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Arnold Ahlert / May 5, 2015

Running on Empty Is Unsustainable

Baltimore, Baltimore, Baltimore. In the space of a single week we’ve heard every theory, every rationalization, every speculation, good, bad and ugly, about what happened and why. Yet if truth be told, Baltimore is a symbol of something far more unsettling than the painful and largely inaccurate attempt to turn it into a metaphor about the racial divide that besets America. I say largely inaccurate because three of the cops charged in the case are black, including the officer charged with the most serious offense, second degree depraved murder. Yet there is a genuine divide afflicting America. It is the one between those who believe there is an over-arching code of morals to which society must adhere, and those who believe in the polar opposite, more familiarly known as anything goes. Quite simply there are millions of Americans who either don’t know the difference between good and evil, and right and wrong — or simply don’t give a damn. In their universe, life is an ever-evolving series of rationalizations allowing every type of execrable behavior to be justified.

Baltimore, Baltimore, Baltimore. In the space of a single week we’ve heard every theory, every rationalization, every speculation, good, bad and ugly, about what happened and why. Yet if truth be told, Baltimore is a symbol of something far more unsettling than the painful and largely inaccurate attempt to turn it into a metaphor about the racial divide that besets America. I say largely inaccurate because three of the cops charged in the case are black, including the officer charged with the most serious offense, second degree depraved murder. Yet there is a genuine divide afflicting America. It is the one between those who believe there is an overarching code of morals to which society must adhere, and those who believe in the polar opposite, more familiarly known as anything goes.

Quite simply there are millions of Americans who either don’t know the difference between good and evil, and right and wrong — or simply don’t give a damn. In their universe, life is an ever-evolving series of rationalizations allowing every type of execrable behavior to be justified.

Race and class distinctions are irrelevant. While the looting, stealing and arson occurring in Baltimore are far more overt, the bipartisan effort to bankrupt the nation, or the machinations of corporate and media titans to unjustly enrich themselves and deliberately fan the flames of societal discord, respectively, are just as damaging to the nation — if not more so.

All of it reflects the flowering of two major phenomena: moral relativism and the “everything is a shade of gray” bankruptcy that attends it, and nonjudgmentalism, which is the equally bankrupt anti-intellectual concept that abets it. For decades Americans have been told to “do their own thing” absent the critical corollary that must accompany it in any rational society, as in living with the consequences of one’s own choices, good or bad. Never before in the history of our nation have more Americans been determined to blame their own problems on someone else. And never before have they been so assiduously taught that anything resembling value judgments are tantamount to bigotry, homophobia, misogyny and a host of other epithets designed to do one thing above all else: denigrate traditional American culture and elevate the free-for-all society we are rapidly becoming.

Moreover, any dissent from the free-for-all mindset must be suppressed, even to the point of utter fatuousness. Thus in the case of Baltimore, we are advised that the use of the word “thug” must be discarded, lest those who exploited a legitimate protest to loot, burn and destroy their own neighborhood take umbrage, along with their equally compromised media and political abettors. For those unfamiliar with George Orwell’s “1984,” completely removing certain words from use by the masses was considered a critical element for maintaining control in the totalitarian state that novel portrays.

The bastardization of meaning goes hand in hand with such removal. Thus, for example, a “bum” or a “drug addict” becomes a “homeless” person, removing the stigma of the aforementioned bad choices. An “illegal alien” becomes an “undocumented immigrant,” implying some lack of procedure is the primary culprit, rather than the mockery of law. “Islamic terrorist” becomes “insurgent” lest the true nature of who threaten us engenders discomfort among those who make it up as they go along.

The center isn’t holding. Human beings are quite capable of making excuses for anything, but it is impossible to remain in a “value-free” nonjudgmental state. The brain isn’t hard-wired that way and something will inevitably fill the gap. In modern day America, much of that gap is filled with a series of ongoing distractions, highlighted by the inordinate amount of time people dedicate to their cellphones and computers. That such time competes with human interaction and perhaps far more importantly, quiet introspection, is extremely troubling. But it is nothing new: The term “bread and circuses” has been around since the Roman Empire, when similar distractions were used to obscure the cultural decline. A decline that ultimately led to the downfall of that civilization.

We are heading in the same direction, led by the amoralists who use political correctness as a hammer to suppress anything that threatens their hegemony. Those Americans who refuse to be intimidated are targeted for ostracization by the self-aggrandizers who trumpet their determination not to let society’s clock be “turned back” to the “dark” days that preceded our current state of evolvement.

Where is that so-called evolvement? It’s certainly not evincing itself in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that shows 96 percent of Americans believe we’re headed for a summer of additional race riots in a reprise of the 1960s, the 60 percent who have no trust in the media, the 73 percent who despise Congress, or the 61 percent who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Wrong direction? I submit much of the nation is doing little more than marking time, careening from one vapid moment to the next, because the alternative is too painful. What alternative? An honest assessment of ourselves — absent the denial, the rationalizations, the excuses and the host of other roadblocks that make such assessments virtually impossible.

And those assessments become exceedingly difficult in a society where rational thought has given way to emotion. For those familiar with American history, it is exactly that kind of societal flip-flop feared most by our Founding Fathers. It is why they made the process of wholesale change so difficult to achieve, be it with the separation of powers clause in the Constitution, or amending the Constitution itself. Such deliberation stands in stark contrast to our current society, where anyone resisting wholesale change must be denigrated for, among other things, “clinging” to their guns and religion.

Compared to what? Like many Americans, I have my issues with certain aspects of religion, but the current determination by so many to render it anachronistic — when they’re not busy attempting to eliminate it outright — is a fool’s errand. Nature abhors a vacuum, and as I have theorized on previous occasions that vacuum has been filled primarily by lawyers and therapists. Lawyers and therapists who have tossed right and wrong on the ash heap of history in favor of legal and illegal and well and unwell, respectively, in all their nonjudgmental glory. Thus it is no accident we have become the most litigious nation on earth, approximately 61.5 million Americans are afflicted with a mental illness in a given year, or that one-in-five Americans regularly ingest mind-altering drugs prescribed by their doctors.

Perhaps religion isn’t so bad after all. It certainly brings one element to the party that lawyers and therapists do not, namely that each individual is not the center of his own universe, another trend that might explain the avalanche of self-entitlement that arises from the elevation of the self above all. There is little doubt that we have become quite adept at chafing over a number of religion-based restraints, all of which are based on a notion anathema to the terminally self-absorbed, namely that there is something far bigger than the self in control of the universe. And that’s when we’re not jettisoning such restraints entirely, even as we collectively pat ourselves on the back for our aforementioned “evolvement.”

Sorry, but from where I sit, it’s not looking so forward-thinking in a number of places, or among a wide range of people trying to convince us that social utopia is right around the corner, provided we let them do that thinking for us. That such overweening arrogance is taken seriously by anyone, much less millions, is a sign of the times.

Yet I remain hopeful. As the saying goes, it is often calmest right before the storm, and the storm I envision is the one where enough people finally conclude an anything goes society is an incremental journey of increasing self-indulgence leading directly to oblivion. An oblivion where truth, honor, decency and reality itself are put on equal footing with lies, dishonor and unrelenting decadence. One where utter inanity and genuine insight are given equal consideration. Such a level of denial is unsustainable, and I remain a firm believer in the words of Winston Churchill: “Americans will always do the right thing — after exhausting all the alternatives.”

I believe the point of exhaustion is close at hand.

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