A Culture of Losers

Which compels one to ask, isn’t anybody normal anymore? It seems as if we now live in societies where almost everybody has a right or a claim and practically nobody has a duty or an obligation. “The great escape of our times,” writes Thomas Sowell in Real Clear Politics, “is the escape from personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s own behavior.” It looks increasingly as if we are on the way to becoming our very own third world in which we demand and expect to be heard, to be taken care of, and to receive ample redress for the wrongs we have all suffered, the abuses we have endured, and simply cannot conceive of a world in which we are not coddled and subsidized. Living in a lose-win culture, we revel in our voguish condition as a society of the disabled.

It gets worse. Everyone is innocent, it seems, except those who are prepared to assume responsibility not only for themselves but for their cultural patrimony as well. Despite the superficial differences, it is really the same quivering mindset, the same passion for submission, that governs our behavior in both the domestic and international realms. In the former we regard ourselves as victims of social circumstances before which we protest our helplessness, demanding that the state pay welfare retribution to those who come bandaged with grievances. In the latter, we suffer for the sins of our precursors and implore forgiveness for their evident transgressions, pleading to be shriven by our enemies. For both we and our enemies are regarded as victims of the same tainted past.

It is a subtle discrimination which disguises a real similarity. In the civil dimension, we demand special treatment; in the political domain, we beg forgiveness. These look at first like opposing states of mind. But political atonement for the past “crimes” of our fathers is only the other face of civil reparation for the former “indifference” of the state. In either case, we surrender our independence of will, affirm our innocence before the tribunal of our own self-righteousness, and aspire to a kind of beatification of our motives and purposes. In effect, we are giving up; at the same time, we assert the sanctity of our being and continue to perpetrate an immaculate deception. Whether for the experiences we have undergone in our own lives or for the conduct of our predecessors, we are not responsible.

Nor, in the latter case, are we willing to grant that a civilizing imperative was also at work. President Obama’s orgy of apologies to the world for American political behavior is a salient illustration of this decubital pathology. We must demonstrate our “good faith” and, of course, do everything in our power not to give offense, in this way making amends for what we take to be an exclusively inconsiderate and violent history. As if nothing good ever flowed from the West. As if no other culture or civilization were guilty of colonial depredations. The Metropolitan Museum of Art changing the name of its “Islamic Galleries” to the unwieldy “Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia,” as well as its removing three ancient images of Muhammad from its permanent display, is another revealing example of this tendency toward prostration.

Thus, social, political, and economic systems predicated on the autonomy of the person, a robust sense of self, pioneering vigor, exploration in every domain of human endeavor, the principle of a just meritocracy, and even the right to name or represent things accurately are considered ethically suspicious and ideologically opprobrious. Free and contentious democracies, home to a self-reliant and muscular individualism, are anathema to a vast phalanx of oddly aggressive pietists consecrated to an agenda of self-immolation. The only enemies they recognize are those of their fellow citizens who struggle to maintain the core Western values of liberty of thought, speech, and action and who wish to preserve the spirit of accountability for oneself -- in other words, those who refuse to claim special dispensation for their personal present or offer apologies for their historical past.

In a fascinating article commenting on the chemical cocktails consumed by the late pop icon Michael Jackson, columnist Sarah Honig writes that the “substances he used to soothe whatever unsettled him weren’t substantially different from the kitschy catchphrases which serve as the proverbial painkillers in our geopolitical reality.” She is referring chiefly to Israel, but her diagnosis is no less true of sociopolitical reality throughout the West. The bromides we ingest to dull our minds, she continues, “are just as common among respectable unthinking denizens in the world’s democracies as prescribed narcotics are in Hollywood. They are just as addictive, no less imbecilic, and every bit as dangerous.”

Honig is on the money, as are Sykes and Thornton and Elder. We have lulled ourselves to sleep with the fashionable tranquillizers of the day, the “facile formulations” of current social and political nonthinking which we use to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility, cultural dignity, and historical conviction. To extend Honig’s Michael Jackson analogy, we are moonwalking backward as an unforgiving future advances with determined tread.