In order to know how to avoid degeneracy, it is important to understand the source from which it comes. It is easy to say, from a religious perspective, that immorality is simply an effect of sin and the fallen state of man. However, there is no reason that a similar sort of conclusion cannot be arrived at through other avenues for those who do not hold to any particular doctrine for whatever reason. Theories on human nature and action exist outside of religion. This is quite obvious. After all, the Ancient Greeks were evidently able to develop their own systems of ethics with varying degrees of influence upon future organizations that used their thought as a foundation. There is something more basic, though; an intuitive and fundamental explanation, visible without the theological lens, that deserves attention.
A very basic view of human nature is that man ultimately seeks the good or, in other words, happiness. Therefore, man will act in whatever way he believes is good, i.e. that which will make him most happy; a point that remains true whether the good is seen as moral virtue, such as in Christianity, or excellence in function (areté), as the Greeks held. No matter what conception of goodness, it must derive from some higher Goodness that all men strive for. There appears to be a broad universal standard which all men follow. In practically all societies (at least those we would consider civilized), certain actions, like murder, theft, adultery, etc., are prohibited. This observation is how we developed the concept of Natural Law. In all men the law is “written on their hearts” by their Creator as the Apostle put it.
It should seem obvious as to why it’s called Natural Law. It is the principle that was invested into the natural order by God. All men are called to use their reason in order to contemplate nature and its origin. The same essential conclusion will be drawn with sufficient reflection. One of the goals of philosophy is to understand nature and its underlying metaphysics. A most just and simple God would not create a disordered and chaotic universe of pure multiplicity. There has to be some sort of unity; an order given by Order itself unto creation. Hence, it follows that man contains within his own nature a basic code that tells him how to act and what his end is. If he follows this law, he will act in a good manner and attain happiness; if he acts contrary, then he will be unfulfilled and miserable. It is through inward self-realization that man will become good, not external achievement. Man must know Natural Law. The little known saint Boethius makes this quite clear in his magnum opus, The Consolation of Philosophy:
Indeed, the condition of human nature is just this; man towers above the rest of creation so long as he recognizes his own nature, and when he forgets it, he sinks lower than the beasts. For other living things to be ignorant of themselves, is natural; but for man it is a defect.
And this is exactly the issue that is caused by modernity which plagues most people of our time. They seek happiness outside of themselves since they have forgotten or ignored the presence of God’s order (what great men once called Logos) manifested in every man.
Other creatures are content with what is their own, but you, whose mind is made in the image of God, seek to adorn your superior nature with inferior objects, oblivious of the great wrong you do your Creator.
As a result of their ignorance, they are doomed to look outward. Moderns, incapable of understanding the happiness to be found in what is natural (Family, Tradition, Discipline, and so on) inevitably pull down order where they find it to replace it with whatever they feel will cause happiness. Because they know not the purpose of man, they cannot identify the real purpose of worldly things. Wealth is sought for security and comfort, but greed takes over. One who amasses a fortune will always trouble themselves with the prospects of gaining more while fearing potential loss since it would ruin them. Their master is money. Sex and other hedonistic endeavors are seen as a great way to be happy. Yet, no matter how much deviants consume, they are always left wanting. The temporal fulfillment passes and they are left to chase after it again. Even fame and power will not provide great happiness. Both are humbled in the face of death; the powerful man cannot prevent his passing away and a day will come for the famous man, so concerned with popular opinion, when his name is said for the last time and he is forgotten forever. But, you will always have yourself. No one can take away your inner virtue or good, and, therefore, no one can take away true happiness. It cannot be found without, but within.
[Men] reach an extremity of enslavement when they give themselves up to wickedness and lose possession of their proper reason. Once they have turned their eyes away from the light of truth above to things on a lower and dimmer level, they are soon darkened by the mists of ignorance. Destructive passions torment them, and by yielding and giving in to them, they only aid the slavery they have brought upon themselves and become in a manner prisoners of their own freedom.
In the past, we had philosophy and theology to guide us on our journey of deciphering human nature. Religion even made these higher esoteric truths digestible for the common man. The destruction caused by the advent of the modern world means that we are left to pick up the pieces and relearn what has been thrown away or obscured. Nevertheless, God and nature are there to help. It is by knowing and embracing human nature that one is able to live well, grasp the good, and avoid vice. Rejecting your own nature is tantamount to rejecting He who created you the way you are. Acting contrary to nature will never result in lasting and meaningful happiness, which is why all caution should be taken to keep away from the situation. Natural Law is ever present; you just have to start looking.
Furthermore, it must always be remembered that each individual has his own unique purpose. While everyone is ultimately searching for the highest happiness that is unlocked, to a certain extent, by Natural Law, God has His own plans and use for you. It is no accident that you, dear reader, are able to see, even if it is in an imperfect manner, what so many others are blind to. A part of realizing human nature is the acceptance of Divine Providence. God maintains everything that is. Nothing is really an accident, regardless of how cliche that sounds. You see evil and want better; you hunt for the Good and you shouldn’t stop until you find it. He has led you to where you are now but you’ll have to keep going. Will you turn your back on Him?
And so sovereign Providence has often produced a remarkable effect — evil men making other evil men good. For some, when they think they suffer injustice at the hands of the worst of men, burn with hatred for evil men, and being eager to be different from those they hate, have reformed and become virtuous. It is only the power of God to which evils may also be good, when by their proper use He elicits some good result. For a certain order embraces all things, and anything which departs from the order planned and assigned to it, only falls back into order, albeit a different one, so as not to allow anything to chance in the realm of Providence. ~ Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy