O Tempora O Mores!

I was exceedingly irritated by a rah-rah piece about “affordable housing” in today’s edition of the local rag. The piece was early intended to promote subsidies that would enable low-income persons to live in mixed-income areas, that is, in the vicinity of persons with higher incomes. The writer of the piece advanced some (admittedly) not-very-convincing sociological arguments for mixed-income neighborhoods, including cost-benefit studies that purport to show that the benefits of subsidized housing outweigh the costs. He failed to mention, of course, that the persons who subsidize “affordable housing” for low-income persons are not the persons who benefit from it. Nor did he make much of the obvious fact that as people earn more, they generally prefer to live among persons with similar earnings, and not among people who earn a lot less.

But what people actually want doesn’t matter in the end, because what counts is what do-gooders want and what government can compel in the name of doing good, don’t you see? That’s why the gauleiters of our fair city persist in the subsidization of low-income housing in mixed-income areas.

In any event, the article led me to think about the many ways in which social norms have changed for the worse since the days of my Midwestern upbringing in the 1940s and 1950s. For one thing, the idea that people should work, save, and pay for their own housing — as I did and my parents did — seems to have gone to the great graveyard of quaint ideas. That graveyard is populated by such formerly vital notions as these:

Behavior is shaped by social norms, like those listed here. The norms are rooted in the Ten Commandments and time-tested codes of behavior. The norms aren’t altered willy-nilly in accordance with the wishes of “activists,” as amplified through the megaphone of the mass media.

Rules of grammar serve the useful purpose of enabling people to understand each other easily. The flouting of grammatical rules in everyday conversation is a sign of ignorance and ill-breeding, not originality.

Dead, white, European males produced some of the greatest works of art, music, literature, philosophy, science, and political theory. Those dead, white, European males are to be celebrated for their accomplishments, not derided just because they are dead or were not black/brown/tan, female, of confused gender, or inhabitants of non-European places.

Marriage is a union of man and women.

Marriage comes before children. This is not because people are pure at heart, but because it is the responsible way to start life together and to ensure that one’s children enjoy a stable, nurturing home life.

Marriage is until “death do us part.” Divorce is a recourse of last resort, not an easy way out of marital and familial responsibilities or the first recourse when one spouse disappoints or angers the other.

Children are disciplined — sometimes spanked — when they do wrong. They aren’t given long, boring, incomprehensible lectures about why they’re doing wrong. Why not? Because they usually know they’re doing wrong and are just trying to see what they can get away with.

Gentlemen don’t swear in front of ladies, and ladies don’t swear in front of gentlemen; discourse is therefore more likely to be rational, and certainly more bearable to those within earshot.

A person’s “space” is respected, as long as person is being respectful of others. A person’s space is not invaded by a loud conversation of no interest to anyone but the conversant.

A person grows old gracefully and doesn’t subject others to the sight of flabby, wrinkled tattoos (unless you were a sailor who has one tattoo on one arm). (This may seem like a nit-pick, but the epidemic of tattooing is symptomatic of the loud, brash, self-centered, faddish culture that now commands center stage in much of America.)

Drugs are taken for the treatment of actual illnesses, not for recreational purposes.

Income is earned, not “distributed.” Persons who earn a lot of money are to be respected. If you envy them to the point of wanting to take their money, you’re a pinko-commie-socialist (no joke).

Welfare is a gift that one accepts as a last resort, it is not a right or an entitlement, and it is not bestowed on persons with convenient disabilities

A man holds a door open for a woman out of courtesy, and he does the same for anyone who is obviously weaker than he is, or laden with packages

Sexism (though it isn’t called that) is nothing more than the understanding — shared by men and women — that women are members of a different sex (the only different one); are usually weaker than men; are endowed with different brain chemistry and physical skills than men (still a fact); and enjoy discreet admiration (flirting) if they’re passably good-looking, or better. Women who reject those propositions — and who try to enforce modes of behavior that assume differently — are embittered and twisted.

A mother who devotes time and effort to the making of a good home and the proper rearing of her children is a pillar of civilized society. Her life is to be celebrated, not condemned as “a waste.”

Homosexuality is a rare, aberrant kind of behavior. (And this is before AIDS proved it to be aberrant.) It’s certainly not a “lifestyle” to be celebrated and shoved down the throats of all who object to it.

Privacy is a constrained right. It doesn’t trump moral obligations, among which are the obligations to refrain from spreading a deadly disease and to preserve innocent life.

Addiction isn’t a disease; it’s a surmountable failing.

Envy is an unsavory and unseemly state of mind; a person should better himself instead of tearing others down.

Justice is for victims. Victims are persons to whom actual harm has been done by way of fraud, theft, bodily harm, murder, and suchlike. A person with a serious disease or handicap isn’t a victim, nor is a person with a drinking or drug problem.

Justice is a dish best served hot, so that would-be criminals can connect the dots between crime and punishment. Swift and sure punishment is the best deterrent of crime. Capital punishment is the ultimate deterrent because an executed killer can’t kill again.

Peace is the result of preparedness for war; lack of preparedness invites war.

The list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s certainly representative. The themes are few and simple: self-reliance, respect for others, respect for tradition, and the defense of society from predators foreign and domestic. The result is liberty: A regime of mutually beneficial coexistence based on trust.

Whence the now-dominant leftist schemes and themes, like “affordable housing” and “the undeserving rich” (a.k.a. “the 1%” and “the 0.1%”), which have replaced the dominant mores of old? Leftist ideas, like the poor, have always been with us, but their political ascendancy arises from the indoctrination mills known as the mainstream media and educational institutions. This is from an article by Graham Cunningham:

“[R]eality” as reflected in the big “old” media is—notwithstanding the relatively recent uncorking of (mainly U.S. based) conservative voices in the “new” media—still overwhelmingly liberal…. And the old media—a virtual Fifth Estate—is still a very big wild wood of seductive liberal myth and folklore. The “staccato signals of constant information” appear, in large part, to be apolitical, making them all the more persuasive. But such is the relentless focus of conservative intellectual discourse on a current affairs agenda that conservatives—never mind liberals—often cannot see the wood for the trees. It is a wood with tangled roots deep in early 20th century socialist intellectual soil. Its filigree branches have since grown and spread into every corner of 21st century public consciousness.

… As someone whose own working life has, at various times, brought me into close contact, not only with schools, colleges, and universities but also local government, the architectural profession, and the British NHS, I can attest that soft-left prejudices prevail in all of these. So the educational incubation of the professional, business, and mandarin classes is another part of the story of the rise of politically correct, middle-class, liberal orthodoxy.

It has also long been true that a great majority of school teachers will be Democrats/Labour Party voters. In varying degree they are likely to emerge from their teacher training with a soft-left baggage ranging from old-fashioned vaguely collectivist economic assumptions and Dickensian sentimental notions (like something called “The Working Class” being perennially victim of something called “The Rich”) to various newer relativist “liberation” and victimhood theologies. Plus a sympathetic take on various kinds of “anti-something-or-other” and “eco” militancy….

[T]he much more potent influence is that everyone born since the Second World War—university educated or not—will have spent a large part of their leisure time in Media Land—a virtual parallel universe, rich in sublimated myth and fairytale. Now Media Land is not some Orwellian Big-Brother conspiracy. It is in itself, too diffuse and anarchic to be a place of didactic political bias per se. Its quintessential characteristic is, rather, that it allows you—without any great effort on your part—to sustain the illusion that you know, and are entitled to have an opinion about, all manner of things beyond your direct experience. It is from these intangible, ego-flattering, seductive characteristics that its mind-bending power flows.

It is the great oracle from which we absorb not just “The News” (intrinsically an editorial semi-fiction anyway) but also the good-guy/bad-guy narratives of film and television drama, the satirical talking-heads panel show, the “shocking” lid-lifting documentary etc. So it is that—drip by drip—the public’s imagination becomes accustomed to the notion that the apparently law-abiding, white, middle-class dwellers in suburbia—though they may not in reality always be the one who have actually “done” the murder—nevertheless do have a dark side to their supposedly smug existence and their desk job in the City—which must, by the way, axiomatically be ignoble, venal and soul destroying. Whereas the violent teenage gangster turns out to have the soul of a poet buried under all those years of oppression. And the lardy, welfare-cheating couch-potato turns out to be quite a sound bloke underneath it all and good fun too. And anyone who takes to the streets in a “protest”—never mind how ignorant and bloody-minded—instantly becomes a hero whilst the target of the “protest” is instantly a villain. And so it is too that the alleged misdeeds of supposedly smug political and business elites are ruthlessly exposed and then wittily sent-up by even more smug, smartly-pants TV “personalities” whose own elite lifestyles remain relatively out of the media spotlight….

And then there is “The News”. Whilst the current affairs output of the mainstream media is not uniformly politically biased per se, it does often have the same entrenched undercurrents as the rest. Underpinning all the day-to-day news ephemera are some enduring fairytales that are both highly seductive and at the same time so diffuse as to be almost subconscious. A major example is the one in which some big bad wolf (maybe “The Government” or “Big Business”)—and definitely not you personally—is either to blame for all your problems in life or has failed to solve them for you. You—a member of “the great mass of ordinary decent people”—are a victim of some or other system or institution. Another (almost certainly subconscious) fairytale is the one in which—by the simple device of espousing “progressive” liberal attitudes—you can carry on with your (and your family’s) own personal pursuit of happiness, just like before but now with the added bonus of feeling that you—unlike those nasty “Right-wingers”—are on the side of the angels. Now that is a really seductive one! …

It is also worth noting that, quite apart from any questions of political bias as such, “The News”, with its inevitable editorial selectivity can—at least in the minds of the uncurious and suggestible—actually help to spread ignorance dressed up as illusory knowledge….

… Having so many alternative gadgets to play with, [members of the post-internet generation] are less and less likely to watch [TV] and especially “The News” and “Current Affairs”. But overall, the power of the Media-Academia Complex is likely to remain undiminished for a very long time to come. Its power comes ultimately from the illusion it creates that you can sit back and soak up all you need to “know” about the big wide world without actually having to be all that curious about it. (“How the Left Was Won,” The Imaginative Conservative, February 2014)

The 1940s and 1950s weren’t idyllic, by any means — but no era ever is, except in gauzy hindsight. There was more poverty and racism then than now. But the economy would be even more robust today, absent the incursions of the regulatory-welfare state. And racism would have declined in time, with less of the lingering resentment that was a foreseeable result of government’s heavy-handed “equality” policies. Simply enforcing existing laws so that blacks enjoyed equal treatment would have been enough.

The undoing of traditional mores began in earnest in the 1960s, with a frontal assault on traditional morality and the misguided expansion of the regulatory-welfare state. The unraveling continues to this day. Traditional morality is notable in its neglect; social cohesion is almost non-existent, except where the bonds of religion and ethnicity remain strong. The social fabric that once bound vast swaths of America has rotted — and is almost certainly beyond repair.

If Hillary Clinton possessed an ounce of intellectual honesty, she would justifiably call the great unraveling a vast, left-wing conspiracy. As Cunningham suggests, it is to some extent an unwitting conspiracy of smug, like-minded persons. But it is nevertheless a broad-based, often concerted, and nihilistic effort to undermine the foundations of morality — and economic progress.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Dwight Longnecker, “Modern Marriage – Revolution or Regression?,” The Imaginative Conservative, February 14, 2014

Related posts:
PC Madness
Why Not Marry Your Pet?
Stuff White (Liberal Yuppie) People Like
“Men’s Health”
I’ve Got a LIttle List
See also the preceding post, and the many posts listed at the bottom.