We hear it on the news ceaselessly, in examples of murder and embezzlement, infidelity and corruption: Our modern culture is beset by a maelstrom of social ills, all capable of threatening the very existence of our civilisation. It is as if the decency and integrity of our forebears have been forgotten amid an onslaught of materialism. As a result, the by-products of violence, crime and intolerance dominate the airwaves and fill headlines.
And it is not just violence, but a pervasive degradation that erodes the very foundation of our culture. Hardly a country in Europe escapes the focus of trouble:
Violent racist attacks quadrupled in France in 2002 to the highest level in a decade — and more than half of these incidents were anti-Semitic.
Since the late 1990s, massive amounts of evidence have surfaced indicating that almost every country in Western Europe has at least one terrorist cell linked to al-Qaida, which the Madrid bombings have tragically proved to be true.
According to an international comparison of criminal justice statistics, based on information collected from the UK Home Office and Council of Europe, in the last five-year period on record (1997-2001), the average rise in violent crime in the EU was 22%, with the highest increases in France (50%), Spain (49%) and the Netherlands (35%). In the UK, police recorded nearly 870,000 violent crimes in 2001, more than three times the amount of France, the next highest-ranking country (279,000).
The world these statistics depict serves as a larger backdrop for the more brutal reality of the personal pain and difficulties encountered by individuals as they try to live their daily lives. Just raising and feeding a family, earning a living wage, holding a job and remaining safe in an insecure world present real and sometimes insurmountable challenges.
It is no wonder that many question where happiness can be found — or if it can even be found at all. Almost anyone would acknowledge that true joy and happiness are valuable, and that trying to survive in a chaotic and dishonest world is difficult.
The problems we face — war, poverty, economic crises, intolerance — share a common undercurrent. Indeed, although poverty and conflict have economic and political causes, questions of morality can contribute to, perpetuate and even predetermine such social ills. And where moral principles of kindness and mutual respect have no value or meaning, how can we expect individuals, let alone nations, to treat one another with dignity?
Is there a way toward a much safer and happier life for mankind? Can anything be done about the modern moral vacuum?