Thursday, March 12, 2009

Achebe on society and morality

More from Achebe:

For a society to function smoothly and effectively its members must share certain basic tenets of belief and norms of behaviour. There must be a reasonable degree of consensus on what is meant by virtue and vice; there must be some agreement on the attributes of a hero, on what constitutes the heroic act. Different societies will not hold identical ideas on these questions in every part of the world at every time in history. And yet, in spite of local and historical variations, we do not know of any society which has survived and flourished on totally arbitrary notions of good and evil, or of the heroic and the cowardly. Our very humanity seems to be committed to a distinction between these pairs however fuzzy the line may sometimes appear. But a society, like an individual, can sicken or become unhinged mentally, as in the phenomenon of mass hysteria which is well known. There are, of course, quieter and less dramatic symptoms of social pathology. Vulgar ostentation, callousness, disorderliness, filth, and shoddiness are clear signs of disease. What is the cure? More exhortations? I think not.