The Decline of Misbehavior

At the risk of infringing upon the territory most often mined by Stephen Green, my esteemed fellow PJ columnist, self-proclaimed Vodkapundit, and on far too rare occasions drinking partner, at Ricochet, Andrew Stuttaford looks at “The Decline of Misbehavior” in England.


It’s a short post, and if I cut and paste here, I’d likely end up quoting the whole thing. But it compares and contrasts two newspaper quotes, one from the 1960s or ’70s featuring the late British soccer star and man of prodigious vices of all sorts, George Best, and a tut-tutting London Standard report from last week, on one of Best’s would-be successors, who committed the Ultimate Crime Against the State:

He smoked a cigarette outside a London nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, while celebrating a win.

The Horror. The Horror.

A pair of Stuttaford’s commenters explore how times have changed:

Mom blurted out, after hearing that my 18 year old son would not be allowed into a sports bar (“because it is a smoking bar – state law”, said the bartender), “In my day sodomy was bad and smoking was ok”.

* * * * * *

So now there is no such thing as a sexual sin, and we have replaced real sins with other infractions.   There is a rational basis for the opprobrium for smoking, but the depth of feeling surely indicates that there is a social craving for rules and bounds, so that we elevate minor infractions to the level formerly reserved for real serious sin.

But of course there is no longer any such thing as sexual sin.   To the modern cultural mavens, the only sins remaining are hypocrisy and intolerance.   And transgressions against the planet, such as failing to recycle.


Which is why, Dennis Prager wrote in 2003, “health has become our morality:”

Decades of lecturing around America and of speaking with parents on my radio show have led me to an incredible conclusion: More American parents would be upset with their teenage children if they smoked a cigarette than if they cheated on a test.

How has this come about? This is, after all, an entirely new phenomenon. Almost no member of my generation (those who became teenagers in the 1960s), let alone a member of any previous generation, could ever have imagined that parents would be angrier with their teenage child for smoking than for cheating.

There has been a profound change in American values. In a nutshell, health has overtaken morality. Or, if you prefer, health has become our morality.

As I wrote in April when I previously linked to Prager’s observation, it can be boiled down to two quotes: “Government should not tell you what to do unless there’s a compelling public purpose,” as Mike Bloomberg said last year. Or more briefly, “gemeinnutz geht vor eigennutz.”


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