Character in Crisis

“Previous civilizations have been overthrown from without by the incursion of barbarian hordes.  Christendom has dreamed up its own dissolution in the minds of its own intellectual elites.  Our barbarians are home products, indoctrinated at the public expense, urged on by the media systematically stage by stage, dismantling Christendom, depreciating and deprecating all its values.  The whole social structure is now tumbling down, dethroning its God, undermining all its certainties.  All this, wonderfully enough, is being done in the name of health, wealth, and happiness of all mankind.”  Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom (1980), p. 17, 18

“A tourist is beaten in Baltimore.  Young people surround him and laugh.  He’s pummeled, stripped and robbed.  No one helps.  They’re too busy taping it on their smartphones.”  Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, April 21-22, 2012, p. A15

“Groups of teenagers swarm into stores, rob everything they can, and run out.  The phenomenon is on the rise across the country.  Police now have a nickname for it: ‘flash robs.’” Ibid.

“In New York the past week a big story has been about 16 public school teachers who can’t be fired even though they’ve acted unprofessionally.  What does ‘unprofessionally’ mean in New York?  Sex with students, stalking students, and, in one case, standing behind a kid, simulating sex, and saying, ‘I’ll show you what gay is.’”  Ibid.

“The leveling or deterioration of public behavior has got to be worrying people who have enough years on them to judge with some perspective.  Something seems to be going terribly wrong.  Maybe we have to stop and think about this.”  Ibid.

Editor’s Comment: While we think about this in the United States, Theodore Dalrymple is thinking about this in his Britain.  He gives us a good indication of where we are headed by looking at Britain today.  His following article entitled “The Ugly Brutishness of Modern Britain” also appeared in the same publication as Peggy Noonan’s article which she entitled “America’s Crisis of Character.”  The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2012, p. A 13.

“A few days ago at a crowded bus stop in the city of Nottingham, a fat youth of about 13 started to throw food at a friend.  Some of it nearly hit me and landed on the ground just beyond me, making a mess.

“’Excuse me,’ I said to the youth, ‘could you pick that up?’

“Shut the f— up!” he snarled, with real hatred contorting his face.

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, in England, come—obscenities.  No one at the bus stop dared say, much less do, anything.  For increasingly, the English are a people who know neither inner nor outer restraint.  They turn to aggression, if not to violence, the moment they are thwarted, even in trifles.  And those who are neither aggressive nor violent are by no means sure that the law will take their side in the event of a fracas.  It is better, easier, for them to pretend not to notice anything, even if it means living in constant fear.

“Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that, according to a survey recently conducted by Lloyds Bank, a fifth of all people with assets of more than $640,000 are thinking of leaving the country.  Personally I am surprise it is so few.  Other surveys have shown that at least 50% of the population wants to leave, in the main to flee the other 50% of the population.

“It is difficult to overstate the deleterious effect on the quality of life in modern Britain of incivility and bad behavior.  One small manifestation is the littering of the country.  No hedgerow, even in the most beautiful countryside, is without its discarded plastic bottles of soft drinks and wrappings of take-away food.  In the matter of litter, the British are now by the far the dirtiest people in the Western world, a sign of their unsocial mindset.

“Every Friday and Saturday night, the police riot vans come to my otherwise charming small market town in Shropshire where, were it not for the mass drunkenness of young people, no police would be needed.  Not long ago I returned home just before midnight to find, about a hundred yards from my front door, the police bending solicitously over a collapsed, scantily clad and lumpen, drunken young woman lying unconscious in her own vomit.  There is only so much of his kind of thing that one can take.

“The paralysis of the public administration in the face of the problem induces a state of despair in the more civilized half of the population. (The public sector now accounts for more than 50% of British GDP, so the paralysis is not caused by a lack of resources.)  Recently, for example, three people stripped naked a vulnerable young man of low intelligence, tied him to a lamppost, covered him in food, insulted him and left him there for four hours, then cut him down so carelessly that he banged his head on the ground (by the time he reached the hospital he was in a state of hypothermia).  They were not even sent to prison.

“In other words, practically no behavior is now beyond the pale of the British state.  Sadly, the freedom to behave badly is almost the only freedom valued by, or left to, young Britons.

“The people who want to flee Britain are not economic migrants.  It is not high taxes that they object to (many want to move to France, where taxes are not low), but barbarism.  They are cultural refugees in search of a more civilized homeland, where fewer people are uncouth or militantly vulgar.

“What has caused this collapse of civility in Britain, which was, within living memory, a civil country?  In my view, it is a demotic version of egalitarianism, allied with multiculturalism.

“Even middle-class people now behave in an increasingly uncouth and rough fashion in Britain because they think that by doing so they are expressing their solidarity with the lower reaches of their society.  Imitation, they think, is the highest form of sympathy.  This, of course, is an implicit insult to many of the poor, for poverty and unmannerliness are by no means the same thing.

Multiculturalism is damaging because it denies that, when it comes to culture, there is a better and a worse, a higher and a lower—only difference.  The word culture is used here in its anthropological sense, that is to mean the totality of behavior that is not directly biological.

“Hence any conduct–lying scantily clad in a pool of vomit, for example—is part of a culture, and since all cultures ex hypothesi, are of equal worth, no one has the moral right to criticize, much less forbid, any kind of behavior.  And if I have to accept your culture, you have to accept mine.  If you don’t like it—tough.  Unfortunately, the lowest level of culture is the easiest to reach and, again ex hyposthesi, there is no reason to aim higher.

“Incivility in Britain thus has a militant or ideological edge to it.  The uncivil British are not uncivilized by default—they actively hate and repudiate civilization.”

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