The Moral Decline in the Words We Use – Entertainment – The Atlantic Wire

For those interested in culture and writing, another interesting study on the use of language in books, this time on the use of words referring to character and morality, and reflecting the shift towards greater individualism. Also see earlier post How We Use Pronouns Now: You, Me, and Everyone We Know. Quote:

If we aren’t using moral words in our vocabularies, what are we using? They told me that while they couldn’t answer empirically the question of what words were “replacing” once-common virtue words, theoretically they believe that individualism is the driving factor. Words like unique, personalize, self, and phrases like all about me, I am special, and I’m the best have found an increased frequency in American books between the years of 1960 and 2008, they say, citing the work of Jean M. Twenge. “We may say that the downward trend in the cultural salience of morality terms is accompanied by an upward trend in the salience of terms related to the self,” they add. “One might as well say that words about technology (e.g., Internet, blue-ray, plastic) have replaced [those virtue words].”

The Kesebirs believe that their findings are “somewhat disconcerting,” and connect to an overall decline in how we feel about morality in America, as well as to the “narcissism epidemic” Twenge has explored previously. “Our findings fit in this broad cultural picture in which individual achievement and fulfillment are valued above almost everything else, and definitely above communal values. We should not forget that religion’s impact on the public consciousness has also long been fading, which doubtlessly contributed to the fading of a shared moral vocabulary,” they explain. “Virtues are vital to both individual and societal flourishing. As stated in the conclusion of our article, ‘a virtue-salient culture would provide a more fertile ground for individual and societal flourishing than one where concepts of moral excellence are at the fringes of public conversation.’”

via The Moral Decline in the Words We Use – Entertainment – The Atlantic Wire.

via The Moral Decline in the Words We Use – Entertainment – The Atlantic Wire.


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