Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 6, 2000
A sharp decline in civil behaviour
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
On a CBC Radio forum about youth violence, a retired teacher spoke about how intensely he dislikes today's society, and how much better things were when he began teaching in 1948. "People had values then," he said.
A teenager promptly took the microphone to argue that young people today do indeed have values.
There was unintended irony in the example he cited to illustrate his point; that he and his school friends raised money to help a classmate who became an unwed mother. Not to say that this act of charity wasn't commendable, but I think easy acceptance of schoolgirl motherhood is part of the values depreciation the older gentleman lamented.
I wasn't born yet in 1948, but I do remember that the society I grew up in during the 1950s and '60s had a values consensus much preferable to what obtains today. I don't like Canadian society much these days either.
The praiseworthy values I recall included a dominant ethos of personal honour and honesty, high standards of sexual propriety, family loyalty, respect for order, other people and for oneself - something different from today's imbecile notion of "self-esteem" without merit or qualification. People did not always succeed in living up to these values, but nearly everyone affirmed them as ideals.
What changed? Behind the erosion of standards lay a concatenation of interwoven factors which were already quietly at work during the 1940s and '50s. - nascent television-culture being a salutary example.
However a prime agent of our social decay has been the popular but erroneous ideological notion that people should be protected from consequences. This assertion may spring from generous good intent, but it is based in sentimentality and weakness. Seeking to eliminate all unpleasant consequences is not necessarily a good thing.
If you put your hand on a hot stove, you will suffer a burn. That is an inevitable consequence governed by objective physical order, and it would be nonsensical to argue that there is anything "cruel" or "unjust" about it. We either accommodate ourselves to being careful around hot objects or we get burned.
There is also an objective moral order, however much liberal humanists strive to deny it, and painful consequences result when that order is ignored or defied. These consequences may indeed be hard and unpleasant, but they are no more "cruel" or "unfair" than getting burned when the physical order pertaining to temperatures is ignored.
Consequences are a good thing in general, although they may well be unpleasant or painful in the particular, because they impose an equilibrium rebalancing when natural laws - physical or moral - are breached. Attempting to defy these natural laws is always destructive and ultimately futile.
For at least the past 40 years, our governments and culture-makers have preoccupied themselves with protecting people from consequences of not only ill fortune, but also their own willful misconduct. They have sought to accommodate moral and economic failure without moving to address first causes.
Result: Kids can goof off in school and still count on getting "social promotions" and eventually graduating. Various governments' promiscuous distribution of material aid with no demand for reciprocal responsibility fosters long-term welfare dependency and rewards indolence.
Teenage girls can get pregnant with the knowledge that the state will provide them with either an abortion or welfare support. Teenage murderers are back on the streets in three to five years with no permanent criminal record. Children under 13 can commit any crime without worrying about significant legal consequences at all.
Has this systematic exercise in pain avoidance resulted in a better society and a better life for Canadians? Is your neighbourhood a better, more civil place to live? Do you feel safer on the streets? Is there less violent crime? Is the estate of the inner city and rural underclasses any less harsh?
Are kids happier and safer than they were 30 years ago? Are rampant levels of abortion and teen pregnancy a desirable thing? Are the products of our educational system more literate and skilled? Any honest observer would be obliged to answer most or all of these questions with a resounding "No!"
In his book The Trap, British financier Sir James Goldsmith notes that: "the money spent on poverty programs since the 1960s could have bought the entire assets of all the Fortune 500 companies, plus virtually all U.S. farmland." And what do the social engineers have to show for their prodigality with public funds?
Consider this: The astronomical rise in government spending on social programs and the ascendancy of social engineering policies designed to protect people from the natural consequences of unwise and self-destructive behaviours has pretty much tracked the decline in civility, decency and public safety over the same time period.
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