Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

02/18/2008 (10:00 am)

The Screeching Inversion

I was reading a New York Times article discussing efforts within the Democratic party to avoid a bitterly contentious convention, when I came across this comment regarding Al Gore’s role in settling disputes:

Several allies said that because of Mr. Gore’s bruising defeat in 2000 presidential voting in Florida, he would have the credibility with Democrats to carry the message that the will of the people should be respected.

The sad irony here is that the Florida 2000 vote illustrated the precise opposite of what the Democrats claim. Gore took deliberate, cynical action to destroy the public’s confidence in the voting process in a vain attempt to change the outcome of an election he knew he had lost. I can think of no action more dismissive of the will of the people than to attempt deliberately to change the outcome of an election that’s been settled. His efforts to discard absentee ballots of military personnel over technicalities that had never been a problem in previous elections (the lack of a certified post office on board ship, for example) further illustrates his cynicism. And yet, this cynical effort earns him credence as a defender of the people’s will among Democrats.

This is an example of a cultural phenomenon I’ve come to call the screeching inversion. The short version of the screeching inversion is that the most immature among us get to pretend that they’re moral paragons, while the most mature are treated as moral pariahs, simply because the immature screech louder and a lot more often. Thus, in a morally deteriorating society, evil gets tagged as good, and good, evil.

Here’s how it works:

Decent, mature people show tolerance toward their adversaries, treating them with respect and arguing points with them reasonably. You only hear them complain about corruption when there’s genuine evidence of it. Immature people, however, constantly hurl accusations against their adversaries, calling them cheats, liars, corrupt, and the like; it’s characteristic of the immature to blame other people for their failures.

In a healthy society, immaturity is recognized for what it is, and mostly ignored. However, if society has deteriorated to the point that the immature equal or outnumber the mature, and if the immature congregate on one side of an issue or in one party, over time the stream of invective takes on a substance of its own; the constant accusations become evidence in themselves of the presence of corruption among the mature.

Here in America, the constant, irrational accusations by Democrats against Republicans has created the impression, particularly among Democrats but also uncomfortably common among independent voters, that Democrats play fair but Republicans cheat; that Democrats are tolerant, Republicans intolerant; that Democrats care about the poor, while Republicans dismiss them; that Democrats defend the Constitution, while Republicans ignore it; etc.

The accusations, themselves, have become increasingly irrational, to the point that a huge percentage of the populace is convinced that the Bush administration either planned the 9/11 attacks or knew about them in advance and deliberately let them happen, even though there’s not the slightest evidence of either. The list of unsupported, unsupportable accusations against Republicans has grown long: Diebold, Halliburton, “lies about Iraq,” “blood for oil,” “Bush=Hitler,” etc. Democrats have taken to calling for and wishing for the President’s assassination. Michelle Malkin wrote a book about the derangement of the Democrats, and lists relevant posts on her blog under headings like “unhinged,” “moonbats,” “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” and other categories that document a culture of immaturity gone berserk in their hatred of all things Republican.

Of course, this is all exacerbated by near-unbroken Democratic control of news reporting in the US, with the result that nearly all news is interpreted in the light of Democrats’ point of view. Examining the topic of corruption in Congress, for example, reveals a pattern of the press trumpeting every Republican foible, while allowing Democrats caught in some scandal to escape unremarked.

There have been several, corrupt political machines in America, usually operating in large cities: Tammany Hall in New York, the Prendergast machine in St. Louis, the Daley machine in Chicago, the Rizzo machine in Philadelphia, etc. These have several things in common, but the most notable is that they’re all Democrats. There is no such thing, in American history, of a large, urban, Republican, corrupt political machine. Facts are stubborn things. And yet, I occasionally hear some voter exclaim that “all the cheating seems to be from the Republicans.”

The relation between the screeching inversion and personal immaturity suggests that the deterioration of a culture is somehow related to a failure of parenting. Children raised properly treat other people with respect, and accept blame for their own role in any failure; the behavior that leads to the inversion is classic, immature behavior. In our culture, the explosion of immaturity seems related to the generation raised under the guidance of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who described his approach as a practical application of the theories of John Dewey and Sigmund Freud, two men I regard as destroyers of Western civilization. The ill-mannered youth of the sixties has become the Unhinged Left of the 21st century, and the air is filled with screeching.

I suspect that the willingness of a people to be misled by demagogues is related to the screeching inversion, as well. This could explain the frankly ecstatic reaction to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, remarkable in its fervor and its absence of substance. There isn’t a business card’s width of difference between Obama’s platform and Clinton’s, and both simply support classical liberal approaches, but Obama’s followers exhibit a lot more excitement, mostly because of his rhetoric of hope. I think they’re exhibiting signs of Bush Derangement, and thinking Obama represents the opposite of the Evil Republican Administration.

It will be interesting, a decade or more from now, to compare our culture to 1920s Germany, which I suspect underwent a similar cultural deterioration. I’ll take a look at it.

In the meantime, the screeching inversion does not justify counter-screeching; descending to the level of the immature merely compounds the problem, which is why Ann Coulter’s sarcasm, while entertaining, troubles me. It’s accurate to talk about liberals gone berserk, but it must remain as precise as possible, lest we lend ammunition to those who thrive on moral equivalence to justify their own, continued insanity.

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