In the City Journal Theodore Dalrymple, in real life psychiatrist Anthony Daniels who is just now leaving employment for 14 years in a British prison hospital, writes on the amount of evil individuals are committing in Britain even though no dictatorship compels them to do so.
Yet the scale of a man's evil is not entirely to be measured by its practical consequences. Men commit evil within the scope available to them. Some evil geniuses, of course, devote their lives to increasing that scope as widely as possible, but no such character has yet arisen in Britain, and most evildoers merely make the most of their opportunities. They do what they can get away with.
Daniels describes one woman he met in his work whose mother had tossed her out of her home at age 14 in order to satisfy the mother's latest boyfriend and how this girl went on to have 3 babies by 3 different loser men.
She was, of course, a victim of her mother's behavior at a time when she had little control over her destiny. Her mother had thought that her own sexual liaison was more important than the welfare of her child, a common way of thinking in today's welfare Britain. That same day, for example, I was consulted by a young woman whose mother's consort had raped her many times between the ages of eight and 15, with her mother's full knowledge. Her mother had allowed this solely so that her relationship with her consort might continue. It could happen that my patient will one day do the same thing.
Dalrymple notes the total lack of opposition and disapproval in the welfare state toward behavior that is incredibly harmful toward others.
This truly is not so much the banality as the frivolity of evil: the elevation of passing pleasure for oneself over the long-term misery of others to whom one owes a duty. What better phrase than the frivolity of evil describes the conduct of a mother who turns her own 14-year-old child out of doors because her latest boyfriend does not want him or her in the house? And what better phrase describes the attitude of those intellectuals who see in this conduct nothing but an extension of human freedom and choice, another thread in life's rich tapestry?
I'd like to go on record to anyone who isn't one of my regular readers: I am very judgemental. I think one has a moral and practical duty to be judgemental. Any society in which the elites shrink from judging and severely sanctioning irresponsible reproductive and child-raising behavior is a society headed for severe decay.
Here we enter the realm of culture and ideas. For it is necessary not only to believe that it is economically feasible to behave in the irresponsible and egotistical fashion that I have described, but also to believe that it is morally permissible to do so. And this idea has been peddled by the intellectual elite in Britain for many years, more assiduously than anywhere else, to the extent that it is now taken for granted. There has been a long march not only through the institutions but through the minds of the young. When young people want to praise themselves, they describe themselves as "nonjudgmental." For them, the highest form of morality is amorality.
There has been an unholy alliance between those on the Left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the Right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions, an idea eagerly adopted by the Left in precisely those areas where it does not apply. Thus people have a right to bring forth children any way they like, and the children, of course, have the right not to be deprived of anything, at least anything material. How men and women associate and have children is merely a matter of consumer choice, of no more moral consequence than the choice between dark and milk chocolate, and the state must not discriminate among different forms of association and child rearing, even if such non-discrimination has the same effect as British and French neutrality during the Spanish Civil War.
The consequences to the children and to society do not enter into the matter: for in any case it is the function of the state to ameliorate by redistributive taxation the material effects of individual irresponsibility, and to ameliorate the emotional, educational, and spiritual effects by an army of social workers, psychologists, educators, counselors, and the like, who have themselves come to form a powerful vested interest of dependence on the government.
So while my patients know in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, and worse than wrong, they are encouraged nevertheless to do it by the strong belief that they have the right to do it, because everything is merely a matter of choice. Almost no one in Britain ever publicly challenges this belief.
The belief goes unchallenged in America in the vast bulk of cases. When is the last time you saw on some TV news show a story about a poor single woman with children and how she deserves our sympathy and support? By contrast, how often have you heard on a TV show about some single woman with children and how it was irresponsible for her to have children out of wedlock by a succession of men, how it was irresponsible to have these men live with her and abuse her children, and how it was irresponsible of these men to knock her up? I think we see about 1000 times more stories about how our hearts should bleed for specific poor folks than we do about how specific poor folks are acting grossly irresponsibly.
Think about modern American liberals. You will hear them go on about, say the urgent need to improve the quality of public education or medical insurance coverage. The pretense of welfare state liberals is that they care more than conservatives do about human suffering. But what is the biggest cause of human suffering in America today? Irresponsible and even quite evil choices made by tens of millions of people about their own reproduction and children. The welfare state and the message delivered by liberal media and liberal academic institutions have encouraged this irresponsible behavior by failing to judge it and failing to punish it. The welfare state can't substitute for responsible individual decision-making and individual ethical behavior.
Modern liberalism has become a secular religion replete with a system of taboos. One of those taboos concerns reproduction. Liberals hold that reproduction is purely a personal choice and that to argue otherwise is fascistic or oppressive. Yet reproduction is not just about the whims and passing desires of the woman who gets pregnant. A birth produces a baby that is entirely helpless and in need of responsible and burdensome care for many years. Even during pregnancy smoking, drug use, alcohol use, and nutritional choices (to say nothing of abusive boyfriends) can all exact heavy tolls on the future baby. So it strikes me as absurd to argue that whether to reproduce is a purely personal decision. Irresponsible reproductive decisions mean that the baby and the rest of society will pay for many years for those decisions.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 November 21 01:04 AM Civilizations Decay|