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Friday, January 21, 2005

Speaking of El Rushbo . . .

I wrote a couple of interesting (yes, I do say so myself) columns about the Maharishi for American Spectator Online during the controversy that followed the talker's comments about Donovan McNabb. The short version is that he was wrong about McNabb, but the witch hunt atmosphere that followed was overblown and a symptom of a society that has lost its sense of real sin. You can read the first one here and the second one here. Here's an excerpt from the first piece:

I have a theory about why Rush’s brief remarks have unleashed so much antagonism. Many will believe it’s just about liberals trying to bring a big conservative down. That’s part of the story, but there’s something larger underneath. Every society must have taboos. We need to know the difference between sins and virtues so we can order our lives and live in community. In short, knowing what is right and wrong is the key to social order.

America has witnessed a radical re-ordering of our conception of what is good and bad. Socially useful taboos like unmarried cohabitation, having children out of wedlock, adultery, consumption of pornography, and divorce have all been transformed into acceptable activities through a powerful shove from the cultural elite and correspondingly widespread practice. G.K. Chesterton once famously complained about the rich preaching their vices to the poor and introducing them to ruin. He was right. The old sins aren’t sins any more and we’ve paid a certain price for that. Just ask any child of a single mother who hosts a series of transient males in the home.

But sins don’t disappear and leave a vacuum. We have a moral sense and we will exercise it on something. The ever-considerate cultural elite did not leave us empty-handed. Commandments they destroyed have been replaced by others more favorable to people of fashion. The sin that now stands center stage is the improperly crafted negative remark about anything having to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, or non-dominant religions.

When some unlucky soul crosses that line, it’s over. I’ll never forget the display of mass hatred and judgment I witnessed at a game between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves when John Rocker ran onto the field. The anger and disapproval that cascaded from the stands was a palpable force that lasted the entire time Rocker was on the field. Not surprisingly, the young reliever (beyond redemption, apparently) performed poorly and left the game fairly quickly. I was embarrassed to be there.

While the effect of this dynamic on individuals is devastating, the implications for public policy are worse. We now seem incapable of rational discourse. Instead, debate has been replaced by a series of hostile encounters and gotcha moments. We don’t talk to each other so much as we circle warily and look for a moment of weakness so we can gain leverage.

The cost is too high. We should refuse to pay it and look for another, more useful way to employ our moral judgment. The founders envisioned the clash of factions and a marketplace of ideas where truth would eventually emerge. Let’s have that instead of the despicable elementary school game that seems to be the rule of the day.

1 comment:

Jay D. Homnick said...

In the McNab case, Rush was exposing the double standard that liberals employ in favor of minorities. His contention was that McNab was getting a "pass" because people wanted so badly to see a black man succeed, something like the Jayson Blair situation.

Besides for the fact that he seems to be wrong about McNab, who would be good any hue, I think that he crossed the Buckley line in that situation. Buckley has written many times that Jews are entitled to extra leeway after the Holocaust; the fact is that blacks have been mistreated too recently in our history for us not to be disposed toward throwing them an extra break.

The reason why affirmative action is not the answer is because it is too destructive for a society to lose the standards that define its levels of achievement. Its secondary flaw is the fact that, as Thomas Sowell has demonstrated, it often traps a talented individual into being a bad Harvard student rather than a great Howard student. But cutting a Jayson Blair a bit of extra slack is an eminently defensible thing, and McNab, if you believe he is not GREAT, is certainly near-great enough that no one needs to apologize for trying to put some wind beneath his wings.

All that said, we still love Rush, and he should not have lost a job over that - but it was a boo-boo.