Dennis Prager has created a video touching upon something that I’ve believed to be true for a long time: It’s stealing to waste a sales person’s time if you know that you won’t end up buying from that store. If I don’t intend to buy from that store on that day, I spell it out to the salesperson. This is especially true if I’m shopping around for something that is sold at a store dedicated to one product or supplier, such as a car dealership. “Yeah, I’m thinking about buying an electric car. Yours is the first dealership I’ve been to, but I’m going to be checking all of the local dealerships.”
Since the day I started blogging, I’ve returned repeatedly to an issue I find fascinating: America’s retreat from a God-derived, externally driven moral system in favor of an alleged moral system that is, in fact, a peculiar amalgam of emotion (“if it feels good, do it”), arrogance (“I’m Ivy League educated, which enables me to understand the real moral issues here”), and Marxist-based (social or economically oppressed people always behave morally if their transgressions are against “the man”). I’m returning to this issue today because Jonah Goldberg has a new article — actually, an excerpt from his contribution to a new book — that also examines this phenomenon, although at a deeper level and with greater style than I could ever achieve.
Because I’m a firm believer in eating dessert last and in writing my posts so that they build up to a stirring crescendo, I’m going to begin this post with my own meager offerings on the subject of America’s new morality before getting to Goldberg’s article and the ideas it raises.
To explain my fascination with America’s tremendous moral shift, I credit a news story I heard and a movie I watched during my long years as a generic Democrat. They made me realize that we are in a time when our popular culture encourages every man and women to be his own god — at least if that man and that woman include in their doctrine the basic premise that men are bad, white men are really bad, and that everyone else lives in a hierarchy of victimhood that determines their moral-status.
It was an NPR report I heard in the 1990s (and that I cannot locate in the NPR archives) that first alerted me that America was well on its way to abandoning traditional moral notions, especially those predicated on the Ten Commandments. As best as I can remember, the report was about an American high school that was trying to deal with an escalation of student-against-student crime, most of which, I think, involved theft. The school instituted special classes during which a counselor would talk with groups of students in an effort to get them to change their habits. The NPR reporter attended one of those classes.
During the class, the counselor had the students imagine a scenario in which they’d left their wallet behind and someone walked off with it. Once the students had that picture firmly in mind, the counselor asked them to discuss their feelings. The students readily did so, describing anger, frustration, sadness, perhaps empathy (if they imagined the thief needing stolen money to buy food), a desire for revenge, etc. After all the student had talked about their feelings, the counselor suggested that, if they stole something, their victim might also experience those same feelings. The implication was that it’s not nice to inflict negative feelings on others.
This being the 1990s, when the journey from garden-variety Democrat to hard-core Progressive was still a work in progress, the reporter was taken aback, something that I doubt would happen today. I remember his wrap-up, during which he noted that the counselor never once mentioned that, as a moral matter, stealing was wrong. Empathy was the name of the game.
The reporter may have been perplexed by this omission, but even then, despite my Democrat identification, I wasn’t. If the students had been so bold as to ask the counselor why stealing is wrong, the counselor would have been at a loss for words. His answer would have boiled down to “because it is.” The reality is that, because religion is banned from schools, the counselor had no higher authority to justify the claim that stealing is wrong. The only thing he could do was point to feelings — which are definitely real for the person experiencing them — and to hope that teenagers, who are collectively the most narcissistic beings on earth, would have a sudden burst of empathy that would override their selfish, and presumably irresistible, urge to make someone else’s possessions their own.
A few years later, in 2000 (when I was still thinking of myself as a liberal Democrat), I watched The Contender, a movie in which Joan Allen played a candidate for Vice President who was the victim of appalling sexual slanders put about by Republican villains so dastardly that they made Snidely Whiplash look staid and restrained. During her darkest hour, Allen goes an empty basketball court where, while shooting basket after basket, she breathlessly recites the doctrinal beliefs of what she calls a church based in “this very chapel of democracy” (i.e., Congress).
Here’s the video, followed by a transcript:
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman of the Committee. Remarkably enough, it seems that I have some explaining to do. So, let me be absolutely clear.
I stand for a woman’s right to choose.
I stand for the elimination of the death penalty.
I stand for a strong and growing armed forces because we must stamp out genocide on this planet, and I believe that that is a cause worth dying for.
I stand for seeing every gun taken out of every home. Period.
I stand for making the selling cigarettes to our youth a federal offense.
I stand for term limits and campaign reform.
And, Mr. Chairman, I stand for the separation of Church and State, and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism.
Now, I may be an atheist, but that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves, that gave women the right to vote, that gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very Chapel of Democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this church.
(A decade after watching The Contender, and being rather stunned by its navel-gazing in lieu of traditional morality I wrote a post explaining how Allen’s monologue sounds remarkably like something Barack Obama would say. A couple of months after that post, I again had occasion to note that Hollywood movies conflate the Progressive platform with an absolute moral code.)
By 2006, when I’d finally crossed the Rubicon and become a full-blown constitutional conservative, my sense about the politicization of morality, and its alliance with Marxist political doctrine, was well-enough developed to become a post at American Thinker. The catalyst for that article was yet another movie — Maria Full of Grace — from 2004. Maria Full of Grace follows the sordid picaresque adventures of a small-town Latin American girl who comes to America as a drug mule. I disliked the character’s narcissism and amorality, but didn’t really get steamed about it until I somehow wandered across the reviews written when the movie was first released.
What horrified me was that the MSM’s movie critics, all of whom hew left, were raving about Maria’s moral righteousness — and this despite her many traditionally immoral acts. For example, when Maria found she was pregnant, she refused to marry the father of her child. Once having dumped her boyfriend, she became a drug mule and then, when the drug lords were after her, she deliberately placed innocent people (including children) in danger in order to protect herself. As far as the critics were concerned, the fact that Maria lived a dead-end life in Mexico (“Maria is a victim of economic pressures,” said Roger Ebert), her choices were all righteous. She was a victim and, just as blacks cannot be racist (never mind the slurs they direct at other races or creeds), it appears that, in the Marxist economic hierarchy, poor people cannot be immoral.
Given my ongoing thoughts about America’s changing definition of morality, you can imagine how excited I was today when I read Jonah Goldberg’s Empty Integrity, an essay he wrote for The Seven Deadly Virtues: 18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell. Using pop culture as a springboard, Goldberg examines way in which Americans are being encouraged to abandon traditional morality in favor of feelings. Goldberg describes a pop culture in which interesting people with whom we are made to empathize are viewed as morally superior to boring, unpleasant people, regardless of the fact that the former have utterly abandoned traditional morality (e.g., criminal mastermind Walter White, from Breaking Bad), while the latter are still trying to conform to that same traditional moral behavior (e.g., Walter White’s wife).
With his trademark humor, Goldberg cites to one hugely popular show after another, in which audiences are encouraged to identify with, or at least root for, the villain, rather than the good guy. This is an inversion of pretty much all Western popular culture going back thousands of years. To help constrain human conduct, Western cultures have defined what is “good” (the Judeo-Christian culture uses the Bible to provide this definition) and has then shaped its popular culture to elevate and make this good accessible. Now, though, with Hollywood in thrall to a worldview that denigrates faith, and believes that morality is the same as feelings — provided, of course — that those feelings are being felt by a member of the victim class — there simply is no room in entertainment for the traditionally moral guy to be either interesting or successful.
Or, as Goldberg says:
The truth is, it’s hard to find a children’s cartoon or movie that doesn’t tell kids that they need to look inside themselves for moral guidance. Indeed, there’s a riot of Rousseauian claptrap out there that says children are born with rightly ordered consciences. And why not? As Mr. Rogers told us, “You are the most important person in the whole wide world and you hardly even know you.” Hillary Clinton is even worse. In her book It Takes a Village, she claims that some of the best theologians she’s ever met have been five-year-olds (which might be true when compared with a certain homicidal Ukrainian priest).
Such saccharine codswallop overturns millennia of moral teaching. It takes the idea that we must apply reason to nature and our consciences in order to discover what is moral and replaces it with the idea that if it feels right, just do it, baby. Which, by the by, is exactly how Lex Luthor sees the world. Übermenschy passion is now everyone’s lodestar. As Reese Witherspoon says in Legally Blonde, “On our very first day at Harvard, a very wise professor quoted Aristotle: ‘The law is reason free from passion.’ Well, no offense to Aristotle, but in my three years at Harvard I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law — and of life.” Well, that solves that. Nietzsche-Witherspoon 1, Aristotle 0.
The above two paragraphs, while amusing and informative on their own, don’t do justice to Goldberg’s carefully (and amusingly) developed thesis about the death of traditional morality in America. I urge you to read the whole thing.
Because the intellectual universe often harmonizes nicely once I get an idea my head, just an hour or so ago, a friend sent me an article showing that Jonah Goldberg and I aren’t the only ones thinking about the way in which morals are becoming de-valued in America, especially because of Marxist thought. Larry Correia, who earned well-deserved internet fame for his Second Amendment defense after the Sandy Hook shooting, has written a sterling post about the peculiar “morality” amongst self-styled Social Justice Warriors (“SJWs”).
Social Justice, as you’ll recall, is a movement predicated upon dressing the tenets of Progressivism up as moral imperatives. Leftist churches that don’t have time for Christ’s teachings, as well as Leftist synagogues that find the Torah old-fashioned, are big on social justice teachings which fill the gap created when House’s of Worship cling to their religious status despite having actually abandoned their religion.
The occasion for Correia’s post was a breaking story from SJW-land about the fact that one of its members, using a variety of alias’s, used the SJW’s crude tactics of insults, threats, intimidation, etc., against his fellow SJWs. Horrors! After absolutely savaging the SJW’s hypocrisy because of the way it accuses mild-mannered conservatives of oppression, intimidation, etc. — and then uses precisely those tactics to destroy the conservative — Correia gets down to the whole privilege hierarchy that the SJWs use to justify their hypocrisy:
If you really want to see just how stupid people can get, read the comments, where SJWs argue about “privilege”, where a bunch of white, liberal suburbanites excuse attacks on people who disagree with them, because they probably possess some nebulous concept of privilege. Like me for example, I grew up with Portuguese Dairy Farmer Privilege, where all that back breaking manual labor, knee deep in cow shit, at 3:00 in the morning, in order to scrape by in near poverty all those years, somehow turned me white and made it so that it was okay for SJWs to lie about me.
Privilege sounds awesome. You guys should totally get some of it.
Please read the rest here. It’s that good.
Reading the above, I’m reminded of that old joke that “everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Any person who has even a vestigal sense that traditional morality serves society well because it demands that people behave well towards others (and then enforces that demand by reminding people that running afoul of these rules could cause eternal damnation), is going to be worried about the fact that we’re dangerously deep into “do-it-yourself morality” territory. ” Do-it-yourself morality is sold as a paradise in which people’s innate innocence, empathy, and good sense (something everyone who has ever cared for a toddler knows is a fantasy concept) inevitably lead them to do the right thing, resulting in a pastoral wonderland where the lion lies down with the lamb.
When this particular fantasy fails — which is always a surprise to the useful idiots — the new moralists tell the public that there is, in fact, original sin. Unlike that stodgy Catholic teaching about original sin, however, true original sin doesn’t occur in all people. Instead, it’s only to be found in oppressors. Oppressors are guilty of everything; the oppressed are guilty of nothing. Under this paradigm, morality is what the oppressed do to relieve themselves of the weight of oppression. Interestingly enough (at least to the ever credulous useful idiots), this so-called morality doesn’t work either. Indeed, it has an uncanny knack of leading first to riots (think: Ferguson) and then to rebellion and revolution.
Once rebellion and revolution are on the menu, the likelihood of a freedom-based constitution emerging is close to nil. (If you want an analogy, try to imagine how many monkeys, on how many keyboards, for how many years, would be able to come up with that doctrine. Can’t imagine that? Neither can I. The Founding Fathers were not the norm; they were a complete anomaly, and their like will probably never been seen again.) What inevitably emerges from the chaos is faith in the strongman, whether that strongman is big government or big dictator.
Our Man Obama of the Blessed Pen and Phone is working hard to merge these two bigs, with a Big Man heading a Big Government. “Mess on the border? Don’t worry, with a stroke of the pen, I’ll erase the whole problem of illegal aliens by redefining them as legal.” “Concerns about two-tier pricing for broadband internet access? No fear. With the stroke of a pen, I’ll bring the internet in the government fold, along with one of my solid-gold, time-tested promises that this act is to free the internet from businesses, rather than to subordinate it to government.”
When it comes to America’s fall from a traditional morality that is premised on externally imposed values of justice, respect, and grace, and enforced by the hand of God, it’s frightfully easy to talk about the problem, and to describe its various manifestations in great detail, . What to do about the problem, though, remains the big question. As Jonah Goldberg’s article makes clear, even those of us who decry this bizarre societal fall from grace are avid consumers of the same Hollywood and Madison Avenue fare that drives the fall.
So, having written this nice, very long post, I have a question for you: What steps can we, as ordinary individuals take, to try to resurrect the notion of a morality that transcends human emotions and politics, and that must be enforced if a society is to survive and thrive?
Two weeks ago, I introduced you to Sol Giggleweed, a representative of DemProg passion in politics and society. I chanced to meet up with Sol today — or, more accurately, with a real human being whose views march in lockstep with Sol’s, but who doesn’t wish to have his name made public. He’ll therefore be Sol Giggleweed in perpetuity at this blog. The topic of our very real conversation this morning was Jon Stewart and Hamas.
The conversation Sol and I had was a continuation of an earlier Jon Stewart-inspired discussion we had. It all began last week, when Jon Stewart decided to weigh in on the Israel=Hamas conflict. Stewart’s shtick was the usual “disproportionate force” argument that comes from the anti-Israel crowd: He essentially said that Israel’s warnings to civilians in advance of an attack were a fraud, since the Gazans had nowhere to run in their crowded rabbit warren of a city. Poor Gazans.
I explained a few things to Sol: (a) Hamas routinely instructs civilians to stay in place in order to create more propaganda moments, which is the major weapon in Hamas’s arsenal; (b) Israel’s citizens had survived more than a thousand rockets in the past two weeks because Israel specifically created an infrastructure to protect them, something Hamas purposely did not do; and (c) contrary to Stewart’s implication about a lack of shelters, Gaza is riddled with perfectly good tunnels that are barred to civilians because the tunnels are for the gun-carriers, not the future telegenic dead bodies.
Sol was unimpressed. When all was said and done, Sol’s primary argument boiled down to this: Jon Stewart is brilliant, so I believe him, not you, and certainly not the mountains of IDF evidence (videos, photographs, military images, Hamas’s own words, etc.) to the contrary. There’s got to be some equivalency and nuance there.
I’d forgotten about that conversation, but today Sol contacted me, chortling gleefully about the fact that Jon Stewart, “showed them.”
I not unreasonably inquired, “Jon Stewart showed what to whom?”
“He showed the conservatives like you, the ones that think the IDF is the only voice to listen to. He showed them that they’re wrong.”
Sol then told me to check out this video footage, only the first couple of minutes of which are relevant:
“See,” said Sol. “See, Jon Stewart knows what you guys are saying. He’s aware of you.”
“Yeah, Sol, I see. But what’s your argument?”
“Jon Stewart,” he replied, “is showing that there’s nuance there. Because both sides are mad at him, he’s subtly telling the audience that it’s not clear-cut. Both sides have valid arguments.”
“So you’re saying that there’s an equivalence between Israel, the only free, democratic, pluralist society in the Middle East, and Hamas, an anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-American, anti-Christian entity that’s so bad even Egypt hates it? And that this equivalence exists because both sides are willing to argue their cause against anyone who isn’t clearly siding with them?”
“No, I’m not saying that at all. After all, I emailed you that Wall Street Journal article about Hamas tactics. But there are other views than just the one the IDF says. You’re so judgmental and narrow-minded that you won’t listen to anything at all. If it doesn’t come from your right-wing blogosphere, you just dismiss it. Jon Stewart listens to everything and he’s subtle, not dogmatic.”
Being a closed-minded right-wing wacko, I felt free to ignore Sol’s premise about my closed-mindedness.
“Sol, in many cases, there are nuances and sides. But in some cases, there’s just pure evil and you are complicit with evil if you do not reject them entirely. For example, would you argue that, in the fight between the Allies and the Nazis, there was nuance?”
Sol bridled. “Don’t be stupid. Hamas isn’t the Nazis.”
“Okay, tell me one thing that makes Hamas different from the Nazis.”
“Are you kidding?” Sol smirked. “You want me to compare Hamas to the Nazis?”
“I’m not kidding,” I answered. “I want you to tell me how Hamas is different from the Nazis.”
“Really, you want me to tell you how Hamas is different from the Nazis?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m asking you to do. And I’ve got to take something off the stove top, so you can think about it while I’m doing that. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
Five minutes later, I announced, “I’m back. Now you can tell me what’s different between Hamas and the Nazis.”
“This is stupid. You can write pages about things that are different between Hamas and the Nazis,” a now very ruffled Sol told me.
“I’m not asking for pages. Just tell me one thing.”
“Really? Really! You really want me to tell you one thing that’s different between Hamas and the Nazis?”
“Yeah. And let me clarify. It can’t be something like ‘The Nazis were Germans and Hamas is Arab.’ Or ‘Hamas is Muslim and the Nazis weren’t.’ Or ‘Hamas isn’t engaged in a world war’ (although it would certainly like to be). You have to tell me about one thing that differs in the basic values between those two organizations.”
“That’s easy,” Sol finally replied. “Hamas doesn’t have concentration camps and it didn’t start a world war.”
“Not tactics,” Sol, I sighed. “I was talking about values. You know, principles, like anti-Semitism or homophobia or genocidal desires or the lust for world domination. Things like that.”
Sol snapped, “This conversation is stupid. Jon Stewart is brilliant and you’re just being dogmatic.” And then he hung up on me.
It was only after our little talk had ended that I realized that there was one difference between Hamas and the Nazis, and that it didn’t reflect well on Hamas: the Nazis revered their women.
Let me say again what I tried to impress upon Sol Giggleweed, a smart man who is so in thrall to moral relativism that he has lost his moral compass: While there are many disputes in which both sides are roughly equal, not necessarily on the battlefield, but at the ideological level (e.g., the equally evil sides in Syria), there are some circumstances in which one side is irredeemably and completely evil, while the other is not. In that battle, we should support the less evil side, even if it is only marginally less evil.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with Israel. That is, we don’t have to choose between evil and somewhat less evil. Israel, unlike all other nations in history, is struggling to fight an existential war with a moral standard so exquisite it runs the risk of being self-defeating.
It’s easy to support Israel. All people of true good will should recognize that, in the fight between, on the one hand, an entity that has less going for it even than the Nazis and, on the other hand, a nation that is incomparable in the care it brings to protecting non-combatants (indeed, it cares much more than the U.S. and Barack “I choose who dies” Obama), there is no room for nuance or relativism. Israel wins hands down, and anyone who takes a contrary position is a moron and a moral midget.
The other night, I watched The Crash Reel, a documentary about the traumatic brain injury snowboarder Kevin Pearce received while practicing for the Olympics on a halfpipe with 22 foot walls. It’s an excellent documentary, which tracks Pearce from his carefree, careless youth; to his injury; to his challenging recovery (when he still wanted to snowboard); and, finally, to his mature acceptance that his days as a snowboarder are older — a decision that delights his family, including his brother David, a young man with Downs who wears his heart on his sleeve.
The most difficult part of the movie to watch isn’t Pearce’s own crash. It’s the “crash reel” showing crashes suffered by people in extreme sports such as snowboarding, freestyle skiing, and dirt biking. Watching the bodies get tumbled about by momentum and gravity is stomach churning. Intermixed with these images are interviews with Kevin’s friends who speak about broken bones (one 23 year old had more than 20), multiple concussions, serious soft tissue injuries, etc. All of them say that it comes with the territory, but that the thrill of their sport keeps them coming back. One of the ones to say this was Sarah Burke, who died last year of a traumatic brain injury.
The documentary makes the point that all of these extreme sports have gotten more dangerous in the past few years. When snowboarding on halfpipes began, the walls were 6-8 feet tall. Now they’re 22, which means that someone (Kevin Pearce, for example), can fall from as high as 40 feet. The athletes interviewed say that these daring escapades are what the public wants, and that the sponsors pay big time for giving the public what it wants. Before his accident, when he was only 17, Kevin Pearce was earning hundreds of thousands in endorsements.
Since this is an HBO documentary, the film subtly implies that corporatism is at fault — big corporations are paying blood money to keep their products in the public eye. It’s certainly true that the corporations fund what are manifestly dangerous activities. But these young people engage in them voluntarily (and the documentary makes clear the enthusiasm with which these adrenalin junkies keep pursuing bigger highs), and the American public tunes in reliably.
I’m a libertarian, so I think that people who are of the age of consent should be allowed to engage in stupid activities. And I believe that corporations should be able to sponsor people to be stupid. That’s the marketplace, after all. Likewise, we should be able to watch this stuff. For these reasons, I oppose legislation banning these sports. I’m also opposed to legislation putting the squeeze on football.
To me, this is not a question of marketplace or legislative issues. It’s about morality. In centuries past, people got their jollies watching gladiators, watching Christians and other malfeasors being fed to lions, watching cock fighting and bear baiting, assembling for public executions (hanging, evisceration, beheadings, etc.), and generally being spectators to activities we now consider repugnant and beyond the moral pale. It seems to me, though, that watching young people kill and disable themselves on motor bikes, snowboards, and skis is very closely analogous to watching gladiators duke it out in the Colosseum. Whether the entertainment is based upon two people fighting each other to the death, or athletes engaging in death-defying sports, our thrill comes from watching the entertainers defy death — and we get a horrible, but bizarrely compelling, frisson of excitement when death wins.
If the public tuned out, these sports would go away, without legislation and without corporate blame. Do we have a moral obligation to tune out? And if we do, how do we go about educating the public as to this obligation. Let the extreme sports enthusiasts test themselves, but we don’t have to encourage them by watching.
(Incidentally, I have a theory about extreme sports: in the old days, life was thrilling enough for young men, whether the thrills came from warfare, hunting and farming for food, or just engaging in the ordinary sports that increasing numbers of schools are abandoning. Nowadays, our young people are cushioned from all risk. That works for someone like me, who needs very little stimulation to be happy, but for other people, especially health, testosterone-rich young men, life is a bland nothing without some risk. Because our society has shut risk down, they go out and seek it. I’d rather they did something constructive, like enlist in the military and defend our nation, but that’s their choice, not mine.)
I wrote a lovely post, right here, last night. Cheerfully hit the “publish” button and went to bed — only to wake up this morning to discover that the post not only didn’t get published, it vanished entirely. I’m not sure I can replicate it, but I’ll try.
The point I was trying to make was about the morality that can or should undermine political systems. I’d had a talk with a very mature, thoughtful teen, whose parents raised her to revile capitalism as an evil system that needs to be tempered by big government. I said that it needed to be tempered by morality. I pointed out that Adam Smith came up with his “invisible hand” theory at a highly religiously moral time, when it was inconceivable that any government would exist in a moral vacuum. He knew, of course, that there were hard, cruel people who had no truck with morality, but it was also probably inconceivable to him that there could a paradigm without an overarching moral sense.
Texas booms, I suggested, not just because it’s capitalist, but because it’s in the Bible Belt. China has slave labor, practically slave labor, and tainted goods (melanin in foods, antibiotics in bees, etc.) because it’s capitalism without a moral paradigm. The State has no room for morality and when the state is the only thing Left, morality leaves society.
The next day, I read Darren Jonescu’s scathing indictment of the particular brand of evil that Hillary and Obama exemplify. I’m quoting a lot, but there is a lot more to read, and I urge you to read it all:
In the first months after the Benghazi attack, the most urgent question, and one only rarely asked, was “What were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton doing during the seven and a half hours between the initial emergency communications from Benghazi and the final American deaths?” A negative answer was provided in February by Leon Panetta: they were not engaging with their subordinates; they were not contacting anyone to discuss options; they were giving no orders for action; they remained entirely uninvolved.
We are left to speculate about the positive answer to that question. Were they sleeping? Curled up by the fire with a good manifesto? Playing poker with Huma and the gang? Practicing jokes for a fundraising speech? Your guess is as good as mine.
And none of these guesses really matter in the end, compared to the looming horror that attends any of thepossibilities, namely this: the president and secretary of state of the most powerful nation on Earth are impervious to shame. They can do — they have done — what you hope you could never do, what you pray your children will never be able to do, what psychologists fill academic journals attempting to explain. They were informed that their countrymen — their appointees — were being attacked, were issuing repeated cries for help, and, if nothing were done to intercede, were likely to be killed. Knowing this, and knowing, further, that they had at their disposal the most powerful military in the world, no risk of personal harm, and many subordinates prepared to leap into action at their word, they blithely walked away from the desperate men pleading for their help, and carried on with whatever they happened to be doing that night. They let other men suffer unto death without lifting a finger to help, or even indicating a moment’s regret for their inaction after the fact.
They demonstrated a cold lack of interest in the suffering of others — not the abstract, theoretical suffering of collective interest groups, such as “the poor” or “gays” or “women,” but the real physical pain and mortal terror-style suffering of individual human beings in mortal crisis.
Walking home one evening, you hear men across the street shouting for help, as they are in the process of being overwhelmed by a gang of thugs. You walk away, unconcerned with their cries or the sounds of bats smacking down on their flesh. You do not call the police or volunteer any assistance. You go to bed and sleep well. The next day, and each subsequent day, you carry on with your life of fun, friends, and self-indulgence, never giving a second thought to the men who died because you did not care to help. If a neighborhood reporter asks you about the crime, you put on your gravest voice and say, “Gosh, that’s so sad; I hope they find the creeps who did it.”
Right. What he said. Both Hillary and Obama claim to have been raised religiously. Hillary showed up for church in her days as First Lady, but doesn’t seem to bother to do so now. Obama gave up the pretense of religion the moment was elected. For both, there are only two Gods: the state and their particular political needs at the moment. Neither has a sense of right or wrong independent of their particular pragmatic concerns at any given time.
I’ve mentioned before a year 2000 movie called The Contender, about an upstanding Democrat woman whom the evil Republicans falsely accuse of group sex to derail her appointment to fill a vacant Vice Presidency. The most interest part of the movie comes when the woman, played by Joan Allen, makes her statement to Congress, a bastion of wholesome Democrats and foul Republicans:
And, Mr. Chairman, I stand for the separation of Church and State, and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism.
[The Founders could not have made it more clear that Freedom of Religion, which is contained in the First Amendment, protects religion from government, not vice versa. The Amendment's language is unequivocal: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." There's nothing in there mandating that no religious person can serve in Congress or have a say in America's government.]
Now, I may be an atheist, but that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves [that would be the Republican sect of the church], that gave women the right to vote, that gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very Chapel of Democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this church. [And there you have it -- President Obama's creed writ large: "I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this (Progressive) church.]
Libertarians have it right when they say it’s not the government’s responsibility to legislate morality. It’s the people’s responsibility to be moral. Government’s job is to have “few laws, but unbreakable,” all directed at a stable, just (not fair, but just), constitutional society in which citizens have the best opportunity to live free and, one hopes, moral lives.
The fact is that, way too often, once government starts legislating morality, those efforts backfire. Prohibition is the perfect example of this backfire. By the second half of the 19th century, America was awash in liquor, and it was becoming a terrible problem, especially for the poor. It wasn’t at all uncommon for the family breadwinner, whether male or female, to drink away earnings and then die young from alcohol-related diseases or accidents.
Faced with this epic disaster, society responded with a vast Temperance movement aimed at getting people to stop drinking. This was a social movement — a grassroots movement, long before that term was invented. Young men swore temperance oaths and young women swore that “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.”
By the time WWI started, vast swaths of America had voluntarily gone dry. Prohibition wasn’t the leading edge of Temperance, it was the tale end, and what a disastrous tail it was. Those who didn’t want to drink had already stopped. And those who did want to drink instantly became criminals for engaging in an activity as old as humankind. Worse, prohibiting a popular activity, even in its most reasonable form, created a giant vacuum that sucked in every two-bit criminal and big-time hood in America.
When alcohol was outlawed, only outlaws drank, brewed, and sold the stuff. Not only did Prohibition fail to legislate morality, it undid much that the previous Temperance movement, which relied on peer pressure and moral suasion, had achieved when it came to convincing Americans to temper their drinking.
Just as bad as legislating morality is legislating immorality, which is where today’s American governments, local, state, and national go. I stumbled across this fact when I tried to go online to renew a prescription for one of my children and was told that I couldn’t have any access to my child’s medical record, including prescriptions. In California, when a child turns 12, he or she can keep secret his or her record. My kid can’t get her ears pierced, can’t go paint-balling, can’t ski, and can’t get a salon tan without my input, but your daughter and mine can get the Pill or an abortion without your being the wiser for it.
As it happens, the Pill, which some schools hand out like candy, is anything but innocuous. To begin within, it’s ridiculous to think that you can feed nuclear-powered hormones into a prepubescent or pubescent girl without have some effect on what should be her natural development. In addition to that, those side effects you hear about the Pill are real. Girls are worried they’ll gain weight if they go on the Pill. What they should be worried about is strokes, blood clots, or vomiting themselves to death. I’ve known people who have suffered from all of these side effects although, thankfully, all survived. This is the last thing that loving parents should allow the state to determine for their child without parental input.
Ask your average liberal why this is so, and he will tell you a terribly sad story about a girl growing up in a horrible home who was raped by her uncle, or her mother’s boyfriend, and, when she turned up pregnant, was beaten or turned out onto the street. That is an affecting tale but how common is it, really? I don’t have statistics at hand, but common sense tells me that the vast majority of parents love their daughters. If a girl wants to have teen sex or shows up pregnant, these loving parents want to be involved — and their involvement is the best thing that can support a child who is about to make or has already made a bad decision.
These hard luck stories mean that we have created a tyranny of the minority. Liberals will say that the beauty of America is that it protects the minority by drafting legislation protect those minorities. But this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. America protects the minority by assuring that every member of a minority group (whether defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc.) gets the full benefit of available constitutional rights and is not subject to prejudicial laws or conduct. It does not mean that 90% or more of the country has its rights stripped away because some girls come from backgrounds that see them mistreated. Maltreated girls are tragic situations that a moral people should want to remedy, but that a government should never address with legislation. It’s not government’s job to try to legislate away the human condition.
So next time a liberal tells you that he’ll never vote Republican because Republicans try to legislate morality, you might want to tell that person that the problem with Democrats is that they consistently legislate immorality. A good opportunity to make this point might be when one of your liberal friends is outraged that his daughter was confronted in a public restroom by a naked man with fully functioning physical equipment who claimed that his presence there was perfectly legal because he self-identifies as a woman. Or you could advance this point of view when your liberal next door neighbor calls from the ER to ask for your help because his daughter went septic from an abortion — and he didn’t even know she was pregnant. Or perhaps you’ll throw it into a conversation with the woman at your office who is counting her lucky stars that her teen daughter will recover from the stroke she got after the Pill, which Mom didn’t know she was taking, caused her to have a blood clot.
UPDATE: Earl left a comment pointing out that it’s not nice to lecture people about politics when they’re facing a life crisis. He’s absolutely right. I was making a rhetorical point and got carried away. I also live in a community where everybody thinks everything that happens is an opportunity to inject politics, so I’m a little bit touchy.
As it is, were I to raise the subject at a sensitive time, I’d raise it sympathetically: “Oh, my God! That’s terrible. I can’t believe she almost died. You must have been so shocked to discover that your daughter had an abortion. How did it happen that she was able to do it without you? Really? The law just let’s her? That’s bizarre. I know you guys ignore her. This is something you would have wanted to discuss with her. It just doesn’t seem right for the law to kick you out of the relationship….” That kind of thing, trickled out over many conversations.
My dear friend Don Quixote retired with his beloved to warmer climes. I miss him a great deal. I especially miss our lunches together. We still talk on the phone, but it’s not the same as the wandering conversations we had about politics, morals, philosophy, law, Dancing With The Stars, computer games, and whatever else seemed interesting on a given day. One of our most memorable conversations was about government’s role in morality. Don Quixote is more of a libertarian than I am, although I consider myself fairly libertarian. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but my takeaway was that government legislation should not be hostile to traditional morality, but it’s not responsible for morality either. Citizens are responsible for morality, through peer pressure and, yes, shame.
I still believe that today, so I was very gratified to read Nick Gillespie’s post about libertarians and morality. What prompted Gillespie’s post was a New York Times piece, by Richard Reeves, a liberal writer, that had a throwaway line about libertarians being, not immoral perhaps but amoral. In many ways, Gillespie agreed with Reeves, who agreed with me, albeit from a liberal perspective. Some shame is necessary to curb teen pregnancies. So Reeves, Gillespie, and I are all in sync.
Where Reeves parts ways with Gillespie and me, and where Reeves inspired a masterful post from Gillespie is the bit about libertarian amorality:
Libertarians might want a world without moral judgments, in which teen pregnancy carries no stigma at all. And paternalists might want the state to enshrine judgments in law — perhaps by raising the age of sexual consent or mandating contraception. True liberals, though, believe we can hold one another to moral account without coercion. We must not shy away from shame.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, Mr. Reeves! I’ll let Nick explain why:
I submit to you that few statements are more wrong than saying “libertarians might want a world without moral judgments.” From my vantage point, one of the things to which libertarianism is dedicated is the proliferation of moral judgments by freeing people up to the greatest degree possible to create their own ways of being in the world. To conflate the live and let live ethos at the heart of the classical liberal and libertarian project with an essentially nihilistic dismissal of pluralism and tolerance is a gigantic error. It’s like saying that because religious dissenters want to abolish a single state church that they are anti-god.
Really, you should read the whole thing.
Nobody seems to want to admit it, but it’s our culture!
School shootings aren’t new. But, Americans have owned guns aplenty for more-than 200 years of nationhood and it seems that we’ve never had school shootings as we have experienced in the past few years. Neither has the rest of the modern world, but school, church and shopping mall attacks have been occurring even in countries with the strictest gun controls (e.g., Scotland, Germany, Norway, Japan). What has changed?
How about “that which must not be named”?
The old-guard leftists of the Frankfurter and Antonio Gramsci (you can “wiki” those names) school knew that to fundamentally remake society, you first had to destroy the church, society and the family. I would say Gramsci and Frankfurter school alumnae have had a pretty good success record.
Ever since LBJ’s 1960s “War on Poverty”, families have been disintegrating. It started with the most vulnerable (inner city blacks, where now 70% of children have no fathers) and has now spread to white, non-Hispanic families (close-to 30% of children born out of wedlock). Often, children in such families are left largely unsupervised, grow up without good male role models and enjoy ready access to the most depraved pornography, graphic violence, weapons, drugs and other vices through the internet and their peers, starting at a very young and formative age. One can try to prevent their kids’ access to this at home, but how does one prevent them from going down the street to a friends’ house?
I couldn’t help but notice that the first media reports of the shooter (whom I refuse to name and help make more famous) mentioned a mother but didn’t mention a father. Sure enough, the latest reports by a British news outlet, The Daily Mail, are of a boy traumatized by a three-year old divorce. Why did he single out his mother as the first victim? We may never know, but I suspect that the divorce may have had something to do with it. We are also learning that (surprise!) the shooter was a compulsive violent-video gamer.
Youth and adolescence are a time when kids should be learning communication skills and how to interact with adults and peers. Instead, too many kids appear to be devolving into lonely social outcasts and losers (a non-PC term I use for emphasis only). Throw in mental illness, they can become dangerous (the source of much of this mental illness is a worthy topic in and of itself…but think about what hours and hours of sitting in front of a screen does to the developing brain of a young child?). These are the years when their neuro linkages are being formed.
The mass media and punditry immediately started talking about this shooter’s “obvious” mental problems, thereby anointing him a member of “victim” class and providing absolution for his sins. I don’t buy any of it. I can understand someone crazed with rage shooting their mother in the heat of the moment, but the premeditation and time the shooter needed took to travel to a school after killing his own mother and destroying young kids’ lives in psychopathic cold blood point not mental illness but a willing pact made with evil. It is evil, pure and simple, nothing less. At one point, this shooter was confronted with a choice and he chose evil. Why did he make that choice? Here’s a thought:
What are the cultural messages that get hammered into young kids’ brains today? There is no reward in elevation, but there is reward in depravity. Our mass media hammers into their developing brains, over and over again, that to be depraved is to be “famous”, a powerful siren’s song for lonely outcast kids. These kids know that the quickest way to fame and even fortune is to act depraved and to be guaranteed that their depravity will be broadcast widely over the internet and throughout the global media. Some of them grow into mega stars (I’m thinking of Rapper culture, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Jerry Springers as just a few examples), further amplifying the siren’s song. The mass media, vigilantly on the lookout for breaking news 24/7, is complicit in this, for it is the internet and mass media that provide monsters their 15 minutes of fame. Remember that the next time you look at how our TV screens extol depravity. Btw, if you doubt me about just how depraved our culture has become, then Google [game kindergarten killer].
Sorry to have to use the word “depraved” of course. In our Gramsci-Frankfurter culture, such terms are soooooo judgmental and we don’t dare to be judgmental, do we? Why, other people might not like us, a sentence worse than death for too many adults that never outgrew their adolescence.
So what do we do about it? We can start by focusing on our own kids, knowing that our obligation as parents is not just to love them but to build them spiritually into good citizens and to armor them against the bad influences in our imperfect world. We can extend support to single parents, especially those trying to work jobs simply to survive, and we help provide guidance to their kids. These are the days when wolves stalk a land in which too many people have forgotten how to recognize wolves for what they are. And, if you decide to have children, get married and stay married, so that you can nurture, protect and educate your children into solid citizens together. My very brilliant spouse, a middle-school teacher, tells me that she can tell right away when her students’ families are trouble by the way that the kids lash-out in school. She has already lost too many of her former students to drugs and suicide.
Rely on our churches? Maybe, but so many have become such weak tea. My own Episcopal church…part of the Anglican Communion that produced such great theological thinkers and moral stalwarts as C.S. Lewis (our patron saint, in my view)…has been complicit in this. It is so terrified of being perceived as “uncool” that it doesn’t dare attack popular culture or elevate its members above the culture…unless, of course, it is a soft target, such as those really uncool, nagging, square conservatives (a minority group of which I count myself a proud member). The sad fact is that my church, sadly dominated at the top by Frankfurter-Gramsci disciples, spends far too much of its time and effort huffing and puffing to keep up with the latest social trends in its frantic effort to appear cool and contemporary while pushing its “social justice” agenda. I don’t recall my church’s leadership ever raising a peep of protest against the depravity of contemporary culture. Excuses, yes. Protests, no. Quite the opposite.
One of my FB friends just shared an electronic ad from our church’s head bishop that includes scatological epiphets to get the message across. Soooo, soooo cool! So with it! Some churches are great builders of spiritual armor. Not this one. It prefers to be complicit with a depraved culture. It follows, it does not have the courage to lead. You may ask, of course, why I don’t leave this church, so I will answer that: because it is precisely there that I am needed. There are many good people there. I and others do speak out and try to nurture and strengthen our children with spiritual armor.
Is the solution to force honest citizens to surrender their weapons? That is thinking with the heart rather than the head. I am so, so totally against this. The solution to an outbreak of wolves is not to defang the guard dogs. In this age of the wolf, we need more guard dogs, not less.
The Connecticut school shooting could have been stopped right away had there been one or more people on premise with guns, a circumstance that today would land any would-be guard dog in jail without passing “go”. Chances are that, had the shooter known that the school was protected, he would never have dared go there. The only real defense against a gun…is a gun. Mass murderers tend to be cowards that seek out soft, undefended targets like schools and churches. Guns, like drugs, will always be available to psychopaths, criminals and terrorists. If not guns, there are always knives, automobiles, poison gas, molotov cocktails or fertilizer bombs. Taking guns away from civilians only creates a larger pool of defenseless sheep available for slaughter. One of my FB friends also suggested that only government and police should have weapons. Scary thought. Look around the world today: now, that is one very scary thought. Government and law enforcement magnets for wolves. But, then, this is how people who have never had to confront wolves perceive the world. Like the Hobbits of the Shire, content to eat, drink and be merry, free of cares. But, reality eventually intrudes and we cannot magically “wish” wolves away into oblivion.
Finally, there is one particular aspect of this that really, really bothers me: young kids for decades have been getting gunned down, knifed, beaten to death, suffocated and raped in our inner cities. But, other than perfunctory hand-wringing, we never saw an outcry against this compared to what occurred after this most recent shooting in a well-to-do middle class community. Gee, what could the reason for this be? Yup, you’re right.
We won’t change what appears to be happening with increasing frequency to our society until we decide that we will stand up and dare to speak out against the increased depravity of our culture. Definitely “uncool”, but we must do it…for all families, for the kids and for our future. Otherwise, it can only continue to get much, much worse. It is the age of the wolf.
America’s First Sergeant put up a post that perfectly addresses my last two attempts to figure out Mike McQueary’s inaction. The first post I wrote looked at McQueary’s alleged youth, which I contrasted with the even youthier youth of a few Medal of Honor recipients who didn’t hesitate to act. The second (with lots of help from jj) examined the prevailing moral relativism that gives a pass to all conduct (except, of course, for voting conservative).
If you read A1stS’s post, which reprints portions of a speech that Colonel Barton S. Sloat gave, you will see a perfect statement about the moral compass each of us should have and that, in an unbalanced age, many are missing.
Because for me it’s always about politics, I’m going to drag poor old Newt in here for a minute. In a normal election year, I don’t think Newt, with all of his undoubted baggage, would have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. But 2012 won’t be a normal election year.
Past elections have seen the candidates fighting each other in the middle — a little tax more or a little less; a little more foreign aggression or a little less; a little of this and a little of that. Obama’s presidency, however, ripped America from her long-standing economic and foreign policy moorings. It also swept away the warm, fuzzy media manipulation that had prevented ordinary people from seeing the Left up close and personal. The result is that the 2012 election isn’t taking place in the middle. It will be a profound ideological war about America’s identity.
In 2012, we will not longer be talking about a tax tweak here and a battalion there, although those concrete details matter to America’s survival. Instead, we are talking about the moral space in between: Are we a country guided by a traditional morality that lives in each citizen’s heart and soul, or are we a vast government conglomeration with faceless cogs entirely controlled by bureaucratic powers?
In this heated ideological environment, will victory go to the candidate who is pretty darn conservative and whose life is a model for moderation and purity (that would be Romney, who may flip-flop, but he’s still to the right of the political divide), or does it go to the candidate who comes with more shackles attached than Marley’s ghost, but who can spell out in lively, fluid, accessible prose what we stand for as a nation?
I suspect that whether Newt or Mitt becomes president, we’ll see a situation that will be six of one and half dozen of the other in terms of governance. However, when it comes to defining us as a nation, and perhaps helping us determining how we want to fill the moral space in between, Newt may well be the 2012 candidate we need, even if we don’t always want him.
Post Script: If you want to see the vapidity the fills those spaces during evil’s off hours, check out The Mellow Jihadi on the Kardashians.
I had in my car two fourteen year olds and one thirteen year old. All were familiar with the Sandusky case, so I wasn’t exposing them to sordid information they didn’t already know. None of them, however, knew about Mike McQueary’s involvement, or lack thereof. I gave them a simple multiple choice question:
You walk into a room and see a 50 year old man raping a 10 year old boy. Do you (a) attack the man and try to drag him off the boy or (b) sneak away and, hours later, ask your parents what you should do?
The roar from the back of the car shook the windows: “I’d rip him apart!” “Of course I’d attack him!” “I’d kick him the balls!” “That’s a really dumb question.”
As the response from these very young people demonstrates, McQueary’s young age (28) is no defense to his action. Young people can and do know right from wrong, and child rape is wrong.
How to explain McQueary then? I think the problem isn’t his young age, ’cause he, at 28, was no youngster. The problem was his old age. He’d been around long enough to be fully indoctrinated. All those liberal pundits who are apologizing for McQueary’s behavior by pointing to his youth, his tribal loyalties, and his lukewarm, delayed response are hiding the ball. For liberals, the uncomfortable truth is that McQueary probably didn’t act because, after a lifetime in America’s public education system, his moral relativism training had completely erased any absolute moral standards that might once have populated his pre-academic brain.
I was starting to compose a post on just that point, when jj saved me the effort. Let me quote here his astute comment, written in response to an earlier statement I’d made about the law’s “reasonable man” standard for reacting to a situation:
The “reasonable man” standard? The trouble with that particular fairy-tale is simple, obvious, and the same as it’s always been: who gets to define “reasonable?”
I’m afraid I’ll need to take a little issue with that. Since the discovery of political correctness — which in my life first reared its head in the 1950s — the law not only expects us to conform to entirely unreasonable behavior, it requires us to, all day every day.
If you’re a rancher within reach of the Mexican border, you’re not allowed to defend your property or, come to that, yourself. You can, however, be arrested for trying to do so. “Reasonable?” You not only can’t guard your property or yourself, you’re supposed to stand quietly by and watch your country be overrun, your way of life be buried and lost, and all that you believe defecated on. “Reasonable?”
Snookie, or Pookie, or Moochie — or whatever the hell his name was — Williams was a murderer and founder of a collection of organized offal who have spread everywhere, cost society millions, and murdered a good many people. Flushing him should have been a routine, reflexive act requiring no thought whatever, carried out with the same alacrity you’d flush anything else floating in the toilet. Of course it wasn’t. We — or I should properly say “you,” California — went into full coronary angst mode to spare his worthless life. This was “reasonable?”
In Scotland not long ago the cops pulled over a speeding car. The driver’s defense was that he was a Muslim, running late getting from wife #1 to wife #2. The bewigged and ball gown-equipped jackass on the bench (and if he was a High Court jackass, he gets to wear a red ball-gown, woo-woo!) decided that this made it an excusable offense and dismissed him without a stain on his character, or even a speeding ticket — thereby putting paid to a thousand years of Anglo-Scottish law and custom. “Reasonable?” Even for a judge?
We are wound about with laws and enmeshed in requirements that are antithetical to our customs, beliefs, way of life, and the way this country was set up to be that I’m afraid I have to find the “reasonable man” standard laughable. We have our own ball-gowned jackasses making it up as they go along, and referencing Bulgarian law, or Ukrainian law, or maybe Martian law to decide what our Constitution means when it suits them — Ginsberg outstandingly — and this is “reasonable?”
Instead of shunning NAMBLA spokesmen and placing them firmly beyond society’s pale, we invite their opinions on Oprah — because after all, don’t they have a right to be heard? Dr. Phil engages them earnestly for his (large) audience of the brain-damaged, and sadly regrets that while he cannot agree, he does understand. “Reasonable?”
So here we are, scrupulously multicultural, transnational, non-judgmental, standing for nothing — and everybody’s shocked when this McQueary kid doesn’t know what the hell to do when confronted by the situation that confronted him. Everybody here turns into a militant ass-kicker, in no doubt of what we all would have done in the same situation. (And if we’d done it, Sandusky would have lodged a suit for assault against us, and, win or lose, would have f***ed up our lives forever.) “Reasonable?”
We won’t — and don’t — defend our culture and way of life. We won’t — and don’t — defend the fundamental bases on which this nation was founded. You’re surprised McQueary found himself paralyzed? Why? I’m sure he had a nice, politically-correct upbringing — I’m surprised he even reported it. Who the hell knows what constitutes “reasonable” any more?
If my sampling of three youngsters has any validity at all, it shows that 13 and 14 year olds haven’t yet been infected by moral relativism, while a 28 year old man living in a university environment is utterly incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Let’s pray, long and hard, that we regain our cultural balance before the next generation of kids turns into ineffectual, self-doubting amoral McQuearys.
Navy One brought my attention to the fact that America’s 1st Sergeant once served with Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer. I quickly headed over to the link, anticipating some reminiscences about Meyer. Am’s 1st Sgt didn’t include any. Instead, he repeated Meyer’s own words, spoken after the fact:
I didn’t think I was going to die, I knew I was. I was just going to keep fighting until they got me. I wasn’t going to sit there and lay down and let them win. That was the only thing on my mind was how to get those guys out. I would’ve done it again.
I was a little disappointed not to learn more about Meyer himself from one who worked closely with him. This silence on Am’s 1st Sgt’s part got me wondering what I was expecting to read.
Did I want to hear that, from day one, Meyer was marked by greatness, so that those who served with him felt it was inevitable that he would be awarded the nation’s highest military honor? Reading things like that helps one come to terms with being ordinary. “Hey, it’s okay that I’ve never done, nor will ever do, something special. The ones who do something special are already tagged by God.”
Or perhaps I wanted to hear that Meyer, up until his moment of bravery and self-sacrifice was an ordinary Joe, just another good ol’ boy in the Marines, and that, while everyone liked him, nobody ever expected those vast reserves of raw courage. That’s also a good one, because it says that, until we are tested, we don’t know who or what we are. Sure, I’m just a stealth suburban blogger, hiding my true identity from those around me but, if push comes to shove, I too am capable of stepping outside my own fears and limitations.
These aren’t just random thoughts. They actually started a few days ago when I saw this video:
The video shows an accident scene in Logan, Utah. A motorcyclist plowed into a car, his motorcycle burst into flames, and he slid under the car, unconscious. The burning motorcycle made the entire scene dangerous. The bystanders, instead of running away, investigated the scene, analyzed the risks to the motorcyclist (refrain from moving an injured man lest one causes worse injuries or run the risk that the car will explode) and then, having decided that immolation was the greatest risk, in one huge frenzy of energy, flipped the car over and dragged the motorcyclist out. They saved the motorcyclist but, at the same time, each and every one of those bystanders risked death or injury. None of them, I’m sure, went to work that day assuming that they’d be faced with that kind of decision-making.
In England a short while ago, it was a 22-year-old woman who showed physical and moral courage. Two drunken thugs were brutally beating a man in public. People drove by or watched. Twenty-two year old Aimee Yule, a taxi dispatcher, chased the thugs away, administered help to the injured man and, when the thugs returned, actually used physical force against them. Ms. Yule’s own thoughts on the subject bear noting:
She said outside court: ‘I couldn’t believe no one else was stopping to help him, there were loads of cars going past.
‘People were stopping and calling ambulances and the police, but no one came over. He got knocked out and there was blood coming out of his mouth.
‘When I approached they moved away, but they kept coming back to kick him.
‘One of them ran towards me and lifted his hand but I stood still and told him to leave. Luckily, he never hit me.
‘I was just sitting with him trying to stop them. I said “that’s enough, he’s had enough, please just leave it.”
I couldn’t believe more people had not stopped, cars had to swerve round them and some had stopped at the other side of the road to watch, but nobody came to help.’
Miss Yule said the incident left her badly shaken. She added: ‘I wouldn’t normally get involved with something like that, but I just thought, that’s somebody’s son being stamped on in the middle of that road.’
Bravery, then, seems to be an amalgam of moral courage and low brain function. Think too much, and it’s all over — you can always talk yourself out of the risk.
The Logan scene notwithstanding, crowds also seem to inhibit courage. I became aware of this several years ago when a crowd of people stood around and watched as a deranged man stomped his two-year old son to death on a public road. The bystanders all seemed to be watching each other for cues. Each was apparently wondering whether s/he was reading the situation correctly or was running the risk of public humiliation through overreaction. And each person, by worrying about the others’ responses, stood paralyzed as a child died.
These stories are one of the reasons I love MMA. I’d like to think that if, God forbid, I’m ever confronted with the need to act, I’ll have drilled sufficiently that I’ll be able to dive in without thinking. It’s the analysis paralysis that worries me, since I’m an over-thinker at the best of times. I work hard so that I’ll do the right thing, instead of berating myself later for failing to act at all.