Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cracks in the Veneer

There were a couple of darkly dispiriting pieces in last week’s WSJ on cultural decline in the West. The first, by Theodore Dalrymple, was called The Ugly Brutishness of Modern Britain

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, in England, come—obscenities. No one at the bus stop dared say, much less do, anything. For increasingly, the English are a people who know neither inner nor outer restraint. They turn to aggression, if not to violence, the moment they are thwarted, even in trifles. And those who are neither aggressive nor violent are by no means sure that the law will take their side in the event of a fracas. It is better, or easier, for them to pretend not to notice anything, even if it means living in constant fear.

Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that, according to a survey recently conducted by Lloyds Bank, a fifth of all people with assets of more than $640,000 are thinking of leaving the country. Personally I am surprised it is so few. Other surveys have shown that at least 50% of the population wants to leave, in the main to flee the other 50% of the population.

It is difficult to overstate the deleterious effect on the quality of life in modern Britain of incivility and bad behavior. One small manifestation is the littering of the country. No hedgerow, even in the most beautiful countryside, is without its discarded plastic bottles of soft drinks and wrappings of take-away food. In the matter of litter, the British are now by far the dirtiest people in the Western world, a sign of their unsocial mindset.

The second, by Peggy Noonan, hit closer to home as she weighed in on America's Crisis of Character:

In isolation, these stories may sound like the usual sins and scandals, but in the aggregate they seem like something more disturbing, more laden with implication, don't they? And again, these are only from the past week.
The leveling or deterioration of public behavior has got to be worrying people who have enough years on them to judge with some perspective.

Something seems to be going terribly wrong.

Maybe we have to stop and think about this.

When conservatives warn about the decline of Western Civilization, these examples of an unraveling of societal bonds and shrinking standards of public conduct are as much of a concern as the waning influences in economic and military matters. This hollowing out of the cultural core come about for a variety of reasons, chief among them a rise in secular and trans-national values (especially in Europe). People have been taught that no culture is better than any other and that there is nothing special or worth preserving among the traditional foundations of the West (church and family especially). Behaviors that once would have been discouraged by societal consensus are now tolerated and in some cases subsidized by the state. The only judgment that is now allowed is that we have no right to judge anyone.

The only hope of stemming or maybe more pessimistically managing this decline is through institutions that cling to the traditional values and ethics that once supported a societal consensus on what was right and wrong. You might find still find these values in businesses, although many have already succumbed to the rot of relativity. You would hard pressed to find them in most government institutions, with the exception of the military and perhaps police, fire, and other emergency responders. You will find them in the churches and synagogues, although to varying extents depending on how far they’ve strayed down the post-modern path. And, as mentioned previously, you will still them displayed, again perhaps in a somewhat diluted manner, in civic organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Our eldest son had his first Cub Scout camp out last Saturday. The weather was lousy. It was cold and rainy most of the time. But the boys had fun and generally conducted themselves well. And through activities such as raising the flag they learned about things like duty, respect, and reverence. On Saturday, as the rain pelted down, we had a ceremony to retire two American flags. This involved saying the Pledge of Allegiance, reciting a patriotic poem, and a prayer before the flags were solemnly lowered into the fire. One of these flags had flown over the Marine base at Da Nang during the Vietnam War which added an extra touch of poignancy to the event.

So despite all the clouds of despair and gloom on the horizon, there are still glimmers of hope. You just have to look a little harder to find them.