Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Are we a generation of wussies? part 2

"A fateful characteristic of our violent age is the non-violence, the incredible meekness of the victims. Almost without exception, the social scientists are telling us that Americans are at present more violent than they were in the past. Yet anyone who observes the American scene in any big city with his own eyes knows that it is not so. The American man in the street is infinitely less pugnacious, less quarrelsome, and less ready to take offense than he was in the past. We used to fight in the streets, in saloons and on the job. Neighbors used to argue shrilly over the fence and often come to blows! But just now the great majority of Americans are afraid to open their mouths. They will not get into a fight no matter what you call them, and will not get involved even when they see people murdered before their eyes. They are afriad to get angry. The crucial, central fact about contemporary Americans is their timidity - their cowardice."

Eric Hoffer: First Things Last Things, 1967

Eric Hoffer is so admirably succinct that it's hard to paraphrase what he said, it's almost always easier just to quote him.

I've been wondering about this point for a while now. In politics and public life you get insulted, period. If someone thinks your proposals are dumb - they say so. And they should, proposals for government action should always be challenged. Government is just too damn dangerous to be left to run unsupervised.

That is however, a different thing from calling one a liar or advocate of tyranny and mass murder, as in "racist," "Nazi," or "fascist."

I take that particularly ill, when it comes from people who excuse - or actively justify, mass murdering regimes such as Castro's, or belittle the enormities of the Soviet Union as "just Stalin."

We're supposed to be too "civilized" to offer to punch someone in the nose for an insult anymore, much less invite them to the field of honor.

The question I've been raising in recent posts is, have we become too civilized?

"If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, you must be prepared to accept barbarism." - Thomas Sowell

Maintaining civilzation depends on most people accepting lines they will not cross. The vulnerability of civilization is that some people may discover they can get their way by crossing those lines with impunity when people have forgotten how to enforce them.

I think this goes beyond law. A society can survive very high crime rates, and indeed writer Louis Lamour pointed out all dynamic societies have high crime rates.

Defence against criminals is a matter of making it dangerous for them to ply their trade on you. Simple in concept, if not always in execution.

But what happens when criminal conduct becomes normalized in society?

College campuses are full of students today, who probably wouldn't rob you at gunpoint or snatch a lady's purse, but think it justified and worthy to steal a stack of newspapers containing opinions they don't like, or shout down a speaker they disagree with.

What happens? The next stage is they begin to feel that it's a good deed to rough up speakers, to physically humiliate them. To vandalize their property. To make false accusations against them - even in a court of law. To insult them hideously, and wait for the slightest opportunity to misrepresent what they said and prosecute them under "speech codes."

Of course conservatives and libertarians complain about this. To each other, in the pages of editorials read by other conservatives and libertarians.

We've seen this growing over the past few decades. Now it's getting worrisome, to the point many fear the left will soon attempt to shut down right-wing talk radio by bringing back the mis-called "fairness doctrine." The ultimate hecklers' veto!

And I wonder, would these punks be so bold if someone had asked them if they wanted to step outside when they first crossed that line?

Some years back, I was in Bulgaria during the last days of the communist-dominated coalition government, having lunch with the intelligence officer of the U.S. Embassy.

We were talking about the massive corruption, massive inflation, and general thuggish incompetence of the government, and how the people just seemed to take it. (Eventually they did throw the bastards out.)

We fell silent for a moment. Then he blurted out, "These people are sheep! When are they going to get angry?"

"Fuck democracy! Our power is in the streets!" Graffitti seen on a wall at an "anti-globalization" riot in Vancouver.


  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger Joseph Sixpack said…

    “… have we become too civilized?”

    I think that we’ve become even more uncivilized. There was a time when people at least gave their adversaries the respect of facing them. There was a time when people had a smidgen of dignity that discouraged them from having others fight their battles for them. There is no such restraint upon the dignity of most people today. You insult me? I don’t challenge you to a duel or a fight. Now I sue you, slander you, try to get you fired, punish your kids. It is much dirtier. It is more passive aggressive, but more aggressive nonetheless.

    Your observation about maintaining civilization is dead-on. Civilization is vulnerable because we have forgotten – or cowered at the thought of – enforcing lines that should not be crossed. It is no longer fashionable to correct people – unless you are correcting them for being so reckless as to say “Merry Christmas” or to say “he” when the third person could be a he or she. If you have the audacity to suggest that certain “lifestyle choices” are inherently destructive and irresponsible, then you are a Neanderthal who is trying force society to regress to your outdated and disproven view of the good life. It does go beyond law. It is a suppression of traditional, time-tested, (formerly) common sense values, norms, and beliefs. Every now and then, Pat Buchanan gets it right – it is a culture war. You cited some supporting evidence…

    College campuses are full of students today, who... think it justified and worthy to steal a stack of newspapers containing opinions they don't like, or shout down a speaker they disagree with.

    That’s the same thing that al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Taliban, Ansar al-Islam, and every other militant radical organization does when it is attempting to undermine the existing social order and impose their will upon the population. When we put up information for tiplines or wanted posters, they rip them down. If we hand out leaflets, they threaten people not to read them. Information is their enemy. College students have it much easier, so they don’t need to dirty their hands with beheadings and kidnappings. They have perfected the tactic of shifting back and forth across the aggressive and passive aggressive continuum. They know how far they can push physically with their protests, rocks, bottles, and pies. And when that fails, they know that certain acts of physical intimidation or assault will be forgiven or defeated in court. If that fails or is deemed too risky, it suffices to shout down speakers, intercept printed mediums, hack websites, and attempt to silence those whom they disagree with. They know their rights and they have sympathizers who know the legal system, who run the campus, and who benefit politically from their efforts.

    Did you notice that Ahmedinejad was treated with more respect by Columbia than even our uniformed military? (At least they let him on campus). Of course, the only line of his that drew significant scorn was his suggestion that there are no homosexuals in Iran. How un-PC of him! But all of his other ridiculous rhetoric and deliberately confrontational stances toward the western world were just fine with the Columbia crowd.

  • At 9:29 AM, Blogger Ken said…

    I'm still not sure that too civilized is the correct way to phrase this, but there's definitely something wrong. It's good to not feel the need to fight over every perceived slight, but one should also know when to stand up. As a society we seem to have forgotten when it's time to stand up.

    It's not as if people are taught to never fight, but they're taught to fight over the wrong things. And they're taught some sort of backwards morals. It's ok for the reverend Wright to spew hatred, his race was oppressed in the past. But if a redneck slanders gays, he needs to be punished. So it's ok shout down a speaker they disagree with because they're right and he's wrong.

    Though the people who are afraid to get involved when they see a crime or murder do fit more into the wuss category. They probably don't get involved because of a combination of fear and they don't know what to do. While it may be worse, I suspect it has always happened.

  • At 9:30 AM, Blogger Ken said…

    Forgot to mention, I think Joseph Sixpack's comments from "whose to blame?" fits in pretty well here.

  • At 9:07 AM, Blogger Libertarian_Libertine said…

    I'm sorta on the fence over this one.

    On one hand, I do believe that sometimes people can go too far and sometimes words or more than just words. Also, I would be lying if I said that I have never been so angered by an insult to the point where I have come to blows with the person who has offended me.

    On the other hand, I have known too many people who are quick to resort to violence the second they are offended, not even insulted, just offended.

    It becomes a point of where to draw the line.

  • At 2:42 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Some time ago, when I was being stalked by a psychopath in another country, I realized there is a point of insult at which one may reasonably conclude that the person intends to assault you.

    In a related vein, in that same foreign city a fellow expat and I were talking about the problem of belligerant drunks at bus/tram stops.

    I said, "If you recognize there are clear stages in an assault, during which the person is nerving himself up and attempting to intimidate you, a good strategy is to short-circuit the process and land on him with both feet. That should catch him by surprise, since he intends to land the first blow."

    In formal fencing terminology, it's called "attack on the preparation."

    I have to point out, that's very good strategic advice - and very bad legal advice.

  • At 9:32 PM, Blogger Ted said…

    It's not a matter of civil, or uncivil, but that our society has been infected with the "if it helps one person, it's worth it" virus.
    This has become the excuse to shred the First Amendment with "hate speech" laws, mandate "political correctness" and legally, culturally bend over and grab our ankles for amounts of socialist-fascist injection over which Americans of a mere two generations before were ready to spill blood to defend against.
    Instead of constantly playing defense, those of U.S. with a knowledge of what the Constitution says and means can play offense. And if there's a better time than now (at 4th and 20 with 2 minutes to go in the 4th quarter), I don't know when it will be?

  • At 8:20 AM, Blogger togo said…

    Funny that the people(adult males presumably) Hoffer was referring to were mostly WW2 or Korean War veterans. Admittedly, a relatively low percentage were actual combat veterans.

    Was Louis L'Amour really much of an expert on anything?

    Roger McGrath has written often that the Old West was not all that violent:

    FWIW, writer Jim Thompson (The Getaway; The Grifters, POP. 1280, etc) worked with L'Amour at the Federal Writer's Project and didn't seem to have a very opinion of him:
    While on the Writers' Project, he became friends with the Oklahoma writer who would outsell all the rest of them, Louis L'Amour. L'Amour showed up at Thompson's house for dinner regularly during the Depression. When Thompson was viciously attacked in Oklahoma City for some of his leftist writings, L'Amour defended him. But the friendship didn't last. L'Amour, Thompson thought, was too sentimental. L'Amour made up stories about himself, all crowd pleasers, but Thompson often caught him in major lies. In the end, writers have no choice but to write what they write. Thompson couldn't write what L'Amour wrote, considering it to be phony. Gordon Friesen, an Oklahoma City friend of Thompson's, once said, "I've sometimes thought that Jim wrote what he did in answer to L'Amour's sentimental gook. Jim Thompson's was the real story--How the West Was Really Won." (5)

  • At 8:02 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    A lot of the America Hoffer was talking about was pre-WWII, if you read his autobiography "Truth Imagined."

    The violence level of the West depended a lot on the period of settlement. In initial rushes into mining boom areas you had populations that were 98% male. Would you expect it to be anything but violent?


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