Perhaps society’s answer to some things should simply be “No. Because we say so.” I think that a culture should at times assert its collective will, impose the communal understanding of right and wrong, and not apologize. “Some things,” a people should say to the moral undercurrents welling from below, “you will not inflict on us.”
But we have forgotten, irreversibly I suspect, the virtues of “Because we say so.”
A question: Do you want young children, or yourself, to be exposed to grotesque scatology on television, to explicit copulation (“Daddy, what are they doing?“), romanticized use of drugs, garish homosexuality, and bloody godawful violence?
It can be harder than one might think to give a satisfactory answer. Your opponent will marshal meretricious arguments: We should not teach our children that sex is wrong, as doing so might lead to repression. Sex and homosexuality after all are natural. (So are cholera and sun-ripened peaches. So what?) Sordid movies are merely being realistic, showing the world as it is. To allow censorship would be to transgress the First Amendment, leading shortly to repression of the classics of literature and, eventually, to control of all forms of expression (presumably making pornography the rock sustaining our way of life.) And so on.
The answer should be simply, “No. You will not put these things on television, because we say so.”
Much of the unpleasantness of modern life occurs because we will say “no” to almost nothing. For example, there exists, most unfortunately, a puerile nonentity, purporting to be a singer, who with gut-wrenching cuteness calls himself Eminem. His lyrics are sufficiently repellent that countries debate whether to give him a visa. He is simply a societal brat, and should be treated as such. Yet in the United States, committees of high import debate solemnly the merits of his spewings, worrying greatly about Art and freedom of expression.
In 1950, when the society had a backbone, any radio station to which he had carried his records would have said, “No,” and called the police. We don’t. We lack the conviction. We cannot utter the aggregate “no.” And so the bilge washes over us.
Why does this happen?
It happens because, instead of deriving law from morality, we now derive morality from law. In a healthy society, laws enforce morality; they do not dictate it. In America today, the opposite is true.
If the courts say we must listen to tedious obscenity ? why, then we must. If the courts say that we must offer condoms to children in school, eschew prayer, tolerate any and all vileness, permit our daughters to get abortions without so much as notifying their parents, we obediently do so. Is there anything the courts cannot make us do?
I doubt it.
Recently a boy in Washington was expelled from high school. Yes. It seems the school issued him a condom, and caught him praying for a chance to use it.
(OK. It probably didn’t happen. But it’s true anyway.)
The problem with being too much a nation of laws is that whoever controls the laws then controls the nation. Laws by their nature are endlessly arguable. A case, more or less plausible, can be made for anything, and for its opposite. This means that a judiciary, having an agenda, yet accountable to no one, can come to any conclusion it chooses. By untying law from the anchor of morality, we give up control over our lives.
The objection will be made that that imposing the morality of the many will result in the oppression of the few. But we now have the oppression of the many by the morality of the few. And perhaps the depravity of the few is such as to need repressing. When all has been said, the question remains: Somebody’s morals are going to be imposed. Ours, or theirs?
A healthy society need not be intolerant by virtue of imposing the collective morality. A culture can, and should, admit of positions between “yes” and “no.” Consider homosexuality. A society may agree that if homosexuals choose to be discreet, then society in return will leave them alone ? that they will suffer no persecution or penalties, that gay bars discreetly run will be discreetly ignored. The compromise is a useful one. It permits homosexuals to live largely as they wish, yet heterosexuals will not have thrust on them practices that they find repugnant.
The compromise can be maintained by the public will, just as (so far) the tacit injunction against riding naked on the subway can be maintained. Some things you don’t do. Logical argument fails against either. Why not ride naked?
Once society cedes its moral authority to a court of law, then all things become possible. Consider the logical progression:
In any large city, there are clubs of hobbyist sadomasochists who gather in curious costumes to tie each other up and paddle each other. It is done discreetly and harms no one. Nothing needs to be done about it.
But note that exactly the same arguments that justify homosexuality in the schools apply to sadomasochism. It’s natural, prominent people do it, it’s a lifestyle. If children in grade school are to be taught that the one is merely a choice of lifestyle, why not both? We now have books in schools with titles like, “Bobby Has Two Daddies.” Why not, “Sally’s Daddy Wears A Leash”? Why not S&M clubs in school, as there are now gay and lesbian clubs?
Because we say so.
Why not pedophilia? There exists (with a website) an outfit called NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association, whose members believe they are entitled to engage in anal intercourse with your nine-year-old son. They aren’t kidding, and they begin to get support from advanced minds in academia.
Here too a society that cannot simply say “no” finds itself at the mercy of logic-choppers. Proponents of pedophilia might (and do) argue that it is natural, that our repugnance for it is merely a cultural artifact, a product of repressive patriarchal Christianity. The ancient Greeks engaged in it. Our designation of 15 or 18 as the age of consent is purely arbitrary; a boy of nine is human, has civil rights, and can choose. Anyway, pedophilia is harmful only because we teach our children that it is shameful, instead of teaching them that it is a natural celebration of life and love. Those who have tried it know it to be a warm and loving, etc.
The answer is “No. Because we say so.” Some things you don’t do. This is one of them.
We just can’t say it.