Certainly the fact that the present is controversial doesn’t mean that the events of the past are established as true beyond dispute. Too many historians have assured us that the past is reinterpreted by each changing stage of “the present” for us to be deceived about that. But the very fact that the events and ideas of the past can be manipulated means that they can be separated from the framework of concepts surrounding them. We see that thev are open to various interpretations. For the living, on the other hand, today’s facts are embedded in today’s situation. We accept them as being self-evidently tnie, as signifying what they are; or at least, we try to. We are unhappy with puzzles and ambiguities, uneasy with shifting roles and mysterious behavior. Why?
Because they demand something from us. Present events act on us and call for action by us. Since we can change them, not simply define or describe them, they acquire a moral presence. They pose a question of responsibility, and by doing so they change the way we look at them. The past can be described and debated, but it doesn’t call for action—except, of course, as its effects continue into the present and so become the present. But of the true past, one can say: this condition existed, it resulted in these actions and reactions which produced these events and ways of looking at the world. Not so with the present. Here we say, this condition exists—in the same world as the observer. Therefore he is no longer merely an observer, because being present he is involved with the condition. Whether he evades direct involvement or not (and one can’t, after all, become involved in every problem), the question arises: Do I approve of this situation? Is it right that it should exist? Can it be changed? And how?
So valuing invades description, moral judgment confounds analysis. The objectivity we found easy in looking at the past becomes a matter of degree when we deal with the present, not something we can achieve absolutely no matter how “scientific” our approach. Even the most dedicated social scientists find it difficult to get rid of the idea that some human situations are better than others, not perhaps in the way of an overall judgment of a total society, but at least in part. They may cling to an ideal of objective reporting, but it is hard not to form some conclusions about value, if only on the basis that the people being investigated seem happy and content with the way they live. An unspoken assumption hovers here that it is absolutely good to be happy, not simply that happiness is the measure of a viable society. Or, to put it another way, a viable society which contents its members is to be taken as a good society, while deviates, alienated fantasists and suffering neurotics denote a society approaching breakdown, which is a bad society. Even with this pragmatic approach, we have not avoided a value judgment.
So, in this sense at least, moral questions are bound to be raised when current social situations are under discussion. In fact, if they were not raised, a strange condition of separation between man and his world would exist, which would itself shift man’s relation to life. No one can not care about the rights and wrongs of the human condition unless he has moved deep into alienation from humanity.