While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.– John Adams, Address to the Officers of the Massachusetts Militia
When John Adams gave this speech to the officers of the Massachusetts militia, the French revolution had already produced the “reign of terror” and victimized the French people for almost nine years. The atheistic fraternal principles upon which the revolution was based were a point of concern for then President Adams, and he had predicted its ultimate failure. In his view, a functioning democracy required a people bound by religiously founded principles and guided by an undeviating moral compass. I believe he understood that any government “by the people” would ultimately unravel if “the people” were unworthy of it. I doubt he could have foreseen our day, but I also doubt he would be surprised at what we have done to our government given the decrepit moral condition of society.
Some of the incessant hyperbolic and hyperventilating news coverage has given me pause to ponder the general state of our nation. Recently, a deranged bigot shot up a historically black church and ruthlessly murdered nine people attending a prayer meeting. As a result, we are supposed to believe this horrible action is an inevitable and exclusive outcome of historic anti-black racism and that banning flags, erasing history, and publicly castigating anyone who happens to disagree is the cure. We must spend hours and hours discussing at length the white-man’s shame and find every creepy looking picture of the perpetrator ever taken so it can be plastered on everyone’s screens in an effort to demonize him. Nobody seems interested in dealing with the fact that the mentally ill have always been with us, and that violence of this sort is rare, not new, and only preventable by deeply infringing on multiple fundamental liberties. As long as we are unwilling to arbitrarily and forcibly institutionalize anyone who shows signs of mental instability (never mind the very contentious discussion about what constitutes instability and who gets to decide), we must accept the risk that these types of events represent. Yet we don’t talk about the real issues, and we are unwilling to cope with the inevitability of risk.
With similar breathlessness, media outlets spread hate, hysteria, distrust, discontent, and sometimes outright disinformation when someone dies at the hands of law enforcement if the incident happens to support the narrative of powerful people. Meanwhile, we are unwilling to discuss the realities and risks that contribute to the distrust and dangerous tension that exists between police and their constituents. We aren’t allowed to ask why it is that police have shifted away from “community” policing, are armed better than most third-world armies, and escalate to lethal force when they feel threatened. We cannot question the conditions and undercurrents of society that have engendered a feeling of mutual dislike between police and the public they serve. We certainly can’t have an open and honest debate about why a police officer might feel more likely to be threatened by a young black male than any other demographic due to the foregone conclusion that this stems from Jim-Crow era racism. Any attempt to deviate from this party line is instantly dismissed and often results in a reprimand, marginalization, and/or mandatory white privilege training. Informed, frank, and open-minded discussion or debate has been completely replaced by volleys of shouting and thirty-second slogans hurled from one side of the debate to the other.
While talking heads with little real interest other than self-aggrandizement foment unrest and further violence, another string of victims (mostly minorities) and perpetrators (also mostly minorities) is constantly being produced without substantial news coverage. The mass outrage that should be appropriate given the large numbers of lives being destroyed by this politically inconvenient violence is silent or suppressed. This violence is ignored, not because of racism, but because it doesn’t support the narrative. Apparently it’s racist to want to talk about some of the most common perpetrators, victims and most importantly the causes of violence against and by minorities. Even more fundamentally than that, we as a people don’t seem interested in the root causes of violence writ-large – the combination of policy, history, economics, collusion, greed, real racism or other forms of prejudice, and cultural corruption that is corroding the very foundations of our society.
A look at the “privileged” classes doesn’t bring much more hope. My personal experience is ripe with young men of any race with little ambition, useless education, and a deep-rooted sense of entitlement. Rather than put on a pair of over-alls and pick up a shovel or crawl under a car, they squeeze themselves into clothing designed to make women look stupid and make men look like effeminate she-males. They spend their energy and time lost in virtual worlds incapable of providing any real rewards, and cringe at the thought of responsibility that comes with being a contributing adult member of society. Sex for them is simply a pass-time that provides selfish pleasures most often experienced through pornography, and real intimacy is forfeit to on-line or casual relationships. Marriage and family are arrangements of convenience, assuming they happen to find it convenient long enough to enter into that all-to-temporary social and tax-advantaged arrangement. Children, when even in the picture, are often an afterthought, selfish desire, accident, or inconvenient obligation. I see a generation largely adrift and sitting precariously under the sword of Damocles while they stoke a fire hot enough to singe the string that keeps it suspended.
As if watching an entire generation implode weren’t bad enough, we are asked and expected as a society to celebrate when a fading celebrity who is uncomfortable with the body God gave him undergoes extensive surgery to look like something he is not. What’s more, an apparently large and highly visible swath of society does celebrate. Pictures of this “transformation” are plastered all over public spaces and (s)he is heralded for inherent “bravery” while collecting large paychecks for sharing the journey with an eagerly voyeuristic public. We collectively seem to have accepted the narrative that gender is not a biological trait, but that it also must not be viewed as a choice – the vast majority oblivious to the internal inconsistency of this view. Parents and medical professionals now consider and initiate hormone therapy to delay or disrupt normal sexual development so the child can “decide” if it wants to be female or male.
We celebrate publicly when the Supreme Court overturns millennia of cultural wisdom and tradition to redefine the fundamental unit of society. The very fact that we feel a need for the state to sanction and subsidize relationships that are incapable of propagating society doesn’t seem odd. Instead, those who “cling” to traditional beliefs are castigated as “intolerant” and bigoted as opposed to the “enlightened” members of society who seem quite intolerant of dissenting opinions on the subject.
These examples are simply a small taste of the variety of stories, anecdotes, and current events that call into question the long-term viability of our culture as it currently stands. We are in a time and place where we are being taught and seem to believe that family relationships are optional and are for the fulfillment of individual “needs,” that children are a burden, that mothers who raise their own children instead of “contributing to society” by working outside the home are selfish, that self worth comes from external sources, that exercising judgment is the same as being judgmental, that terminating a viable pregnancy (killing an unborn child to use politically incorrect speech) is a desirable alternative to the inconvenience and responsibility of an unplanned pregnancy, that success and failure are the product and result of other people’s influence on our lives, that there is no primal role for personal responsibility and individual effort, that rapid and unrestrained personal gratification is the height of achievement, that life has little value, that work is an inconvenient necessity rather than a blessing, that humans are evil beings who are destroying the global environment, and that right and wrong are flexible concepts. If they believe in God, many have fashioned a God in their own mind who is the deified equivalent of a parent who refuses to tell their children no, introduces them to the joys of being high on methamphetamine, and takes their son to see a prostitute for his sixteenth birthday.
Our moral compass seems to have been degaussed, or worse yet, had its polarity reversed. The terms John Adams used to describe a dysfunctional and dangerous society “which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence,”
are fully applicable today. We, as a society that was originally based on classical liberal ideals and traditions cannot enjoy the benefits of a government built around those ideals if we abandon the very foundation on which that government was built. We will only get the government we deserve, and at present we don’t deserve much that is virtuous or praiseworthy.
Because of our vanity and greed we have put ourselves in a position where we no longer have the right to complain about the onerous burdens placed on us by the societal masters. We have proven incapable of governing ourselves, and as such should not be surprised when a subset of ambitious and corrupt individuals take that task on themselves. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, few seem to see through the tissue-paper thin veneer of self governance and liberty to understand the true nature of the ties that bind us. Our ignorance, insolence, and self-absorption have allowed avaricious men to gradually wrap thin flaxen cords around us for so long that we are now bound fast and subject to their whims and pleasures without realizing how it happened. In some cases we fail completely to understand that we are even bound.
Our government, once at least outwardly based on the concepts of individual liberty and god-given rights, is gone. It has become a nanny-state oligarchy where “citizens” are artfully manipulated and exploited by the powerful to extract wealth and power while a few elite (and not necessarily those who sit formally in judgment) decide which “rights” are fundamental and which are inconvenient.