In an episode of Seinfeld entitled “The Outing” one can find the famous line “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” In this episode, Elaine notices two girls eavesdropping who insinuate Jerry and George are a closeted gay couple. It turns out one of the girls was an NYU student who went there to meet Jerry to interview him. Later on, she goes to Jerry’s apartment under the assumption that he is gay, and the duo emphatically deny it, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” This proclamation provides an interesting observation on society more broadly. Toleration has become the sole goal at the expense of the long-held truth. While Seinfeld plays up this line for comedic purposes, there is a reflection on society’s mores in the utterance of such a phrase. They cannot merely express the truth without feeling as if they are being homophobic.
Upon first glance, I assumed this meant the episode was emblematic of a lack of moral judgment in modern society. But then I realized that this seeming lack of morality is in itself a declaration of a view of what is moral. Today there is a popular belief that those who are “open” and “accepting” are doing the right thing. They are letting others be who they want to be. In so doing, they are making the judgment that a person who makes a claim of morality or truth is wrong and the individual is right. Rather than hold one another accountable to objective moral truth, as has been traditionally done throughout the history of Western civilization, individualism has come to reign supreme. There is a sentiment that proclaims that which is new is that which is right. Much like innovation in science, there is a more progressive view of societal norms pervading modernity. Rather than something as fixed as gender and sexuality, which would seem to be given by biological design, people are ever moving toward a world in which you can be whomever—or whatever—you want to be, which was not always the case. Society simply would not have allowed these sorts of things to be accepted in the more “conservative” past.
Traditional morality has been replaced by doing that which “feels good.” Those of a more progressive bent ascribe to this view. They think those who believe men are created in the Biblical image of man and woman are wrong. However, they never tend to make a real argument other than “we have moved on. ”Those influenced by the ancient early modern philosophers and Christian faith are viewed as out of date. The issue I find most glaring is the idea that modernity places feeling above reason. It’s a rather selfish view because the individual is inherently superior to any form of absolute truth. Those who argue for gay marriage or a genderless society tend to respond with the idea that people should be left free to do what they want. However, this idea is predicated on the belief that the conservative response is wrong because it is outdated. They do not make a reasoned case against the Bible or biology, but rather tend to resort to ad hominem attacks calling their opponents close-minded. Traditional views are wrong based on their age and infringement on individual expression, and those who hold those views are overly rigid and want everyone else to ascribe to their worldview.
This progressive view has also come to permeate many other aspects of social life including friendships. I know people who cannot or will not tell their friends when they do something wrong. Humans still fundamentally strive for truth, which manifests itself in the discontent this causes. Those who cannot speak their views for the sake of not being confrontational are deluding themselves to place the feelings of another individual above absolute truth. Rather than a friend serving to elevate their friends to be better, they merely reaffirm their friends’ choices. The role of a friend is to share the truth even when it is difficult. But, when the truth is relative, inoffensiveness becomes the norm in society. This also becomes a guiding principle in our relationships. Some people I know are completely unwilling to critique their friends because it would be “awkward” or “uncomfortable.” I am not comfortable with the truth being cast aside and replaced by the convenient! I certainly do not want others merely to accept me as I am but rather to help me become the best I can be. Relationships should consist of people who can help alleviate the flaws of others rather than just reassuring other people that they way they live is okay. It may not be okay, and my job is to tell others when they are doing something wrong morally or otherwise. Our reason must always outweigh our feelings or else the world will veer toward extreme individualism and self-government will be replaced by entitlement.
During the ending credits of the episode, Seinfeld says, “I am not gay. I am, however, thin, single, and neat.” The fact that the audience understood this to be a joke about his own refined manner in comparison with that of a gay man is indicative of commonly held views of how straight men live their lives. The same folks who would critique the behavior of Jerry and George in their denial of being gay would also have understood the humor. The fact that Jerry and George have to say “not that there’s anything wrong with that” demonstrates that there is something uncomfortable about being presumed gay. This should not be necessary. They should be able to state a fact about themselves without being viewed as intolerant. The issue with the modern view of toleration is that not only do you have to allow others to practice their ways of life, but you must also accept them as correct – and you will be viewed negatively if you do not. Society has veered so far into absolute individualism that it has affected how we view truth and even has changed what we deem natural. “It’s 2017, we have moved on.” Moved on from what? The truth is the truth no matter when you were born or where you live. There may be something wrong with whatever “that” is in any given circumstance and that discussion of what is true is what should be tolerated. I initially considered the progressive view of morality to be that there is no morality. They, however, actually do have a view that they are right and the traditional view is wrong. The conservative is holding on to antiquated ideas and is unreasonable – which is ironic given that the conservative would make a reasoned argument while the progressive view is based on feelings and fallacies.