Why Our Descent Sped Up

>> Monday, March 8, 2010

One of the gifts my lovely wife gave me last Christmas was a subscription to National Review. What a fine publication. It turned out to be a better gift than I would have imagined. Just having a monthly column by Mark Steyn makes it worth whatever the subscription price was.

An article in this month's issue (Mar8,2010) Kevin A. Hassett (Mortgage Morality) speaks of a book called, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and it lends credence to an observation of mine regarding the whining of leftists regarding the mythical separation of church and state.

Now, the article itself surrounded the ramifications of borrowers walking out on their mortgages due to the value of their homes dropping below the remaining amount of their loans. The idea is that in many cases, it might make great financial sense to pass the six digit loss on to the bank as it discusses the pros and cons of doing so. But economists surveyed homeowners and found that 80% view doing so as "morally wrong". But, that number drops among those who know people who have already done it.
This suggests that the culture of those with such friends is different enough than those of the first group so as to influence their right/wrong standards as regards purposely defaulting on loans. Imagine that. People doing the wrong thing when the wrong thing is more commonplace!

So then they look to Ariely's book for explanations for this phenomena. They refer to an experiment testing students' willingness to cheat. Here's how it worked:

"A simple math test was devised, and students were given a fixed amount of time to complete it, with a reward for each correct answer. The subjects, all students at MIT, were divided into two groups: a control group that handed in their tests to be graded, and therefore had no chance to cheat, and a second group that reported their own scores and could fudge the results.

And there was an interesting twist: Of the students who had the chance to cheat, half were asked beforehand to list ten books tht they remembered reading in high school, while the rest were asked to write down as many of the Ten Commandments as they could remember.

The results were stunning. On average, the students in the control group answered 3.1 problems correctly. Students in the second group took the opportunity to cheat---under certain conditions: The ones who startd by listing ten books from high school cheated, on average reporting that they had answered 4.1 problems correctly. The students who were asked to recall the Ten Commandments, by contrast, did not cheat, reporting on average 3.0 correct answers.

Apparently, thinking about the Ten Commandments put the students in a moral frame of mind."


Did you get that? Merely being asked about the big Ten put them "in a moral state of mind". Yet, we're expected to believe that having them on the bulletin board in the classroom is a bad idea.

Sure, this is one little experiment, but as I said, it does lend weight to my argument that "removing God" from the classroom, as well as the public square has lead to or at least played a major role in the moral decline in our country. It has certainly affected the speed of that decline, as there is nothing to influence moral decision making but our own selves. Having "God in the market place" reminds those who believe even nominally that there is Someone always watching and it helps to build an atmosphere of morality that enhances our culture, as more people would be ready and willing to acknowledge right from wrong without compromise, without bowing to notions of relevancy and "gray areas". How could this not improve us?

Of course, one must be reasonable and understand that for some, there simply is no god or absolutes by which they must conduct their lives. Self-serving people always have and will exist. But we know that things are shown in movies and television that would never have been shown in the time either were invented and we know that as they became accepted and more common, ills related to such things rose in the real world.

We are influenced by our environment. To the extent that we can dress that environment for better or worse will change, and have changed, our perspectives and attitudes. The changes that have occurred in the time since separation really took place have not made us a better people. Deviancy has indeed been defined down without any alternative put in place to fill that void once filled by God in our culture.

17 comments:

Edwin Drood March 9, 2010 at 4:35 PM  

The problem is we let Liberal build the public school system into an extension of the federal government. Our reward is increased pregnancy rate, higher dropout rate, the invention of school shootings and poor test scores.

What we need to do is drop the imaginary "separation of church and state" clause from the constitution (since its not there anyway) and enact a separation of federal government and schools. Maybe then we can raise a generation that would be as smart as the one that went to the moon and created the PC.

Bubba,  March 17, 2010 at 10:30 AM  

I'd say that one big problem is the totalitarian bent of the radical left -- "totalitarian" in the strict defitional sense of holding an all-encompassing view of politics.

Though their radicalism is couched in the language of privacy and the mere tolerance of deviant behavior, their goal is clearly the public embrace of that behavior: if keeping the bedroom sacrosanct were really enough, there wouldn't be an effort to force the statehouse to issue licenses endorsing the behavior.


But, back to the subject that started your blog post, Marshall, I heard last week that the current administration is planning on encouraging some homeowners to short-sell their houses for less than what they owe on their mortgages.

Never mind that this is probably an unfunded liability in which the already weak financial sector will be expected to swallow the loss: won't this also exacerbate the moral hazzard you discussed? It's true (and obviously true) that people engage in behavior more when the stigma is removed, and a move like this removes the stigma (and the financial consequences) of screwing the bank that loaned you the money to buy a house.

Bubba,  March 17, 2010 at 11:25 AM  

About National Review...

I've had my issues with individual contributors -- Rod Dreher, David Frum, Kathryn Lopez, and even John Derbyshire -- and I think that NR in-print (NRODT: "on dead tree") has made the occasional misstep, such as endorsing Mitt Romney as the most well-rounded conservative candidate, when he has never been convincing as a true Reaganite.

(Check out Steyn's recent quick diagnosis of Mitt's Masscare, here.)

But, that said, NRODT and NRO have been essential, especially in the last decade. Indeed, Steyn's "Happy Warrior" column is worth the price of a subscription alone (and its title alludes to a Wordsworth poem worth memorizing, FYI), its editorials are usually good, "The Week" is a funny and quick review of the last few weeks of news, and occasionally the magazine's feature articles sends one over the park.

For instance...

Check out the four articles on the chief founders of American progressivism, from the 12/31/09 issue -- it's a good follow-up to Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, excerpted in the 1/28/08 issue -- and then read Steyn's cover story in the next issue, 1/25/10, on the way to Roman-style decline for America.

(A particularly apt subject.)

Goldberg's Liberal Fascism and Steyn's America Alone have been landmark books for me. Jonah Goldberg, who I had the pleasure of meeting in '08, not only explains the history of progressivism in the context of the global move toward statism, he also provides en route the best encapsulation of the difference between it and modern American conservatism -- a difference that lies in their respect or lack of respect for both liberty and tradition: the former is collectivist and radical, the latter balances the tension between libertarianism and traditionalism. Steyn's book explains the ramifications of statism: first shrinking fertility rates and cultural paralysis, then foreign threats from enemies that take advantage.

Those two recent cover stories put a little bit more meat on the bones.


...and don't forget that, as a subscriber, you can sign up for free access to NR's digital archives, which is handy for checking out the new issue early, for looking up old articles -- even though I actually store old issues -- and especially for the occasional copy-and-paste job for emails and blog comments.

And if you're interested in some heavy-duty essays, do check out Yuval Levin's NATIONAL AFFAIRS. Its third quarterly issue just came out, and though I happily subscribe for full access to the entire journal, I cannot more highly recommend that you check out those essays it's posted free online.

ELAshley March 17, 2010 at 11:40 AM  

Memorize 85 lines? Well, it's a great poem, no doubt, but it took me two weeks to memorize Jude!

Thanks for the links. I'm always up for new sources of heavy reading. That last line was entirely free of snark, btw.

I'll check it out.

Bubba,  March 17, 2010 at 3:46 PM  

At the very least, the Wordsworth poem is worth a close study. :)

New issue of Nat'l Affairs just came out today, I notice. The essays are lengthy, but, man, they're worthwhile.

Marshall Art March 17, 2010 at 4:50 PM  

Bubba,

These short sales are exactly what my link is talking about. The gov't is encouraging homeowners to stiff the banks, basically, and what kind of message does THAT send to people?! Indeed, it will be seen as a morally acceptable action, if the gov't backs the idea. It is a continuation of the same mindless notion that one must be saved from bearing the consequences of their own mistakes. A horrible idea that will become an entitlement, if that mindset hasn't already begun to metasticize.

As to the rest, I have Steyn's book already and it is all you said it is for sure. Golderg's book is on my "to get" list, and frankly, I meant to have it by now. Both are people that Geoffrey has ripped, but as always, without substance.

I haven't availed myself of all the perks of being a subscriber as I wasn't even aware of them, so thanks for that. I don't necessarily agree with everything I read from something considered conservative, but so far, I haven't seen anything that stands out with NR. That Romney thing is troubling, however, though I think the guy is worthy of a post in a better candidate's cabinet. (A lib friend turned me on to American Conservative and I've read a few things there that gave me pause.)

I'll definitely be checking out National Affairs. I've read the articles in NR that you've pointed out. All good, to say the least.

I would very much love to see how our opponents try to rebut or refute the arguments of some of these people, but other than calling them hacks, it never seems as though they're willing or capable. Now that you've highlighted the on-line capabilites a subscriber has, I now will have a whole new source for good stuff about which I can post articles. Thanks again.

Mark March 17, 2010 at 5:08 PM  

I've had Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" on my bookshelf for over a year and still haven't got to it yet. After I got it, I was still behind on reading other books:

"Liberty and Tyranny" by Mark Levin (highly recommended), "Conservative Responses to Liberal Lies" by Gregg Jackson, "What's wrong with Christianity?" by Dinesh D'Sousa, and I am now reading "Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin.

Bubba,  March 17, 2010 at 9:52 PM  

From what I've skimmed in the bookstores, Levin's book really is a must-read, but I've been figuring on waiting for the paperback since that might have an extra chapter -- and (I just saw) it appears that the paperback's out in June.

Liberal Fascism, I really couldn't recommend more highly: it's lengthy, and in some ways it's a little redundant (especially in reassuring readers that he's not calling all liberals fascists) but it really does frame the current political conflict in its proper historical context -- going back to the Progressives and their late 19th-century German roots, if not all the way back to the Jacobins (at least in any real detail).

(For that, I really need to read The Roads to Modernity, which is already waiting for me on my shelf.)


Marshall, you're VERY welcome. :)

Since I have frankly never been impressed by Geoffrey, I'd take his snark as a good sign.

And, to be clear, NR is my favorite major conservative publication. Just know that, if you read it long enough, you're going to get aggravated on occasion. Conservatism is a partial philosophy of life; Buckleyite conservatism bridges the tension between libertarianism and traditionalism; NR has long since become an institution but still seeks to remain faithful to the core principles, so it occasionally hacks off the fringe and the RINO's for opposite reasons.

Frum and Dreher are no longer with NR. Both now seem to willing to be useful conservatives to the Left, and both are pushing for various forms of me-too conservatism. The former makes waves only by slinging mud at people like Rush and Palin -- and even when he had a good point that some paleocon traditionalists don't actually support the U.S. in actual wars, he painted with too broad a brush -- while the latter is a hypocritical hack whose "crunchy conservatism" should have never been given a cover story and blog at NR. Dreher's a terrible writer whose book was properly dismantled by the curmudgeon Florence King; Frum's an okay writer (he wrote a good book about the 70's), but he doesn't seem committed to conservatism as a philosophy, and neither seem all that loyal to conservatives as people.

Lopez seems to be a crucial reason for NR's earlier endorsement of Mitt, and her cheerleading for a guy whose conversion to Reaganism seems WAAAY too politically convenient has just been obnoxious. A good editor she may be, but I've never found much real insight in anything she's written.

[cont]

Bubba,  March 17, 2010 at 9:53 PM  

[cont]

And Derbyshire is a writer who I really liked a while back, in terms of writing style, but it's become increasingly clear that, along with Andrew Stuttaford, he's an atheist who's actually petulant in his antagonism toward religion. Neither currently go out of their way to sneer at faith, probably because of dictates not to, but I can't respect them as conservatives, I think that their attitudes undermine their own supposed political philosophy and certainly negatively color some of their writing (e.g., Derb on Islam), and there are times when I think NR should have shown one or the other the door.

(I quote WFB himself: "Can you be a conservative and believe in God? Obviously. Can you be a conservative and not believe in God? This is an empirical essay, and so the answer is as obviously, yes. Can you be a conservative and despise God, and feel contempt for those who believe in Him? I would say no.")

But there's so much good coming from NR/NRO -- from Steyn, Goldberg, Ponnuru, and Andrew McCarthy, to NRO's syndicated columns from Sowell and Krauthammer -- that these things can be grounds for complaints (and they have been, for me) without being grounds for departing.

Bubba,  March 17, 2010 at 9:55 PM  

On the subject of NR and great books, the great Andrew McCarthy's apparently coming out with a new book in May:

The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America

It appears this Corner post and an earlier post, which links to an earlier article, show hints of his book's argument.

McCarthy seems VERY clear-headed about the very real possibility that Islam and Islamism really are indistinguishable, even if it makes sense (tactically) to act as if they are different, and he posits that jihadists and leftists have a common enemy: us.

Islamists "are anti-American, anti-Western, anti-capitalist, anti-individual liberty, pro-totalitarian, pro-collectivist, etc. They hold that American interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere, especially our military interventions, are exploitations of the Muslim world aimed at robbing its natural resources and spreading Western principles that are anathema to the indigenous culture. Leftists (including leftist lawyers) can easily sign on to much of that without signing on to all of Islamist ideology."

The clincher from his article:

"Jihadists believe it is proper to massacre innocent people in order to compel the installation of sharia as a pathway to Islamicizing society. No one for a moment believes, or has suggested, that al-Qaeda’s American lawyers share that view. But jihadist terrorists, and Islamist ideology in general, also hold that the United States is the root of all evil in the world, that it is the beating heart of capitalist exploitation of society’s have-nots, and that it needs fundamental, transformative change.

"This, as I argue in a book to be published this spring, is why Islam and the Left collaborate so seamlessly. They don’t agree on all the ends and means. In fact, Islamists don’t agree among themselves about means. But before they can impose their utopias, Islamists and the Left have a common enemy they need to take down: the American constitutional tradition of a society based on individual liberty, in which government is our servant, not our master. It is perfectly obvious that many progressive lawyers are drawn to the jihadist cause because of common views about the need to condemn American policies and radically alter the United States.

"That doesn’t make any lawyer unfit to serve. It does, however, show us the fault line in the defining debate of our lifetime, the debate about what type of society we shall have. And that political context makes everyone’s record fair game. If lawyers choose to volunteer their services to the enemy in wartime, they are on the wrong side of that fault line, and no one should feel reluctant to say so.
"

That this book will generate controversy, even among the Right, goes without saying, but I have the dreadful suspicion that McCarthy's on to something, and so his book couldn't be more highly anticipated.

Marshall Art March 17, 2010 at 11:47 PM  

I've also read the Levin book and he pretty much nails it about as well as one could expect. But it sounds like I'll have to get the paperback if it's got additional stuff. It's the first by him that I've read and it makes me want to go back to get his book on the Supreme Court.

I've heard of Roads to Modernity but it's a title that has slipped away from me. Back on the list it goes.

I haven't read anything by Frum, and Dreher I've never heard of. Lopez appears at Townhall.com, but I can't think of anything she's done that stands out. I basically just skim titles of articles after checking for a few favorites there like Coulter (she makes me laugh), Sowell, Malkin and several others. Lopez used to be a regular guest of Hugh Hewitt and I liked her comments there, but that was before the election when I used to listen to him. I do know that Hewitt also backed Romney heavily, while Medved was a big McCain supporter and I didn't much care to vote for either of them. But again, I think Romney's got the business smarts to be worthy of some position in someone's administration. He was a bit of a flip-flopper, wasn't he?

McCarthy I've heard on radio talk shows as well. His book sounds like a good one. It seems I've heard this comparison made before, but by whom I can't say. Could have been him on one of those radio shows. Robert Spencer is great for keeping an eye on Islam and the moves they make to mess with us from the inside. He has a blog called JihadWatch that is very good and cross references with Pam Geller's AtlasShrugs.

Looks like I'll be reading several books at the same time again. Lots of good suggestions.

ELAshley March 18, 2010 at 6:53 AM  

"It is perfectly obvious that many progressive lawyers are drawn to the jihadist cause because of common views about the need to condemn American policies and radically alter the United States.

"That doesn’t make any lawyer unfit to serve. It does, however, show us the fault line in the defining debate of our lifetime, the debate about what type of society we shall have."


Sounds like a right perfect picture of our president. I would disagree with McCarthy on one point, however-- it does make one particular lawyer "unfit" to serve. Especially since he is sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Thus far he has shown no penchant for either.

Bubba,  March 18, 2010 at 7:47 AM  

Marshall:

Dreher and Frum, I wouldn't really worry about. It's possible that NR simply took a chance on both, and neither panned out.

About Romney, it seemed like the entire GOP field in '08 was filled with excellent Cabinet appointments...

McCain - Defense
Rudy - Attorney General
Paul - Treasury
Huckabee - maybe Education
Romney - maybe Health and Human Services

...but no one obviously well suited for the big chair. Most would have been a vast improvement over Obama, but most would have also been very problematic on a couple key issues, and none except maybe Thompson (oh, that he would have run a serious campaign) would have been likely to be a stalwart anti-Progressive who (unlike Paul) would have been strong on national defense. Like Bush and his father, they would have likely let the problem of statism continue to slowly metastasize and force conservatives to consider looking the other way.

Romney was antagonistic toward Reagan's record when running for local office in Massachusetts, but it was never clear that his turn to Reaganism was anything but a conversion of convenience. As reliably conservative as NR usually is, their blind spot about serious devotion to faith (e.g., in their apparent tolerance of Derb and Stuttaford's snark) also caused a problem in their supporting Romney without EVER addressing his Mormonism beyond mild reassurances that it's not a problem.

Lopez got on my nerves especially after praising so whole-heartedly Romney's supposedly great speech on religion, where he claimed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as a way to reassure worried voters but SIMULTANEOUSLY positioned as out-of-bounds any questions about the details of his beliefs.

"My beliefs are my business" would have been fine.

"I believe in Jesus, so vote for me; and don't you dare ask about what I mean by 'I believe in Jesus,' because that's wrong," is simply slimy, and on that score Kathryn Lopez' enthusiasm for Romney trumped her Catholicism.

(There's a one-man blog that I've really gotten to like, and the author wrote a while back about the "ditzy" Lopez and her "obnoxious crush" on Romney. Harsh as those words are, they've actually been about right. I don't know anyone who actively links to anything she writes.)

But, AGAIN, these aren't issues that overshadow the good NR has done and continues to do.


I don't KNOW if Levin's paperback will have new material, but most political non-fiction books seem to do so when they go from hardcover to paperback.

Bubba,  March 18, 2010 at 7:49 AM  

And, ELAshley, I agree about Obama, and more generally I do think a shared anti-American inclination DOES disqualify a lawyer from serving in our government, but it might be more a political matter than criminal matter: elect people who will replace them, rather than directly prosecute them.

McCarthy's a lawyer who helped prosecute the first WTC bombers, and my guess is that he won't go out of his way to make needlessly incendiary comments. He'll probably focus on the main points -- that "Islamism" might actually be indistinguishable from Islam, and that leftists share a common enemy with the jihadists -- rather than risk those points being drowned out by accusations of literal treason.

Wikipedia's entry on McCarthy remineded me of his 2008 take on Obama (and the Clintons), which I think you would find reassuring.

"FWIW, I believe that the issue of Obama's personal radicalism, including his collaboration with radical, America-hating Leftists, should have been disqualifying. McCain has not exploited it well, to say the least, but even if he had been more adept, the mainstream media's all but formally declared campaign for Obama would have made it tough to get traction. There's enough of a goldmine there that a better candidate, less worried about criticism from elites who are in the tank for Obama anyway, could have made it sing. But McCain is McCain.

"In any event, the time when the issue could have broken into public consciousness big time was during the Democratic primaries, before the media circled the wagons around the eventual nominee...

"Contrary to the studious remaking of their image, the Clintons could never put any real daylight between themselves and Obama when it came to radicalism. They are part of the media-Democrat establishment that for years admired, collaborated with, and cleaned up the image of the Sixties renegades — so they could spread their revolution in ways that were less patent than their prior methods, though more destructive. And if we end up with a President Obama, the Clintons will be a big part of the reason why.
"

There's that subversive, stealth radicalism that I think is now prevalent among Leftists.


And, I didn't point it out before, but McCarthy's description of our jihad and Progressivism's common enemy dovetails very nicely into Goldberg's definition of American conservatism: I'll highlight its allusion to libertarianism in bod, traditionalism in italics.

"But before they can impose their utopias, Islamists and the Left have a common enemy they need to take down: the American constitutional tradition of a society based on individual liberty, in which government is our servant, not our master."

I really can't wait for his book.

Mark March 18, 2010 at 7:47 PM  

Bubba, "Frum and Dreher are no longer with NR. Both now seem to willing to be useful conservatives to the Left, and both are pushing for various forms of me-too conservatism. The former makes waves only by slinging mud at people like Rush and Palin..."

Mark Levin, author of "Liberty and Tyranny" apparently agrees with you (or perhaps you agree with him) about Frum as these clips clearly show.

Bubba,  March 19, 2010 at 10:15 AM  

Our opinions about Frum were reached independently, but I'm definitely with Levin on the matter. I actually think Frum is capable of good writing -- and so I'm more saddened with Frum than I am at the leftward drift of the twirp Rod Dreher -- but he has largely left Buckleyite conservatism.

(I prefer Mark Steyn's barbs at Frum -- this or this for example -- over Mark Levin's understandable anger.)

I actually thought there was an ominous sign of drift when Frum announced his impending departure, shortly after the '08 election.

"Over the past three years, I have been engaged in some intense rethinking of my own conservatism. My fundamental political principles remain the same as ever: free markets, American leadership in the world, and intense attachment to inherited moral and cultural traditions. Yet I cannot be blind to the evidence that we have seen free markets produce some damaging and dangerous results in recent years. Or that the foreign policy I supported has not yielded the success I would have wished to see. Or that traditions must evolve if they are to endure. There are new principes too that must be included in a majority conservatism: environmental protection as a core value and an unwavering insistence upon competence and integrity in government."

Immediately after affirming the three pillars of Buckley's fusionist conservatism, he started hedging: he affirmed free markets but (contra men like Thomas Sowell) blamed them for the recent economic trouble; he affirmed a strong foreign policy but immediately hedged on its current effectiveness; he affirmed traditional institutions but then began making motions about their evolution.

From there, Frum affirmed the important but entirely non-idealogical issue of competence -- as Steyn has pointed out, if Obama nationalizes health care, the GOP will probably do little more than run as better managers of the nanny state -- and genuflect toward one of the Left's biggest bludgeons for statism, environmentalism.

Frum's writing at what was once called NewMajority and is now the Frum Forum confirms the worst possible outcome from the drift of that announcement.

Bubba,  March 22, 2010 at 8:05 AM  

By the way, on the subject of David Frum's increasing incoherence, the latest evidence is in his analysis of the outcome of the fight over health care.

Absurdly, Frum argues that the GOP should have negotiated with the Democratic totalitarians, to cut some sort of deal, but the lunacy in his tactical analysis is overshadowed by this supposed conservative's hypocrisy and overt hatred of those to his right.

"I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds."

While criticizing "overheated talk" about Obama and the rest of the radical collectivists, David Frum CONTINUES to malign the character and motivations of people like Rush Limbaugh, and not hesitating to employ charged rhetoric of his own. Frum doesn't give Limbaugh the benefit of the doubt about the sincerity of his stated beliefs, all while disagreeing on the efficacy of particular tactics: he essentially calls Limbaugh a mercernary, accusing him of deliberately undermining the political success of his stated philosophy for the sake of monetary gain.

David Frum is scum.

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