Knowledge is probably the most distinctive characteristic of humans because it is only humans who are capable to use their knowledge to such an extent that they can change their environment and adopt their environment to their own needs. It proves beyond a doubt that without knowledge humans could hardly survive in the hostile world throughout the history of the mankind. Moreover, it is due to knowledge people have managed to reach an unparalleled level of development and reach the highest point in the technological progress at the present moment.
On the other hand, it is necessary to remember about the fact that knowledge is not uniquely a product of certain generation of people. In stark contrast, knowledge are accumulated and conveyed from one generation to another by means of language, art, literature and other means of communication available to humans. At the same time, the ways apply their knowledge may vary consistently since often human actions are destructing, even though people are confident of possible negative effects of their actions. In such a situation, a moral dilemma arises: whether human actions should be guided by ethic theories and moral values of people or they should be guided by their pragmatic, material interests. The latter prevails in the modern world as well as it has always prevailed throughout the history of mankind. In fact, people were always guided by their short-terms needs and ignored ethical and moral principles which have endured throughout different epochs and still remain relevant. In other words, primary instincts and desire of some material benefits outweigh moral and ethical values of humans, in spite of their knowledge of morality, of good and evil.
First of all, it should be said that individuals’ views are shaped in the process of their education and formation of their knowledge of the surrounding world. In this respect, the process of socialization plays a particularly important role because people learn not only some basic academic knowledge which they learn at school, for instance, but they also learn valuable social knowledge from their peers and their social environment, including their families. In such a situation, moral values, views and ideals of an individual are shaped on the basis of the knowledge he/she learns in the course of his/her life and during the childhood and adolescence the formation of an individual’s identity occurs.
In such a context, it is very important what a kind of knowledge an individual learns before his/her personality is totally shaped. What is meant here is the fact that people, raised up in a different social and cultural environment, can have quite different set of values, which influence consistently their actions. Hence, it is possible to estimate that human actions are determined or guided by their cultural and social environment, which conveys the experience, values and knowledge of past and present generations. No wonder that the modern society tends to consumerism for people learn consumerism from their early childhood and the modern culture is the culture of consumerism.
The latter can be traced even in works of the pop art, which is an important source of aesthetic education of people and bears a very important cultural message. In this respect, it is possible to refer to works of pop art, which reveal the common trend to consumerism. During the 20th century, art evolved from the domination of the ideology of art for art’s sake to the ideology of pop art or art for masses of people (Bolt, 2006). In such a way, art has become a very important tool of the propaganda of the modern culture. However, it is important to understand that the impact of modern art on the formation of human views and moral values is not a unique, extraordinary phenomenon. Instead, it is a common trend, which has always existed in any human civilization. To put it more precisely, art was and still is an important tool of the communication between artists and the audience. Artists were traditionally in the avant-garde of the cultural life of the society and accumulated basic moral and aesthetic values of the society which they conveyed to the audience by means of their work. The audience, in its turn, perceived the works of art created by artists and developed its own aesthetic as well as moral values, which often became mainstream values and formed the mainstream culture.
Consequently, art conveyed basic aesthetic and moral knowledge of the society and people often used art as a kind of model which defined their behavior in the real life. For instance, since the ancient epoch art set certain standards and values, such as standards of beauty. Ancient artist created statues depicting humans which were perfect at their time, while works of later epochs, such as Renaissance paintings, for instance, established new standards of human beauty. At the present epoch, it is modern mass media, including print media and television which shape new standards of human beauty which are totally different from the standards established in the past epochs.
Nevertheless, these new standards guide people in their actions. For instance, modern media, which may be viewed as instruments shaping mass or pop art and culture, create a very specific, “ideal”ť image of feminine or masculine beauty. Under the impact of such image conveyed by media people start acting even though their actions are unnatural (Robbins, 1999). For instance, many women, especially adolescents, use various diets to become slim, but, in actuality, their diets can be dangerous for their health. Nevertheless, they ignore the danger to their health while mass media keep maintaining the established standards of beauty, in spite of possible harmful effect of the image they have created on health of people.
At this point, it is possible to speak paradoxical effect of mass art and pop culture on actions of individuals. People defining the development of pop culture as well as mass media are aware of possible negative effects of their works but they do not take into consideration these negative effects (Brown, 2008). Regardless of any moral values and ethical theories they continue their work, while their only goal is profit devaluating human life and health and humanistic values and ethical principles.
At the same time, masses of people are often unaware of consequences of their actions and, what is more, they are often unwilling to consider moral effects of their actions, when their material prosperity is at stake. In this respect, it is important to stress the domination of consumerist values in the modern society, which people learn from their early childhood (Robbins, 1999). In fact, human education always defined their views and values and the knowledge of ethical norms and values traditionally guided people in the course of their life. For instance, in the Middle Ages, the western civilization was influenced by Christian values and principles which influenced consistently their actions and daily life. They attended churches regularly, worshiped God, etc. At this epoch, humans’ actions were guided by their knowledge of God or, to put it more precisely, by the moral and ethical values established by the Catholic Church which shaped the ideology and culture in the Middle Ages. Later, during the epoch of Enlightenment reason and scientific knowledge have started to play the leading role in the formation of human values and principles, which guided their actions. Eventually, the progress of science and technologies have resulted in the total domination of scientific knowledge over idealistic and religious knowledge of the past based on beliefs and old traditions people conveyed from generation to another.
In such a way, today, people start their learning based on scientific knowledge and material values. What is meant here is the fact that, at school, children learn basics of scientific knowledge of the modern society. Within their families, they learn moral and ethical values of their parents and partially adopt them along with their own norms and values they learn from their peers and social environment as well as from mass media and pop culture. Hence, they form their own specific set of values that define their actions and behavior. At this point, it should be said that such a difference can be traced even through the language. It is not a secret that the language of younger and elder generations is very different. At the same time, the language is not just a means of communication but it is also a part of human culture by means of which people can express their own individuality or belongingness to certain cultural environment. For instance, African-American communities have developed very specific language, which some specialists distinguish not as a dialect of English but as a new, different language (Russell, 2003). They estimate that this language was originally developed by African Americans to make their communication incomprehensible to whites and, thus, using this language they distinguish themselves as the unique ethnic group within the society and, simultaneously, this language mirrors their culture (Russell, 2003).
However, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that moral values and principles of people have always been secondary compared to their material values and needs. Even though moral and ethical values and principles influenced the life of people, they often proved to be secondary to their material needs and interests (Brown, 2008).
For instance, the present epoch is the epoch of consumerism. Even though people are concerned with the environmental protection, while environmentalism have become one of the mainstream trends in the modern society, people still keep using their cars, computers, etc. In other words, they keep polluting the environment, even though they are conscious of negative effects of the pollution and regardless of their environmental concerns.
Thus, human ethical principles give in to their material needs and all the knowledge they learn from their social environment, from modern educational system are insufficient to make moral and ethical knowledge really guiding their actions. Such a situation is paradoxical today, when human knowledge has reached an unprecedented level of development. People have known as much as they do today, but this knowledge mainly accelerates scientific progress, while ethical theories and values turn out to be secondary. In such a way, primary instincts of people and their irresistible desire to live better and comfortably outweigh their ethical and moral knowledge.