Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Spring is Sprung

with 3 comments

One of the problems with writing this blog when I am finishing a Gregor is that I often find myself wondering–when I’ve actually got the time to write it–if I’ve got anything left to say.

I tend to follow the things I’m interested in most of the time less when I’m trying to cut a huge Gregor manuscript, so that I’m aware, for instance, that there seem to have been a number of Republican primaries and that Mitt Romney has been winning them. 

I don’t, however, really know if that Means Something or not.

I have not been following the Trayvon Martin case, but from what I’ve heard it seems that Florida has a Stand Your Ground law that not only allows you to stand your ground but to chase after somebody who is running away and then to shoot him and call it self defense.

This does not make a whole lot of sense to me, since if somebody is running away from you he can’t still be threatening you, but I really haven’t been able to pay much attention, and I may be missing something here.

I know there was a shooting at some kind of religious college in California, but I don’t know who the shooter was or what his issue was.

It’s like that.

Most of the “issues” I hear about feel contrived.  All of the various essays and articles I read would be close to incomprehensible to the other side. 

So I wish to make a suggestion.

There is, at this point, only one issue.

That issue is this:  we have become a country where there is no longer any societywide consensus about what is moral and immoral.

One of the reasons the founders and most of the generations that followed them up until very recently had no problem with thinking that the separation of church and state was completely compatible with legislators defending their votes by referencing the Bible, or calling on religious motives and ideas for public policies, is that they lived in a world where no matter what your religion was, or even your lack of it, everybody agreed on what was moral and immoral.

On the big issues of today–homosexuality, birth control, abortion, and all the rest of it–Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Deists and even atheists all affirmed a nearly identical moral code. 

Susan B. Anthony and most of the rest of the suffragists thought abortion was something men forced on women, and no woman would ever want.  Homosexuality was considered simple vice and punishable by law, and that attitude was upheld just as strongly by secularists as by religious people.

What has happened to us, I think, is that we no longer agree on what is good and evil.

At the beginning of the country, there was exactly ONE  issue like this–slavery.

Now we have the same kind of divide about virtually everything as we once did about slavery. 

And because the divide is the kind of divide it is, we can no longer talk to each other in any straightforward way.  Liberals are convinced that conservatives are really secret racist thugs–after all, nobody believes all that talk about “limited” government,” it must be just a cover for returning to patriarchalism and white supremecy.  Conservatives are convinced that Liberals are just plain lying.  “Reproductive freedom?”  Give us a break. That’s just code for “it’s okay to kill the baby if it’s inconvienent for you–like if you’d rather go to college or if the baby is going to be born disabled and be too much of a burden for you to care for.”

A house divided against itself cannot stand, the man said, and he knew a lot more about all this kind of thing than I do.

I think the sentiment is real enough. 

Without a common moral code with common foundational principle, we cannot survive as a society. 

Eventually, we will settle on one.

Which one, or what kind of combination of the two, isn’t clear at the moment, but I think both sides live in terror that the winner will not be them.

This leads to a lot of public displays of what I’d call “assuming the conclusion.”

“Do you REALIZE,” a secular magazine I read regularly said a few months ago, “Mother Teresa herself said that her goal wasn’t to help the poor, it was to glorify God!”

Shock!  Horror!  The grass is green!

Yes, of course she said that.  That’s what Christians believe.

“Do you REALIZE,” I’ve heard on The O’Reilly Factor, “that progressive eductors believe that their job is to wean students away from the values of their parents?”

Shock!  Horror!  The sky is blue!

Of course they believe that.  They’ve believed it since Dewey, who wasn’t shy about saying it.

The Shock! Horror! is meant to cue the audience that what follows is complete beyond the pale–no decent person would ever believe that.

And that cues the audience that OUR moral code is the only ACTUAL moral code.

And the problem with that, of course, is that half the country doesn’t accept that code.

Whichever code it is.

Here we go, of course, because I’m blithering again.

But it seems to me that the issue is that we cannot resolve any of the other issues without resolving this one. 

And we’re not even trying.

Written by janeh

April 4th, 2012 at 11:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Spring is Sprung'

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  1. Jane has reached the same conclusion as Jonathan Haidt in “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divded by Politics and Religion”. The book is a bit dry but well written. Half the text is footnotes and bibliography.

    Haidt claims there are 6 foundations for morality. Liberals use only 2 of them and Conservatives use all 6. I strongly recommend it.


    4 Apr 12 at 3:59 pm

  2. This is why I keep advocating a three-state partition, and no one takes me seriously. When people agree on goals, they can have a perfectly rational debate on means based on historical examples and our understanding of human nature. We can even backtrack when something doesn’t work. But there is no way to decide through debate and discussion what our goal should be. “Trying” in such cases is generally done by censorship, mass arrests and the exile of intransigents. Then sometimes it gets REALLY ugly.

    Remember our previous national disagreement over morality? Five years of warfare, a quarter of the nation laid waste and hundreds of thousands dead. And we got off lightly. Consider Britain between the Bishops’ Wars and the Glorious Revolution, the Netherlands’ Eighty Years War and why our founders included names like Marion and Revere. And our sides are pretty evenly matched. I would much rather decide through diplomacy how far west of Philadephia and south of Washington Greater New England extends than have my surviving grandchildren agree on a ceasefire line.

    But let’s only use moral equivalency when appropriate. Christian churches don’t make any secret of glorifying God. The teachers’ unions aren’t much prone to quoting Dewey when they ask for higher salaries and greater autonomy. “We’ll make your children ashamed of you!” isn’t much of a vote-getter in most states.

    So far as I can see, when a political faction has a shared belief they’d rather not discuss in public, getting it out in the open is a civic duty–and fun!


    4 Apr 12 at 5:08 pm

  3. When we have a deep divide in our society such as that, we end up trying to solve it by violence, sometimes bringing down our society or even culture with the attempt. I often agree with those who say that western civilisation is decadent, which is just another way of saying it’s in the initial stages of decline. We as a society have no coherant view of ourselves or our aims, and my consolation is that the inevitable collapse, should we continue to be without even a sense of who we are and where we came from, will come after I’m dead. That’s somewhat modified by my concern that many of the prevailing views of the half I agree with least have and probably will, in the short term, continue to affect me and my life.

    The comfortable reassurance that all people respond to issues the way we do is becoming, not subtle, but pervasive. I watched part of a TV mystery show the other night which interested me so little I can’t remember the name. The heroes were trying to find someone who set off a bomb in a busy street. Their first (and wrong, to be fair) suspect was an real extremist. He had attacked Greenpeace. Now, while I do recall that Greenpeace has been physically attacked – and on one occasion, when it wasn’t even trying to force others to do things it’s way – and I don’t condone such things, I had to wonder. They’re setting this guy up as the obvious suspect in a terrorist bombing of random innocent civilians, and the best that they can come up with is that he’s anti-Greenpeace? But I expect for many people it worked, and not only because they are unaware of the types of tactics Greenpeace has used since its foundation. For them environmentalism is like fighting on a crusade for a pious medieval warrior, or opening the New World – especially the western US – to settlement and development and greater well-being for most citizens. It’s an unquestioned Good Thing. There’s no nuance in their views, and there’s often no awareness that other views are possible – so anti-environmentalism is good TV shorthand for ‘this is a bad guy’.


    5 Apr 12 at 6:43 am

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