Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Cable Has Snapped

Rush Limbaugh spent most of his show on Monday ruminating about why the culture seems to have fallen so far so fast. It's an interesting question, but I don't think he ever hit upon the correct answer to it, at least not during the snippets I heard (If you catch any fifteen minute segment of his show on any given day you've pretty much heard the whole show. He repeats himself a lot.). As far as I could tell Rush seems to think that the country is in the grip of a mass delusion wherein traditional values are stood on their head, ridiculed, and dispensed with, while the Republicans, to his great dismay, seem reluctant to resist.

As an example of Republican acquiescence he cited the demand by some big Republican donors that GOP candidates just ignore social issues and concentrate their campaigns on economic and foreign policy matters. Of course, many Republicans don't need encouragement to shy away from the social issues because when they do talk about them they flounder about, sounding timid and muddled. Too few of them seem able or willing to articulate a cogent case for traditional values.

In my opinion, the reason for this, and for the cultural decline it abets, is the fact that we've lost the ability to talk about right and wrong, much less normalcy and perversity. Having been cowed by the secular left into accepting the exclusion of religious belief from the public square we're like passengers in an elevator whose cable has snapped. We're in moral free-fall, helpless to do anything to arrest the fall. Lacking any moral brakes or solid ground, or at least lacking a willingness to stand on such ground, Republicans are unable to mount a moral case for traditional values, and so the left closes in for the kill, picking off any Republican who dares to venture an opinion which sounds at all traditional. As the left attacks, the Republicans, like those Iraqi soldiers who heavily outnumbered their ISIS foes but who nevertheless threw down their weapons and ran because they had no leadership, the Republicans flee from the battle out of fear of being abandoned by their fellows and mocked to death in the media for their opinions.

Too many, it seems, believe that if they oppose gay marriage, abortion on demand, transgenderism, transracialism, or assert that single motherhood is less than an ideal environment for raising a child, not only will they be called haters, but they'll be roundly criticized for "injecting morality and social issues into politics," as if it's they who're introducing the issues in the first place. The left has been for a hundred years merrily intent on undoing 2000 years of moral experience and tradition, and if today anyone demurs, if anyone suggests that this might not be a good idea, they're condemned for trying to resist "progress." Like a man being repeatedly slapped in the face who raises his hand to ward off the blows, the traditionalist (dirty word, that) is faulted for trying to defend his values.

In the current moral free-fall anyone who holds views that almost everyone took for granted for 2000 years until the day before yesterday is considered to be on the "fringe," an extremist, a bigot. In the contemporary climate not only must you tolerate activities you might believe to be socially harmful, but if you're a preacher you also must not speak out against them, if you're a politician you must approve of them, and if run a business you must participate in them.

The left at some level understands that personal destruction of those who refuse to go along with the program is really their only effective weapon. They have no rational arguments on their side, if they did they'd use them instead of employing emotional appeals and vitriolic moral opprobrium. Indeed, having banished the use of any religious grounds for moral judgment the left has no basis for their own moral self-righteousness, but that doesn't stop them from resorting to moral rhetoric when it's useful. Nor do the Republicans fail to let them get away with their baseless moral denunciations because the Republicans themselves have accepted the same secular premises as the left. Either that, or they lack the sophistication to highlight the absurdity of the left's strategy of denying any basis for moral judgment to the right while indulging in an orgy of moral judgmentalism themselves.

So, the answer to Rush's questions about how we've come to the place in our society where no one is allowed to openly state and practice their moral convictions without being subjected to vile and vicious hatred from the left is two-fold. First, the folks holding traditional views lack either the political and philosophical sophistication to defend those views in the public square, or they lack the willingness to do so, or, more likely, both. Second, like many others in our culture they've abandoned the only basis anyone can have for declaring that something is wrong or perverse, a belief in the Judeo-Christian ethic rooted in the existence of the Judeo-Christian God.

Philosopher W.T. Stace foresaw the consequences of what Richard Neuhaus later called the naked public square. In 1948 Stace wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly in which he claimed that one result of the purge of belief in final causes, i.e. God, from human activity was that:
…The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated around the world….

The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws….[But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends - money, fame, art, science - and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center.

Hence, the dissatisfied, disillusioned, restless spirit of modern man….Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values….If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions.

Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people, or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.
It's depressing to contemplate, but in a world where this is the unspoken assumption of most of our academics, media, and political class there's no way to halt the slide into moral chaos except for individuals to educate themselves as to how they can defend their convictions and to refuse to surrender. If enough people do that Republican politicians and maybe even some Democrats will be encouraged to stand against the tide of moral anomie washing across our culture.