forced out of her position when she admitted to faking her research. When she was a graduate student, she falsified her findings in a number of studies. Those studies set her up for funding to start the company. They were also used to obtain patents. Despite the fact she is a fraud and her company a sham, she only had to resign, and the company will continue on as if nothing important happened.
The elephant in the room on this topic is Covid. The idea of science has been so corrupted that it is now warping the language. Because the vaccines do not actually work as promised, the language is being changed to fit the crime. It used to be that vaccines provided immunity from infection by a specific virus. Now immunity means a sense of happiness that comes from compliance. You may still die from Covid, or you could become immortal. Who can tell anymore?
Science and its practical application have been the gift from the gods that has allowed man to move beyond his primitive existence. In modern societies it is the thing that is supposed to provide the limits on excess and steadily improve daily life. It is fair to say that trust in scientific and technological progress is the bedrock of modernity. It is the thing that we all trust to keep society anchored to reality. It should be the thing the ruling class protects at all costs, but that is no longer true.
In a world where you cannot trust the important things, the little things become nothing but a matter of opinion or convenience. If the people at the top have no respect for the rule of law, then the people at the bottom will have no reason to follow the law other than fear of punishment. The culture will become one where evading the spirit of the rules is the natural habit of mind. This corruption of the soul of society will corrupt the soul of the people, as we are witnessing today.
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