Thursday, February 13, 2020

From character to personality

In his provocative book The Death of Character, Hunter traces out how America lost its older ideas about virtue and character.

Before the Industrial Revolution, Americans honored the virtues of “producers”—hard work, self-restraint, sacrifice for the future, and sacrifice for the common good.

But during the twentieth century, as people became wealthier and the producer society turned gradually into the mass consumption society, an alternative vision of the self arose—a vision centered on the idea of individual preferences and personal fulfillment.

The intrinsically moral term “character” fell out of favor and was replaced by the amoral term “personality.”



Hunter points to a second cause of character’s death: inclusiveness.

The first American colonists created enclaves of ethnic, religious, and moral homogeneity, but the history of America ever since has been one of increasing diversity.

In response, educators have struggled to identify the ever-shrinking set of moral ideas everyone could agree upon.

This shrinking reached its logical conclusion in the 1960s with the popular “values clarification” movement, which taught no morality at all. Values clarification taught children how to find their own values, and it urged teachers to refrain from imposing values on anyone.

Although the goal of inclusiveness was laudable, it had unintended side effects: It cut children off from the soil of tradition, history, and religion that nourished older conceptions of virtue. You can grow vegetables hydroponically, but even then you have to add nutrients to the water.

Asking children to grow virtues hydroponically, looking only within themselves for guidance, is like asking each one to invent a personal language—a pointless and isolating task if there is no community with whom to speak.
Source: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

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