Monday, October 28, 2013

He's a Lying Son-of-a Bitch: Rotting the Soul of a Nation


The casual reader, seeing the title of this essay, will probably (and in short order) supply one or more names to fit the specification.  He may also expect the writer to name the best-known offender and his acolytes; he'd be wrong. In this essay I set out illustrate the general and alarming erosion of American civil society's moral and ethical standards.  Particularly in regard to the virtue of honesty in civil society, and by extension, government..

Time was -- within the living memory of some -- that American society was seen to organize itself around certain norms that were widely affirmed if not always followed.  Perhaps the greatest of virtues was honesty as measured by reliably speaking truth.  Persons who stepped across lines -- whether found out or not -- did not feel comfortable doing so; there were built-in monitoring mechanisms with now-quaint names, like conscience, guilt, honor and shame. [1]

And there were pragmatic considerations.  Only old cars and frame houses, as a saying goes, are harder to maintain than a lie. And one depended on the soundness of his reputation as an honorable person to make his way in his community.  To boot, there was the real worry about social blackballing: ostracism.  If one ever became known among his peers as a "lying son-of-a-bitch", he was through; his social and commercial life was over.  Time to pack up and move to a new neighborhood.  The more distant the better.
But, with the great rise of mobility -- especially after WWII -- neighborhoods and the broader communities they formed became less coherent and stable.  Individuals and families in cities, towns and suburbs alike became more anonymous.  Often strangers whose ethical fides were unknown.  More recently, the almost religious devotion to multiculturalism has greatly weakened levels of trust in communities.  Add to that the government's use of power everywhere to force associations that are not voluntary, and we now have an America that may be fragmented beyond remedy. 

Today, in government, old media and in large rent-seeking corporations and banks, lying, misleading, dissembling, deceiving, are routinely seen as social, business and political skills that are requisite for advancement in the acquisition of status and power.  Gone in many of these institutions is any sense of shame or even embarrassment.  Indeed truth, itself has been re-defined as something personal, individual and malleable -- not fixed. universal and verifiable.  Marxists [2] would have us believe that truth is merely an instrument of persecution and oppression directed against the have-not classes.  Worse, what the West understood as truth from the Greeks through the Enlightenment has been abandoned wholesale by the Left in favor of the quest for power; all things are politicized.  A general contempt for traditional moral and ethical values and a disregard for truth, of course, were of a piece.  But dishonesty pays.

Civil societies -- by definition -- embrace norms (rules) that are designed to benefit all its members, guaranteeing the general security and prosperity of society. [3a, 3b]  The success of the group requires that individuals and sub-groups exercise those measures of self-denial required to affirm and abide by the rules. In a robust civil society social, economic and political exchanges are facilitated by the willingness of persons to extend to others the presumption of mutual and reciprocal good faith.  A presumption that in time becomes habitual and taken for granted.  Oops!

Civil societies, in their formative stages, maintain high levels of vigilance, and they sanction violations of norms with predictable certainty.  Public condemnation (shaming), expulsion or imprisonment under law  are the consequences when one is found in violation of norms.  Successful mature societies tend to become complacent, often assuming that adherence to the rules is universal; worse, they become more tolerant of violations.  Under an increasingly relaxed regime of standards and accountability, opportunities abound for those

It is hard to know how deeply the cultural revolution that began in the late 50's has rotted out the moral and ethical values that were for generations fundamental to American civil society.  Or to know how far it has penetrated into all levels of society.  Opinion polls are not reassuring, nor is the corruption of public education.

Civil Society and the Power of the Big Lie
The Big Lie has power precisely because it ignores (as if it were non-existent) the very core of society's shared knowledge, beliefs and values.  If a provocateur's argument begins from the confident assumption that truth -- or gravity. or the earth itself -- does not exist, where, how, is one to begin to refute it?  The sheer confrontational audacity of the Big Lie is designed to frustrate, intimidate and demoralize. To make us question and doubt all that we know and believe; to put us permanently on the defensive. [4]  It has proved remarkably successful, especially when it is espoused by large numbers of people among us.  The Big Lie is crafted by the cynical few and endorsed and repeated by a cohort of true believers, "useful idiots".

The lying son-of-a-bitch has always been with us.  He was usually found to be an individual and not -- outside of shady politics or organized crime -- part of an organization.  In earlier times society had effective ways of dealing with him.  What to me seems different today is that the once broadly-held mutual expectation of reciprocal honesty by the American polity (and in the West, generally) has eroded in some circles -- all but disappeared.  Especially among the political Left.  The lying son-of-a-bitch has become legion.  That possibility has always been a vulnerability in civil societies based on mutual trust.  Those societies that have been successful over extended periods become complacent in the belief that they no longer need to police themselves, and that invites the infiltration of its enemies.  That structural weakness was presciently noted in the First Century B.C. by Marcus Tullius Cicero:

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious.  But it cannot survive treason from within.  An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.  For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.  He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.  A murderer is less to fear.  The traitor is the plague. 

I fear that over time we have come to tolerate the lying son-of-a-bitch as an integral feature in the political sphere that we no longer hold him to account nor expect that anyone else will.  What Cicero may not have known, or simply chose not to say, is that when our traitors become sufficiently numerous to acquire political power they arrogantly cease being covert.  Unashamedly and at every opportunity they seek the media spotlight.  We see them on television, hear them on radio and read about them in newspapers and magazines.  In some circles they are superstars.  Far from the time when he'd be run out of town the lying son-of-a-bitch has come out of his closet with a vengeance, openly infecting the body politic. Period!

1.  In my experience most Americans remain essentially honest, but they are generally ignored by legacy media.  They don't call attention to themselves, and media deems them unworthy of coverage.  Which leaves us with the impression that ordinary men are as mendacious, incompetent and corrupt as government leadership that dominate adoring headlines. 
2.  From its earliest days socialism held factual argument in contempt, favoring attacks upon critics over persuasion by argument.  Marx and Engels knew that their views could not be defended in the arena of debate: "[They] never tried to refute their opponents with argument.  They insulted, ridiculed, derided, slandered and traduced them, and in the use of these methods their followers are not less expert."  Alinsky was not born in a vacuum, his ideas not new.  The above quotation is taken from Ludwig von Mises' introduction to Socialism.
3a.  What is civil society?  One of the best definitions I have found is this: "Civil society is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society as opposed to the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state's political system) and commercial institutions of the market."  Cf. Wikipedia.
3b.  In America the model of civil society is replicated in the peoples' compact in the formation of constitutional government; the barest minimum of liberty was surrendered in exchange for the protection of government.
4.  I often allow the passage of weeks or more between essays.  I joke that the environment is simply too "target-rich" to know where to begin -- which outrage outweighs the rest?.  It would be more accurate to say that I'm overwhelmed by the unrelenting destructiveness of the Left's agenda. My reaction is triggered  by design.  The best exposition of the psychology of the Big Lie and related strategies of intimidation that I have read can be found in David Kupelian's book, How Evil Works.  I warmly recommend it to readers.

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