Sunday, January 16, 2011

A deal I'll take

Last week Andrew Sullivan posted the following excerpt from a Stephen Budiansky post:


4. For as long as I can remember, I have heard conservatives blaming everything that is wrong in the universe, from violent crime to declining test scores to teen pregnancy to rude children to declining patriotism to probably athlete's foot  . . . upon Dr. Spock, Hollywood liberals, the abolition of prayer in school, Bill Clinton, the "liberal 1960s," the teaching of evolution — in other words, upon symbols, rhetoric, cultural norms, and the values expressed by political and media leaders. Yet from the moment when someone gets a gun in their hands, apparently, society ceases to have any influence whatsoever on the outcome and individual responsibility takes hold 100%. Something is driving the tripling of death threats against congressmen (and the concomitant rise in threats against Federal judges and other villains of the right, from Forest Service rangers to climate scientists) and it isn't the sunspot cycle.

Ah yes.  It's a pity we live in a culture that is so timid about its actions for fears of how they might be eroding cultural norms and impacting others' behavior.  How many couples remain miserably married because they don't want to add to the legitimacy of divorce?  Dr. Spock was certainly shut down and put in his corner, wasn't he?  And we all know how successful conservatives have been at cleaning the and violence out of Hollywood.  I sometimes have to wait until 8 PM before I see someone called a nasty name or openly discuss their sexual conquests on network TV.

Minus the sarcasm -- my point is this is a battle that has largely been lost. The idea that adults should be mindful of the behaviors they normalize for fear of how it may impact the behavior of others is one that's likely to get you laughed out of the rooms where these decisions are made.  Conservatives have been lectured for years about how abstinence-based education doesn't work, you can't stop kids from having sex, homosexuality is an immutable inborn trait, that criminalizing abortion would have little or no impact on the number of abortions, and in general that adults have little or no hope of influencing the behavior of young people..  And those arguments have won the day! 

Citing these arguments as the precedent for inconsistency "gotcha" argument raises the question of why the converse does not apply to those who have taken the opposite positions. (It also assumes that "conservative" is a monolithic term such that the set of conservative supporting cultural norms is equivalent to those denying a connection between harsh rhetoric and violence).  After hearing over and over again how unreasonable it is to expect adults to curb their behavior based on cultural influences, we're supposed to believe that someone would shoot six people because Sarah Palin used gunsights on a map to illustrate that there were targeted districts?

But I'll call your bluff.  I'm not sure I speak for conservatives, since I'm not a particular fan of extreme rhetoric myself.  But I will gladly acknowledge that there is a connection between extreme rhetoric and violence if we can also agree on the following:


  • When leaders regard their marital vows as suggestions, it leads others to do the same, and this can lead to devastating consequences for children.
  • That abortion has been considered a Constitutional right and "perfectly legal" probably is a major driver of the cultural acceptance of abortion and the abortion rate.
  • When almost every movie and TV show displays premarital sex as normal, and indeed refraining from it before things like high school graduation as abnormal, then this will have an impact on teenager's behavior.
I'm willing to do my part to build a culture that doesn't encourage violence, if you'll help me build a culture that doesn't undermine the values I'm trying to instill in my children.  

Acknowledging these things may make it more difficult to deploy arguments like "How does it hurt your marriage if two gay people get married," since it does concede that we are interconnected that our actions have an impact on each other.  But I think it's closer to the truth than the lie we've been telling ourselves the last few years so we can pursue our own interests and get a good zinger in against our political opponents
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