America’s ‘DeValued’ Moral Currency

Pervasive throughout our land is the avoidance of asking the hard questions.  We shun the real questions about life and death and about God.  We do not want to talk “good and evil.”  We glibly talk about body and soul, about reason and revelation, about eternity and time. 

 The other day I happened to watch The Lord of the Rings (LTR):  The Return of the King.  Putting the above statement into LTR terms, we want to live peaceably in the shire without ever having to venture out and deal with the Ring, a Ring which has consequential power over us. We may say to ourselves, “Why destroy the ring when we don’t know for sure it exists? We may have thoughts that all that the shire presents to us is all there is to life. We will go on with our quietude in order to avoid conflict and to live peaceably. We choose society’s ‘safe’ surroundings and its costly ‘insurance’ policies to avoid the dangerous quest that truth demands of us. We fear what it might take to make the journey.  We fear we will lose ourselves on the way and never return to the shire. We fear, we fear and we fear again.

   We fear conflict.  And this is because inherent in conflict are the morals or ethics that each of the disparate parties brings with them. Conflict is the evil we most want to avoid.  Our “dialectics” begin with opposites and often end in synthesis or in the exclusion (or boycott) of the ‘other’.  We will seek out the ‘no-fault divorce’ of our language from its historical meaning. We give a pass to “Political-Correctness” (PC) because PC talk bypasses truth and goes straight to a word originally devoid of any value in and of itself but now given full political power: “diversity.”  

With the acceptance of “diversity,” also a code-word for “whatever” or “it-depends,” moral relativity’s child, lawlessness, increasingly becomes a de facto way to govern and self-govern. Yet, “Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square; At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city She utters her sayings…”

As we go on and find more and more moral conflicts and in order to avoid angst we find it easier to believe nothing of import so that we do not have to fear disagreement, ostracism or even death for what one believes. And because we do not believe in anything then we cannot be responsible for outcomes. Nihilism’s union with materialism begets the DNA of nihilism – lives drained of any meaning other than the moment. In fact, we are told duplicitously “to live in the moment.”

 To choose to believe nothing means that absolute truth is discharged from our lives.  Its voice is no longer heeded.  In fact its voice is now being drowned out.  The commotion that you hear daily is man’s raucous resistance to leaving the shire ~ his tweeting and texting of empty words, the ever streaming pop/rock music filling the void, the Surround sound of ubiquitous blaring entertainment.  It is as if men and women were walking around in the dark calling out to each other and never finding the light switch. They have chosen to stay in the purgatory of their fears.

 The avoidance of pain and conflict has become our primary goal in life.  This is seen in the young voter’s desire for Obamacare.  The health care reform is seen by them as in line with their “values”.  The reform is also seen as providing a sense of self-esteem in that it affirms the young voters wish to avoid pain and insecurity at all costs. On the surface Obamacare appears to provide security for themselves and for others while in truth it is a compromise of what is good and what is evil – the good being the desire for your well-being and the well-being of others and the evil which is the lie that Obama and the government will somehow provide self-esteem and security for you and others and do it with altruism. Remember, God has now been replaced by social science, social science based on rationalism and egalitarianism (think John Rawls, Laurence Tribe, etc.) all under the banner of “Social Justice.”  Rationalism’s,’ “Social Justice” trumps God every time.  Social science is now becoming the creator of society’s values, e.g., God is not to be talked about in public but homosexuality must be.  All of this in spite of the fact that rationalism without revelation could never create value. As Benedict XVI said in 1969:

“What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational, just as the state that aims at being perfect becomes tyrannical. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason.”

 The avoidance of truth with its inherent conflicts with other than the truth affects our relationships, our sexuality, our creativity, our culture. In place of absolute truth Americans, as mentioned, have latched on to “values.” And our new “value” system has a new way of talking:  “lifestyle”, “Be Yourself;” “Be original;” “Let go and be;”  diversity;” “I have my rights.” But now “rights” are no longer the natural inalienable God-given rights “of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Now “rights” have morphed into feelings worn on our sleeve.  We demand that others accept what we feel and that others be open and tolerant. This is what we value above all else. Right and wrong (and love (read not sex)) no longer have a place in our psyche. “Values” – a synthesis of good and evil dominates our diseased culture. And when we ignore serious questions we create words with synthetic meanings to describe our lives.

 “Charisma” is one of those words often heard today. Charisma was once considered a God-given grace but has been used as cover for the “banality of evil” as Hannah Arendt, political philosopher, notes when talking about Hitler’s appeal.

  Allan Bloom, another political philosopher, notes in his 1987 book The Closing of the American MindHow Higher Education Has failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students,Charisma both justifies leaders and excuses followers.  The very word gives a positive twist to rabble-rousing qualities and activities treated as negative in our constitutional tradition.  And it s vagueness makes it a tool for frauds and advertising men adept at manipulating images.” Consider that both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have both been called charismatic leaders.

 In the introduction to his book, Bloom writes about what he sees in the classrooms of higher education: 

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of:  almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes that truth is relative….They are unified only in their relativism and their allegiance to equality….They have been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society…The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.  Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating.  Openness ~ and the relativism that makes it only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings ~ is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger.  The study of history and culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism.  The point (now) is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”  (emphasis mine)

  In a later chapter titled The German Connection, Bloom relates how Nietzsche, Heidegger, Hegel, Weber, Freud have influenced American thinking.  Americans, within a “pro-choice” democracy, have assimilated this German thinking sometimes turning it on its head.   Bloom writes, 

“…there is now an entirely new language of good and evil, originating in an attempt to get “beyond good and evil” and preventing us from talking with any conviction about good and evil anymore.  Even those who deplore our current moral condition do so in the very language that exemplifies that condition.”

“The new language is that of value relativism and it constitutes a change in our view of things moral and political as great as the one that took place when Christianity replaced Greek and Roman paganism.” (empahsis mine) …

“Value relativism can be taken to be a great release from the perpetual tyranny of good and evil, with its cargo and shame and guilt, and the endless efforts that the pursuit of the one and the avoidance of the other enjoin. Intractable good and evil cause infinite distress – like war and sexual repression – which is almost instantly relieved when more flexible values are introduced.  One need not feel bad about or uncomfortable with oneself when just a little value adjustment is necessary.  And this longing to shuck off constraints and have one peaceful, happy world is the first of the affinities between our real American world and that of German philosophy in its most advanced form, given expression by the critics of the President’s speech.”

 Here Bloom is referring to the clamor arising when President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire.”  When yet at another time Reagan said that the Soviets had “different values,” this statement was met “at worst with silence and frequently with approval,” thus revealing our loathing of absolutism in the former statement.

 At the beginning of the chapter Values, Bloom, relates, “We have come back to the point where we began (in the book), where values take the place of good and evil.” (emphasis mine)

And so like Gollum we place the utmost value on the ring of power, becoming blind to its tyranny over us. Along with the ring we call our values “My Precious.”  Under the yolk of temporal “values” and without facing the serious questions of life we lose ourselves, we lose the real.  We lose love, romance, culture, art ~ everything that gives meaning to life.

 Love or charity, a virtue which must be constantly worked at, is replaced with ‘sexual rights.’ Consider that in our culture sexual activity is not to be repressed or self-controlled but rather it is to be given preeminent unrestrained “value.” Think Sandra Fluke and contraception. Think in-your-face homosexuality. Does America “confirm her soul in self-control” or not?

 Romance, apart from truth is portrayed in movie after movie as just a response to nihilism. Nowhere to be found is the expectation, the unrequited desire and the hoped-for revelation of real romance. Without absolutes there can be no true romance.

 We are a culture that seeks therapeutic counseling.  Yet modern psychology, the sworn enemy of shame and guilt, refuses to talk about good and evil and therefore offers nothing for the soul. Freudian psychology only brings the patient back to repressed sex.

 Modern art has nothing of consequence to offer. Consider the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

 Deafening music, pop or rock, pummels our ear drums daily evoking barbaric passions and depriving the soul of its senses.

 Tattoos deface our bodies so as to reveal our disdain for the discipline that purity of mind and body requires. Inking is given the (non-)value of counter-culture and rabble-rousing.

 Religion, wherein serious questions are faced, is being replaced by positive thinking as preached from the temples of TV.

 In view of the fact that our nation is becoming increasingly devoid of absolutes and truth while at the same time becoming increasingly laced with relativism and sliding scale “values” consider this:

 Jesus, the Son of the Living God and The Way, the Truth and the Life says, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Free from what? Free from fear.  All fear:  the fear of the unknown, the fear of facing ultimate accountability, the fear of death, the fear of loss and personal suffering, the fear of evil.  Jesus’ perfect love casts out all fear. Because of this we can face the serious questions of life head-on knowing that God ~ Father, Son and Holy Spirit love us, that They stand with us and that Jesus has gone before us through the same difficult places. Seek Him and He will be found.

 Going back to the LTR analogy do you remember how Frodo and Sam and the rest rejoiced that the ring had been destroyed, that their arduous life and death journey had been accomplished? Their courage and resoluteness saved the shire, themselves and Middle Earth even while the others in the shire had no clue as to what was going on.  You and I must do the same.

Pretense, Part 2: The World Has Become a Jerry Springer Show

The following short article was written six years ago.  Read it and take a look around today. What do you see?

Theodore Dalrymple
Law Isn’t Enough

City Journal, Autumn 2005

Recently in London a correspondent of a left-liberal Dutch newspaper interviewed me, a decent, civilized sort—one of us, in short. I am sure that he brought up his children to say please and thank you, probably in several languages.

He asked me why I had chosen recently to move from England to France. I said that I thought France was a decade or two behind Britain in cultural decline. It had maintained certain standards a little better than Britain—though, I added, I could see that it was heading in the same direction.

He asked me what evidence I had for my claim. Well, I replied, crime in France was approaching British levels; in some places, it was even worse, at least for serious crimes of violence.

Another straw in the wind was the rising number of tattooed and pierced young people on view, as well as tattoo and piercing parlors. Ten years ago, you hardly ever saw a tattooed person in France: now they are everywhere. The small and ancient town, solidly bourgeois, near where I live has such a parlor, purveying savage kitsch to young fools. Le Monde published a little while back a profile of the acclaimed French writer Ann Scott, whose work makes Baudelaire’s seem a bit like that of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Scott has a large and prominent tattoo of a swallow on her neck. Critics claim that her latest book, describing heroin addiction and lesbian love, has a terrible beauty, as well as near-emetic properties.

The correspondent asked me: what was wrong with tattooing, if that was how people wanted to adorn themselves?

I asked him whether he would have himself tattooed—whether he would be happy if his teenaged children had themselves tattooed—and if not, why not? After all, if he would not like it, he must have some inner objection to tattooing.

True, he said, but tattooing was not illegal. And since even I, who deprecated it, did not think that it should be illegal, there was nothing further to say about it. If tattooing was legal, it was thus of no social, moral, or cultural significance.

I tried to point out some of the cultural meanings of the vogue for tattooing. First, it was aesthetically worse than worthless. Tattoos were always kitsch, implying not only the absence of taste but the presence of dishonest emotion.

Second, the vogue represented a desperate (and rather sad) attempt on a mass scale to achieve individuality and character by means of mere adornment, which implied both intellectual vacuity and unhealthy self-absorption.

And third, it represented mass downward cultural and social aspiration, since everyone understood that tattooing had a traditional association with low social class and, above all, with aggression and criminality. It was, in effect, a visible symbol of the greatest, though totally ersatz, virtue of our time: an inclusive unwillingness to make judgments of morality or value.

But the correspondent’s premise that the legality of an act was the sole criterion by which one could or should judge it chilled me. It is a sinister premise. It makes the legislature the complete arbiter of manners and morals, and thus accords to the state quasi-totalitarian powers without the state’s ever having claimed them. The state alone decides what we have or lack permission to do: we have to make no moral decisions for ourselves, for what we have legal permission to do is also, by definition, morally acceptable.

Even worse than the correspondent’s implicitly totalitarian assumption was his lack of awareness of how societies cohere, and how social existence becomes tolerable, let alone pleasant. After all, the law does not prohibit rudeness, boorishness, and an infinity of unpleasant habits. But it is clear that if, for example, the prevalence of boorishness increases, life in society becomes more filled with friction and danger.

What I found so odd about the correspondent were his perfect manners and refined tastes. But so little confidence did he have in the value of the things that he valued that he seemed indifferent to the mechanism of their disappearance or destruction. This is the way a civilization ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

 (Emphasis mine)

 From this article:

 http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_4_diarist.html

 THEODORE DALRYMPLE: Anthony (A.M.) Daniels (born 11 October 1949), who generally uses the pen name Theodore Dalrymple, is a British writer and retired prison doctor and psychiatrist