by Greg Krehbiel on 28 August 2013
I just read part of a blog post on how to make the most of “the breakdown of social cohesion in our increasingly fragmented, atomized, rude and crude society.”
That sounds like a pretty accurate description of our times.
What caused this?
Are we fragmented because of identity politics (or some other thing), or is fragmentation the natural result of abundance, the need to find niches, and our ability to manipulate lots of data?
The grocery stores didn’t cause the people who buy white wines to also buy stinky cheese, they just recognized that they do and they targeted them appropriately. We’re fragmented — at least in part — because we’re able to make better sense of all the categories that apply to us.
Are we atomized because of our near worship of individual rights, or because we interact with other people alone in front of a high-res screen?
Are we rude and crude because of the breakdown of the family, or of religion, or is it because we’ve discovered that in chasing the almighty dollar “crap is king”?
If it’s a question of drawing public attention, salacious beats the straight and narrow every time. Scary beats comforting. Shocking beats calm and pleasant.
The post I referenced above talks about “enjoying the decline” by being a hedonist. IOW, you’re not going to change it, there’s no point sitting around moping about it, so you might as well make the most of it and enjoy it until it all blows up.
Well … maybe if you’re that guy. I’m not. If it comes to the point that you have to shoot your neighbors for access to clean water, I’ll probably just go drink the dirty water. I don’t worship the value of my own life. (What I’d do for my family is another, harder question.)
Returning to the main point, is it possible that the symptoms mentioned above are the unavoidable results of “progress”?
I think not. It’s way too easy to imagine a technologically advanced society that doesn’t suffer from those ills. Imagining something doesn’t make it possible, but it would be a hard sell to say that it couldn’t be, or that we’re stuck with the way things are.
So … what is the missing ingredient?
I suspect the fault lies in a misguided idea of freedom. We’ve adopted an attitude that “my freedom to swing my arm ends at your nose.” The problem with that standard is that there are lots of ways to harm someone short of hitting them. We’ve set up an expectation that the person claiming to be harmed has to prove that he’s been harmed. Often that’s impossible.
How do I prove that I’ve been harmed by some action that coarsens society? I can’t do it, and we’re wrong to require such proof.
Some of you may have seen the fabulous piece in The Onion yesterday about why CNN chose to run a particular story. This kind of thing happens because salacious sells. It sells newspapers and books and TV shows and online eyeballs.
What is going to prevent that kind of stuff? You could (vainly) hope that every newsman out there is a prince who doesn’t want that kind of money, or you could (vainly) hope that market forces would end it.
Or there could be public standards. Of course such standards would have to be enforced because there’s always some slimy character who will make the quick buck off the latest dirt.
From my reading of things, Americans took the wrong turn on this question in the 50s and 60s. We — or, rather, our robed masters in the judiciary — rejected the idea that the community can tell somebody to shut up with their potty talk.
That attitude has infected our whole society. Now we make these crazy distinctions — regulating what’s on TV, because it’s on the “public” airwaves, but allowing unmitigated filth to pour into our houses over cable and the Internet.
I reject this.
I have great sympathy for a lot of libertarian positions, but not on this. I believe in community standards. I believe in anti-obscenity laws. And yes, I do believe the Internet should be policed and … yes, moderated (horrors!).
Immediately the question becomes “by whom?”
There would have to be checks and balances and all that. I don’t like giving people power. I really don’t. Especially not the types who like to sit on homeowner’s association boards and mind other people’s business, which is precisely the type of people that such duties would attract.
Still, it has to be done. I think society was healthier when Roy Rogers rode off into the sunset with Dale Evans and never kissed her on screen.
The unregulated filth flowing over our CAT-5 cables is more destructive than content filtering or censorship.
One of these days it’s going to be the last straw and people are going to wake up to the need for standards. I sincerely hope we can do it as reasonable people before the culture falls to pieces.
-- 2013-08-28 » Greg Krehbiel