A Country Divided

By Walker, Charles A. | Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

A Country Divided


Walker, Charles A., Journal of Theory Construction and Testing


This issue of JTCT (Spring 2010) features articles about such diverse populations as cancer patients, adolescents with lethal arrhythmias, young adults with traumatic brain injury, and family members caring for older adults - all of them striving for normalcy in their lives. Chronic illness or disability, limited care resources, and caregiving are common themes examined by the contributing authors, and these themes recapitulate hot button topics in the health care reform debate.

Despite strident opposition, President Obama has not given up on health care reform (MSNBC, February 6, 2010). As I struggle to understand opposition to genuine and much needed reform, I have concluded that the fundamental division fueling the debate is not partisan politics, but the moral codes that define political parties and their constituents. A moral tug-of-war divides us. On both sides of the debate, participants often descend into fussing and moral hypocrisy, but sometimes human decency and civility prevail. Back and forth the arguments go.

Two Moral Styles

Which alternative is the right one? Who is moral? Two moral styles are practiced in this country at the same time. For lack of a better distinction, I will refer to these as old and new styles. The terms old and new may carry unintended connotations, but I will attempt to describe these moral styles in a fair and objective manner. Old-style morality is traditional. It is the morality honored by the majority of middle-aged and older adults, but there are millions of young people who live by old-style moral standards. New-style morality gained momentum from the mid-20th century onward. Originally identified with youth, it is now practiced by people of all ages.

Old-style morality

The key to old-style morality is its personal quality. It focuses on work and thrift. Major "sins" in old-style morality are laziness and a wasteful extravagance. Old-style morality claims strict boundaries for sex and family. Those who deal casually with marriage or sex are prime offenders. Old-style morality exalts personal honesty, regard for property and person, and social order. Therefore, good citizens are honest individuals who pay their taxes, do not steal or threaten their neighbors, and support or fight their country's wars in time of need. In summary, old-style morality teaches that work is a virtue, family is sacred, and our nation deserves the respect and service of its citizens.

Old-style morality is personal. That is, an old-style moralist assumes that individuals have a lot to do with whether they are lazy or hardworking. According to an old-style moralist, individuals control restraint in sex and faithfulness in family relationships. Through their own initiative, they can be patriotic, orderly citizens. These are personal virtues that individuals have some control over.

What are the consequences of an old-style morality? Our country is filled with people who work hard, honor family relationships, and love and serve their country. I grew up with these people. I know how they feel and what they believe. I have been marked by this morality. Old-style morality is not inferior, old fashioned, repressed or sick. To the extent that old-style morality encourages a strong work ethic, personal thrift, and fidelity to family and country, I practice it and have tried to pass it along to my daughter, who will be married before this issue goes to press.

New-style morality

The key to new-style morality is its social quality. People who practice new-style morality are concerned about racism and prejudice. They worry about and try to find ways to help the poor. They are defenders of the environment because they fear that our planet can't survive continued abuse and careless use of resources. …

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