If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. G.K. Chesterton
As I follow the great upheavals that shake this country, I can’t help but remember this line, penned, over a hundred years ago, by the famous British Christian writer, G. K. Chesterton. I’d like to take him on a tour of one of the Occupy Wall Street sites. I’m afraid the experience would shock him speechless, though he’d have to enjoy seeing how right he was.
I’ve spent decades watching this transformation of American values. I remember well that clear and understandable time when we knew what was wrong and we knew that all of us agreed on that moral code. We weren’t yet sophisticated enough to have our own sets of designer rules, tailor-made for the comfort of our own troubled consciences. We just had to meet the general standards, or suffer the consequences. Pregnancy out of wedlock was frowned upon. The wildest among us used to drive 75 miles south to Marysville, Kansas, to drink watered-down beer, but no one I knew smoked pot – we would have been horrified. We knew that private property was just that – private, and though we may have drooled over someone else’s car, or house, or prom dress, we didn’t assume we the right to take it. We weren’t saints – but we weren’t confused.
Today, however, confusion has become a feather in one’s intellectual cap. I watch the Occupy folk and, whereas I agree with them that, “something is rotten in Denmark, “ the moral ground on which the protesters stand is a very warped thing.
For one thing, neither our personal freedoms nor our nation can withstand the loss of the right to private property. No society can – witness the current non-existence of the Third Reich and the USSR. Nor can we withstand the loss of a sense of personal responsibility; someone has to be the grownup. And no society can long survive the destruction of the family.
As a long-time public school teacher I watched that one first-hand. I’ll never forget one class period when the students were all so out of sorts I couldn’t get any of my lesson plan going, so I stopped and asked them what was up. Each student had a story to tell – dads walking out, parents kicking kids out, whole families being evicted, parents addicted, siblings going to jail – horror story after horror story. And these kids were not only supposed to come to my class and learn, they were expected to grow up and hold this country together.
It is that generation who is out there now camped in our city centers. They know nothing about economics, about world or American history. They have no religious training. They only have the sketchiest idea of what family is. They don’t seem to know that anything other than emoting is required of them.
Yet they have learned a new morality and they’re pretty hysterical about it. They’re sure it is no longer necessary to be sexually selective and loyal, or even private, – but you better not drive a big car, or vote Republican. It is just fine to destroy your brain cells with the current chemical available on the black market, but don’t get caught actually producing anything useful – that reprehensible behavior uses natural resources and makes non-producing people feel bad. We must be very careful about which words we use, unless we’re talking about Christians or conservatives. It’s just fine to destroy or deface the private property of others, after all, the end justifies the means, but don’t you dare express allegiance to this country’s founding freedom principles.
Freedom now means a lack of consequences for anti-social behavior. No stigmas allowed. We praise single moms, homosexuals, and promiscuity of all flavors. We accept academic cheating as just the way things get done; I once had a father explain away his daughter’s plagiarism this way: “She has to get good grades to get into a really good school.” Another father said, “I don’t know how you can give this paper an F; it was an A when we bought it.”
Hate is now good – if aimed at the right people (pun heartily intended; thirty percent of the kids Occupying say they think it’s just fine to use violence to get their way. Stealing is good if the victim is rich enough – though there’s a lack of clarity about what rich is. Lying is fine if it gets you what you want. We openly covet; charity is nothing more than voting in taxes for other people to pay. Killing is good if the victim hasn’t been born yet.
But express an allegiance to the economic system that made us prosperous and you are out of line. Declare an interest in any of our founding documents, or heaven forbid (pun intended) the Bible, now that’s a stigma-worthy moral lapse. Refuse to call perversions normal and you can be fired, shunned or spat-upon.
We have not improved our society in the last 40 years; we have exchanged our birthright for a mess of pottage, and if you’re not as old as I am, you probably don’t know that reference. We have not only loosened the moral rigor that protected our most important institutions, we have ginned up an advanced case of self-righteousness over false ideas. The planet isn’t dying, people here aren’t being “oppressed,” the corporations aren’t trying to kill anyone. Yet our moral behavior puts the “solution” to those “problems” at the head of the line.
If Chesterton thought that morality was getting twisted in the early 20th century, today’s morass would make his head spin. I sometimes suspect that we’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole; I haven’t spotted any Mad Hatter costumes at these rallies, but I keep expecting to; the stoned caterpillar with the hookah has certainly been present. Nevertheless, I still believe the pen is mightier than the sit-in, so I just keep writing.