For something to be called “evil” these days, it must be pretty extreme. That label keeps appearing in stories about the recent movie massacre. Our media tend to avoid it, except in the rush to make sense of something so senseless. As a culture, we are willing to admit that evil exists during a major crisis, but otherwise, not so much. Day to day, there seem to be fewer norming boundaries. As someone said, the path of least resistance make rivers and men crooked.
Consider these three broken boundaries that contribute to the rising chaos.
The breakdown between truth and fiction.
Look, no one likes the guy who thinks he is always right, especially on occasions when he is. Nevertheless we cannot keep pretending truth is only a private thing just so we can avoid being “that guy” who wields truth as a weapon. We need some semblance of common expectation out in public. The Judeo-Christian foundation balancing private choices and public virtues is crumbling. What can replace a sense of universal truth when it is gone? What can provide a foundation for “normal?”
The breakdown between good and evil.
George Lucas said in one of his Star Wars movies, “So this is how democracy dies; with thunderous applause.” Certain conditions triggered the rise of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. A culture turns to dictatorial power when tyranny seems favorable to any further slip into chaos. As Senator Patrick Moynahan said years ago, since the 1960’s we have been and continue to “define deviance down.”
The trend continues—anything traditional is lumped into the “oppressive” category. Meanwhile, most alternative lifestyles go unchecked. They become trendy as celebrities sip from them like disposable cups. Among the general public though, such trends carry consequences which average citizens lack the resources to fix. Much of what gets celebrated today are lifestyles a society cannot sustain and remain healthy.
The breakdown between choice and consequence
Lepers demonstrate what happens when consequences become removed from actions. Leprosy does not cause people to lose fingers, toes, and limbs. It merely keeps people from feeling the pinch of a drawer or the lick of a flame. The pain may be removed, but the damage continues.
Generally, our culture is uncomfortable with natural consequences. Some call it compassion to make excuses for bad decisions. They are concerned only about consequences, not character. The HPV vaccine is an example. It seems like a no brainer to mandate this vaccine to eradicate a form of cancer. But might it not also foster sexual chaos among teens? Could it be that consequences of individual behavior is intended to have purpose and benefit for us as whole? You see, when I get that specific, almost everyone begins to feel uncomfortable.
What kind of environment do we create by continuing to remove all the consequences to our behavior? Do we not tend to suggest that there are no norms? Do we begin to suggest there is no evil—only bad choices?
The cliché about the frog in the kettle fits. A frog placed in a boiling kettle and he will hop right out. However, a frog placed in cool water will boil to death if you turn up the heat slowly.
When have you seen this private-public battle of norms in your life?
Libby Robertson says
Tim, many thanks again for the delightful, insightful presentation this morning at Alexian–the best kind of breakfast ever.
Great to know of your website–a wonderful thing you are doing!!! Will be my favorite site!
Margaret Kelley says
Agree with Libby. Added this to my Favorites list and look forward to reading it all.