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Moral Rot, part 2: exploration

While moral rot has roots in the Bible and the origins of documented western philosophy, allusions, references and fear mongering inducing the concept are alive and well in mainstream channels today.

As with any concept lacking clear theoretical structure, the meaning varies from context to context with each instance revealing a new angle. I'd love to give a direct explanation, but alas that's impossible. Instead, I'll have to circle around the idea until something concrete naturally distills itself. So let's dive right in.

'Moral rot' includes meanings ranging from leadership to politics to autonomy to agency to responsibility to social justice to cultural dynamics et al. We can start by exploring the terms 'moral' and 'rot' individually.


We're all mostly familiar with the idea of morality. Somewhere we've all heard of utilitarianism, maybe even Kant, duty and responsibility. 'Virtue' is another interesting idea, as is social contract, empathy, compassion, care, maybe even stakeholder. To boil down the arguments of the last 3,000 years, there's a tension between a person's individual agency and the pressures from the world. It seems wrong to kill someone, but what if you have no choice etc.

Discussions of morality typically involve evaluating someone's decision making, their character and the options available to them. Skipping a detailed history, the mid-late 20th century discussion of ethics saw an abrupt shift, as did almost every other topic of inquiry up to that point. Physics became less about 'things' and more about 'possibilities' or 'likelihoods'. Economics shifted away from static systems to behavioural concepts. And politics implemented a new, dynamical system to protect against banal totalitarianism. So too went philosophy. The idea of moral luck - that two people could make the same exact decision under the same exact circumstances yet one person could reasonably be held to be unethical and the other ethical - created a theoretical compatibility to resolve the tension between personal agency and external pressure. Moral luck has opened a new pathway to understanding the nature of ethics and morality, ushering in a new era. And so it goes, just as Democritus knew about the atom before the invention of the electron microscope, so too was the world aware of the process of moral rot before we had the theoretical structure of moral luck to properly understand it.


We're all familiar with rotting fruit. It's good one day, and gross the next. The process is relatively straightforward. Understood at the cellular level: cells die (it happens); release enzymes; membranes deteriorate; it's consumed by other cells; bacteria hop in for a snack; produce waste; and on and on. Understood cosmically, it's just entropy. In any transfer of energy, a little bit of energy is wasted and over time it's reduced to nothing. Things reduce themselves until they recycle, almost like a countdown. But a countdown to what (, David)!? Well, to nothing.

Okay, that's enough for now. Here's some reading to prep for part 3!

What eats at America — and so its place in the world — is moral rot: unrelenting blight that emanates from on high.

Third, we can now see climate denial as part of a broader moral rot. Donald Trump isn’t an aberration, he’s the culmination of where his party has been going for years. You could say that Trumpism is just the application of the depravity of climate denial to every aspect of politics. And there’s no end to the depravity in sight.

That is sick, and now Trump is the commander in chief and the sickness is deep inside our walls, a moral rot infesting the very people who fear the immigrants our President

“Something is eating us alive from the inside”

On a day like this, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Trump’s administration is a moral and ethical plague. It will take years before we fully understand how far the pestilence spread and what its effects have been. But Trump wouldn’t have been able to do it on his own. It’s the people who advocate for him, justify him, excuse him and imitate him — people such as Kellyanne Conway — who make the real damage possible.

It wasn't too long ago that conservatives demanded that politicians display more "moral clarity" when dealing with external threats. Yet today, they look at the White House and see nothing but nuance. Sure, the president may be an ignorant halfwit with the impulse control of a toddler, but on the other hand he'll sign a tax cut, so we can't criticize him too harshly. And where is Trump's moral clarity? He'll rain insults down on talk show hosts, or on celebrities he doesn't like, or on a department store that won't carry his daughter's fashion line, but faced with actual goddamn Nazis, he retreats to the ground of moral equivalence. "Many sides."

Proverbs 28.2

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.


By the transgression of a land many are its princes, But by a man of understanding and knowledge, so it endures.


When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,

but with a man of understanding and knowledge,

its stability will long continue

Politics has taken the place of true faith and a pure religion in this nation. Jerry Falwell, Jr is a symptom of that lukewarm fall.

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Defined a few terms, presented the general argument and examined one of the premises. Time to step back a little and see what others are saying about Moral Rot. There isn't much, at least academicall

The theory of moral rot is: 1. Moral Luck introduces a probabilistic structure to ethical assessment 2. Entropy is a method to model probabilistic structures 3. Bayes' theorem is a versatile tool to m

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