Questions to Ponder…
1. What do you think are the relative roles of the family and school in promoting moral (i.e., uncorrupted selfless) behavior? Is Durkheim’s emphasis on the school misplaced? Explain.
Like Durkheim I believe that moral education should begin at an early age. The experiences children have at a young age help them to form lifelong behaviors and to help them structure their relationships with others. For the purpose of uniformity I can understand Durkheim’s emphasis on the school, however, I still am unable to agree with this perspective. The school can be an important place for shaping certain moral behaviors (i.e. sharing, cooperation, conflict resolution), but I still think the family plays an important role in shaping a child’s moral development.
When I look at the morals that I possess now as an adult I certainly see some that were reinforced by the schools I attended, but I can largely attribute them to my parents. Many of the kids that I attended school with were exposed to the same educational environments as I was, but do not have the exact same moral standards that I do. I think this largely has to do with the moral teachings that take took place in the home during our childhoods.
I feel that the school should serve as an institution of fact-based learning and that all students should be given the same information. It is then the onus of the parent to teach the moral component. This may not provide a neat and uniform set of moral standards for society, but I feel that is a more realistic way of ensuring moral development.
One example that illustrates this quite well in my opinion is sexual health education in schools. I think it is the responsibility of schools to teach students the facts of sexual health and that each student should attend these courses. Then it is on the parents to instill any moral teachings that they might want to regarding sexual behavior. This way each student is provided with a concrete set of facts and parents are able to provide their children with the moral behaviors to compliment them.
2. If capitalism encourages a maximization of personal profit, can moral behavior ever be maximized without changing the structure of capitalism?
I feel that the nature of capitalism makes it difficult to maximize moral behavior under this system. According to Weber under modern capitalism political power is frequently based in economic power (97). Those who possess this economic and political power often act in their own self interests and as a result others suffer from their lack of this capital. This pattern is clear in our American society, where the top 1% of the population controls 71% of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile we lack universal healthcare, adequate social services and suffer from increasing higher education costs. While there are noted exception among the wealthy who have embraced philanthropy, the vast majority act to preserve their own economic status.
Because both money and capitalism are rational and impersonal, the actions people under capitalism take are also often rational and impersonal, representing self-interest rather than collective interest. Simmel wrote, “At present…the whole aspect of life, the relationships of human beings with one another and with objective culture are colored by monetary interests”. Personally, I find Simmel’s words to be a very honest reflection of contemporary society. It would be very difficult to place moral value over monetary value under a system like capitalism.
3. As a universal medium of exchange, Simmel linked money to cynicism in society. Was he right to do so? Why or why not? If you agree with Simmel, how can money’s effect in this regard be minimized?
I think it was fair for Simmel to link money with cynicism in society as I find this relationship particularly apparent in modern capitalist societies. He argued that by reducing the qualitative differences between objects and granting them value based solely on their quantitative (or monetary) value it appears that a price can be placed on anything or anyone (100). This causes people to become cynical.
However, Simmel was careful to note that money in the modern society also has positive consequences. It enables individuals to express life as they see fit, including philanthropic donations. As such money can both push people apart (socially and psychologically) and bring bring people together in economic exchange (100).
4. Under what conditions can skepticism and distrust serve as positive forces and strengthen the civil dimensions of our society?
Many people come to think of skepticism and distrust as negative attributes, characteristics of individuals who are unjustifiably skeptical of others and institutions. However, skepticism and distrust can serve important positive roles within society.
Distrust is often based off of some legitimate previous experience. While distrust can be a source of disunity, it can also be an impetus for positive social change (87). When there is an element of distrust, individuals may work towards developing relationships and organizations that can be trusted.
Likewise skepticism can signify individualism and can encourage social action (87). If individuals are skeptical and question existing social structures they are likely to unify to overcome these institutions. A healthy amount of skepticism can be used to judge the efficacy of social institutions. As a result, these perceived negative attributes can affect positive change.