Ed Driscoll

Tough To Out Puritan The New Puritans

Brent Bozell files the latest dispatch from the defensive side of the Culture War:

McKay Hatch is a 15-year-old boy from South Pasadena, California who people clearly hate. He’s received over 60,000 negative E-mails, most of them vicious, some including death threats that have spawned police and FBI investigations. What has this boy done that’s caused such anger? Was he caught dealing drugs? Did he rage? Did he kill? No. He started a No Cussing Club.

And for that he is vilified. Hatch says some people are going out of their way to curse him at school, on the Internet and on the phone. They send him pornographic magazine subscriptions. Not long ago, someone ordered $2,000 worth of pizza delivered to Hatch’s house. Then came the death threats.

Brent Hatch, the teenager’s father, told reporters one death threat in particular crossed the line. “I was at the hospital with my wife, we were visiting family, and some guy had called on my cell phone said, ‘I know you you’re gone, you’re not there, and I’m in front of your house and I’m going to kill your family.'”

If the purveyors of profanity think that cussing is so harmless, why are some of them so unbelievably hostile to anyone suggesting a voluntary ban on the bleeps?

Theodore Dalrymple has written tens of thousands of words attempting to answer variations on that last question. Here are but a few of them:

A problem arises, however, when all such rules, arbitrary as some of them might be, are eroded to the point of total informality. The culture of any society becomes graceless in the absence of all formality, a development that is peculiarly evident in my own country, Great Britain. Here, gracelessness has become, by a peculiar ideological inversion that has occurred in my lifetime, a manifestation of political virtue. My father’s view of the whole matter of manners has triumphed all but completely.

The argument goes something like this: formality is etiquette, and etiquette is a manifestation of an unjust, class-ridden, patriarchal society. The rejection of etiquette and the formality it entails is therefore a sign that one is on the side of the angels, that is to say, of the egalitarians. Modern egalitarians, at least in Britain, do not content themselves with the kind of abstract or formal equality before the law that allows any amount of difference in wealth, status, taste, and sensibility; they demand some progress towards equalization of everything, including manners.

Of course, egalitarians are just as attached as everyone else to their own material possessions and wealth and have no real intention of forgoing them by radical redistribution, at any rate, of their own money and possessions. The struggle for equality–of the actual rather than the formal kind–has therefore to be transferred to fields in which it will cost the egalitarian nothing, or nothing material and financial.

What better way to prove your egalitarian credentials than by adopting the supposedly free and easy, utterly informal manners of those at the bottom of the social scale? The freer and easier the better, for such informality demonstrates another quality beloved of, and praised by, intellectuals: a superiority to the dictates of convention. Thus you can never be quite informal or unconventional enough.

But why the anger? Reminding the New Puritans of their flaws is guaranteed to make them quite cross–especially when anger is their primary emotion to begin with.