The decline of America, macroeconomic version:
Should we get over it, I wonder? Is New York’s current Creep-Off election a token of the city’s sophistication, a harbinger of the end of the republic, or something in between?
Conscious of our own frailties, none of us should rush to play the puritan, it’s true. The so-called “character issue” that so-called journalists are always yammering about largely strikes me as a flimsy excuse to pornographize the news with straight faces. Any way you rationalize it, a humiliated spouse, a disgruntled paramour, even heartbroken children are really none of the public’s business. Judged individually, many sex scandals come to seem irrelevant after the first shock of contempt passes. Much as I dislike Anthony Weiner politically, he doesn’t seem to have broken any laws, and the worst that can be said about Bill Clinton’s proven indiscretions is that they demonstrate what a second-rate JFK he was even when it came to philandering.
And yet, in a larger sense, a society devoid of sexual shame is one in which the powerful are free to prey upon the weak for pleasure. In the moment of temptation, when personal integrity fails, the possibility of public disapproval may be all that stands between a trusting spouse and betrayal, a child and a broken home, a vulnerable young person and exploitation. There really is such a thing as being too sophisticated, too laissez-faire. Even worse is the cynicism that glosses over gross personal abuses to pursue political goals. I never once looked at Teddy Kennedy after Chappaquiddick without thinking of a 28-year-old campaign worker pounding helplessly on the window of a submerged Oldsmobile while the rich, powerful senator who put her there walked away with few consequences. Lion of the Senate, my eye!
Likewise, as I look at the New York Creep-Off from afar, I can’t help but question the great city’s wisdom. It’s not that people like Weiner and Spitzer should be hounded and condemned for their mistakes indefinitely. Let them go about their business. Truly, let them thrive. But when it comes to choosing leaders, can the city really find no one better? It’s a representative government, after all. Why can’t New Yorkers find someone who represents them at their best?
“New York’s Creep-Off Election — Can’t the city do better than Weiner and Spitzer?”, from Andrew Klavan at City Journal today.
Of course, the scariest answer is, “Perhaps they can’t.” Or, the decline of America, microeconomic version:
I spent many years training people in the use of computer software. It’s common for people in that line of work to blow off steam behind closed doors by laughing about the stupid things people do with their computers. But very few of even my most difficult students were really “stupid.” They were either careless, or actively alienated – they didn’t really want to learn how to use a new program. They would take few notes, or play with their phones during class. Of course they didn’t absorb or remember everything from the training sessions.
Intelligence requires effort, and diligence. Even the most well-tuned engine is useless without fuel. Too many people have grown either lazy, or alienated by the conviction that society will not appreciate their efforts. Those who seek to recruit foot soldiers for the reconstruction of society actively encourage this alienation.
The end result is a widespread rebellion against what works, and the active embrace of what doesn’t. Everything gets sloppy, and therefore weak. Standards are lowered, and expectations reduced, in matters both large and small. It reminds me of the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention: why should people invest heavy effort into defending and maintaining a culture that makes a fetish out of not giving a damn about anything?
— “Careless America,” John Hayward at Breitbart.com, in response to a post titled, “University Offers Course On Trayvon Martin Case, Misspells Name.”