Merry Christmas, and for you all who prefer "Happy Holidays," okay. Holidays or not, we're screwed. Here's the anatomy of the perfect storm that has taken us down...
There is a basic human moral code. Cross-cultural taboos are witness to the fact that the human race has a sense of right and wrong. Religious people codified this in commandments, teachings, laws and regulations; even threats of eternal damnation. Secular people are no less rigid. They just come up with utilitarian reasons for why bad behavior is punished. But here's the fact: like it or not anarchy never catches on. It's a matter of the survival of the tribe. Call it God's way or the truth of what we became in our evolutionary ancestral home; it all comes out the same: we need rules.
- What has led to the massive levels of fraud on Wall Street, as well as the technically illegal kind of actual fraud, wherein one prankster walked off with $130 million and another with $50 billion?
- What has led to America blithely undertaking a wrong war in Iraq, for bogus reasons having elected a bogus president?
- Why are educational values sliding?
- Why are divorce rates amongst even so-called born-again Christians, as high as amongst so-called atheists?
- Why are the majority of African-American children being raised by single parents?
- Why are the mostly white, over-educated white collar jerks who ran our economy into the mud taking bonuses?
- Why are white rural kids killing themselves with methamphetamine addiction?
- Why have governmental environmental officials become so corrupt that they are little more than shills for oil companies, car companies and mining companies? (Easy answer -- they're Republicans!)
- Why in the midst of global warming are there still jerks out there driving Hummers and SUVs because they think they can "afford it"?
- Why did it become "okay" to torture prisoners?
- Why have the banks betrayed us?
- Why are there idiots collecting assault weapons?
- Why are we a nation of overweight porkers, incapable of losing weight who may well have shorter life spans than our parents (declines in smoking aside)?
- Why can't we save money but have run up personal and national debt to the point that our currency is plunging in real value worldwide?
- Why are we putting children on prescription drugs for disciplinary and/or behavioral problems?
- Why can't we keep our credit cards in our wallets and our cocks in our pants?
The answer is: the worst of the progressive movement and the worst of the conservative, and especially evangelical/born-again movement, converged into a weird symbiosis wherein even though they represent polar opposite extremes in our culture they have in fact created a perfect environment for our perfect storm of self-destruction.
Both the left and right have believed their own bullshit and taken their private "religious" theologies as gospel.
The left tried to de-link personal moral sexual and family-related behavior, for instance staying married for the sake of raising stable families, not screwing around, just because you wanted to... from what they considered to be public policy issues. They forgot that when the general atmosphere of a culture slides to license in the personal realm something snaps in the public realm.
On the right, and especially in the evangelical/fundamentalist community, people de-linked the biblical call to love your neighbor as yourself from public responsibility. In other words, government programs that require higher taxation, regulation and benefits packages (we loosely call welfare) were de-linked from private theology wherein the gospel calls for the care of the poor, the earth and the other. Greed was sanctified.
On the left, the mantra -- post-sixties -- became go to bed with anyone, follow your pleasure and don't put up with any hassles when it comes to, for instance, being faithful to your wife or husband and/or sticking a tough marriage out for the sake of your children.
On the right, the mantra -- post-Reagan -- became, the market is supreme, freedom equals consumerism.
On the left, the cry went up, it's my body I'll do what I want!
On the right, the the cry went up, this is my stuff I'll do what I want!
When personal responsibility and private taboos crumble on the one hand, and when public responsibility and taboos crumble on the other hand, the mix becomes toxic. Everyone is into what works for "me" but not what works for "us."
President-elect Obama is going to have to try and reverse this trend by calling out both the progressive and conservative elements of our society to get back to first principles and a willingness to sacrifice. That means that we may be entering an era where taboos both personal and public become fashionable again. I hope so.
We've gone to the last stop on a road paved with the mantra that no one is allowed to judge anyone else's behavior. The result is a culture that drives whatever vehicles suits it and global warming be damned. The result is a culture in which divorce is easy and common and all the definitive studies which prove unequivocally that the children of divorce, abandonment and instability bear lifelong scars, that in turn directly affect their ability to function in society, be damned (not to mention the economic problems of divorced families, particularly women, those who raise the children.)
(Note: How ironic that the right wing of the "Christian" community is taking a "stand" against gay marriage when gay marriage hurts no one and shows a salutary commitment to stability and the future, and when all studies show that the real marriage meltdown, in terms of actual harm to society that is measurable, is our tolerance of "no-fault" heterosexual divorce and its effect on kids and the economy.)
If the Obama presidency is to succeed, it's going to have to go far beyond policy and laws. President-elect Obama is going to have to become an evangelist.
The new president is going to have to call religious people back to a consistent lifestyle based on what they say they believe. No more raping the earth by "evangelicals" and stomping on social justice programs in the name of market oriented "freedom." No more bashing gay people in the name of Jesus. No more hate for immigrants.
And to secular "progressive" America: no more lying to ourselves. Irresponsible men who father children, irresponsible women who walk away from families, cynical moral anarchists hurt the whole of our society. Just ask a teacher (my son teaches high school) if the children of solid two parent-caring families do better than the children of single or divorced parents or single moms.
The real problem is that we've all been lying to ourselves and pretending that the 10,000 years of human history teaches us nothing. We've been pretending that somehow our society is exempt from everything human beings have learned about the need for order, structure and moral taboos.
The criminology idea of the "broken window" (small crimes create a climate for big ones) applies to our lax moral decisions; from winking at vast amounts paid the executive thieves running the hedge fund companies and banks, to winking at the idiots in the entertainment industry and cultural establishment who have sold a generation on the idea that following your cock is always a fine idea, to winking at the fact that people who can't stop eating, won't save money, run up debts and run out on their spouses are earth and culture-destroying menaces. These are not "private" choices. They are what ruin schools, make health care unaffordable , destroy the economy and create kids who barely can function. We all pay. And we're all guilty as hell, if of nothing else, of gross complicity by our silence.
From Wall Street to the listless youths failing in our schools, to the churning insane casino industry, to the tens of thousands of marinas filled with all those useless stupid pleasure craft, to our highways clogged with vehicles with one passenger, to our broken railroads, to every faithless man and woman who hasn't put their children first, we have, taken together, achieved the unthinkable: we've put at risk the most powerful country on earth and perhaps destroyed our future.
I hope that President-elect Obama can call us back to our senses, coerce us into better behavior, preach, cajole, convince and -- if need be -- force us to look at what we've done to ourselves. It's time to admit our wrongs, repent and convert to new ways.
Here is Obama's message shorthand: stop screwing around!
Or he could put it this way...
There is no free lunch be it in the classroom, the bedroom or the boardroom. Grown ups know this. So do grown up civilizations. Grow up!
Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy For God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back (Now in Paperback).