Saturday, June 26, 2010

Behind the McChrystal Mess

The news lately has been full of the McChrystal affair, dissecting why they even allowed that writer to hang around for so long. I try not to comment on political matters, but there is one idea that has been on my mind about the thing, and I have not seen anyone else bring this up, so I will.

A common thread in the discussions over this thing is that the Military Code sets standards of behavior for officers, and that the staffers' comments were in violation in their criticisms of the civilian leadership, and that the general himself was in violation for allowing it to go on at all, even if he did not contribute that much criticism personally. But why is this so surprising, when you consider what else has been going on in our society?

For nearly a century, the "Intelligentsia", the intellectual classes, the "elites" or whatever you might call them have been trying to undermine traditional Judeo-Christian morality. The process was slow at first, but it picked up steam in the 1960s and after. Remember the "Sexual Revolution"? Yes, the immediate sticking point was that many people did not want to be bound by Christian sexual standards; they wanted to be free to have all the sexual activity they wished with whomever they wished, whenever they wished. But the Sexual Revolution opened the door to many other things.

The basic fact is, morality is unitary. It is all one thing. Its essential nature is self-control. And if you undermine it in one area, you undermine it everywhere else in the process. So now we not only have the fruit of the Sexual Revolution in broken homes, unwed mothers, abortion, STDs, pornography and on and on, we have a bunch of things the Sexual Revolutionaries did not count on.

Business ethics declined as well, resulting in the Enron affair, Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, and all sorts of criminal and shady doings, with a backdrop of low-quality products and self-serving, all driven by greed. After all, morality is the basic restrainer of greed; when it goes, greed has free rein.

Political ethics went early, perhaps because they were never too high in some quarters anyway. "Watergate" started in the 1972 election, and we have seen all sorts of "-Gates" since. And while politicians of both major parties keep falling into sexual misdeeds, there has been more and more (or more open) bribery, mutual backscratching, unsavory dealings, and disregard for both the laws and the Constitution among the political class.

You can look at any area of life, and the ethics involved are in decline. Medical ethics? Scientific ethics? (The Climategate emails uncovered the extent that modern scientists will go to in making the data fit their theories to keep the grant money flowing.) Cheating is rampant in the schools, and there have been reports in the last few weeks of teachers and administrators doctoring standardized test answer sheets to make their schools look better. And I am starting to see a few brave souls pointing out that "Rolling Stone" and its writer were not following high ethical standards either, and there have been a lot of journalistic frauds uncovered in the last few years: fictional "human interest" stories, plagiarism, forgeries plugged as genuine, biased and slanted news accounts....No, journalists are no better than anyone else ethically.

So why are the talking heads so surprised that ethics in the Army's officer corps are not what they used to be? These officers grew up in this country in the last half-century. General McChrystal is 55, and his staffers presumably are mostly younger. They have seen every other moral standard go down, so why should they be held to any traditional standard?

I have come to the conclusion that the nearest thing to a universal moral principle in 21st-century American society is hypocrisy: The individual expects to do whatever he wants, but he still demands that the people around him and in authority over him or under him continue following traditional morality and its strictures. Thus, a politician can complain about the lack of civility in modern political discourse, and the next day call his opponent a Nazi. A pastor can rail against the Gay agenda, and hire a male prostitute in secret. A businessman can cut corners in his own operations, and complain about the quality of his new luxury car.

Francis Schaeffer expressed a chilling idea about the Judgment of God: imagine a tape recorder hung around the neck of every man, which kicks in every time he opens his mouth to make a moral judgment about someone else. And at the end he stands before God, and the tape is played; and his own actions are compared to the rules he would enforce on everyone else. Not a pleasant picture for any of us, is it? And Schaeffer did not come up with this on his own; the idea behind it is expressed by both the sayings of Jesus and the writings of Paul.

Where is it all going? In the book of Judges, one statement is repeated again and again about the land of Israel in that time: "Every man did what was right in his own eyes." The result was essentially anarchy. Even police states cannot arrest this drift; not only do you need more police than you have taxpayers, but the police themselves will be corrupted in a very short time, and the anarchy gets even worse.

There is only one real answer: a return to faith, and with it morals, from the grassroots up, and the removal and/or marginalizing of those who still reject that one answer. Nothing else works or has any real possibility of working. We have gotten by as long as we have on the memory of a moral consensus, but the memory fades more with each generation, unless somehow it can be renewed.

1 comment:

HMS said...

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