Tuesday, June 19


Maureen Dowd, "Moral Dystopia". June 17

LET'S give the woman her due. One thousand seven hundred words without calling anyone Bambi this or Princess that. Or a Fifty Shades of Grey pun.

Now, then: the world needs moral advice from Maureen Dowd like it needs to discover that Peggy Noonan has a twin sister.

with formerly hallowed institutions and icons sinking into a moral dystopia all around us, has our sense of right and wrong grown more malleable? What if we’re not Thomas More but Mike McQueary?

Or Pius XII?

Listen, I dunno about you, but I was filled to dyspepsia with mid-range Boomers like Dowd pretending there were such things as hallowed institutions and icons in their (my) youth, which have mysteriously sunk into anything in the interim, around two decades ago. Pius the Fucking Twelfth for the win, MoDo. These institutions were hallowed-out by the end of the 19th century. Did two World Wars escape your notice growing up? Maybe they weren't routinely ignoring boy-buggering football coaches at Penn State in the 1950s. Would you care to guarantee it? This sort of blather is meant to ingratiate oneself with the herd. Nothing more. Name a human institution with a history of trustworthiness. It ain't the Roman Church. Or the government of the United States, or any money-printing operation like Penn State football. Hell, Science peddles its ass like a jet-set call girl, Mo. If you had any delusions about Our Hallowed Institutions which have only lately come to crumble then you're not a reliable observer. Or observant.

Tellingly, [McQueary] compared the sickening crime to the noncomparable incident of being a college student looking for a bathroom during a party at a frat house, and inadvertently walking into a dark bedroom where a fraternity brother is having sex with a young lady.

He said he felt too “shocked, flustered, frantic” to do anything, adding defensively: “It’s been well publicized that I didn’t stop it. I physically did not remove the young boy from the shower or punch Jerry out.”

He told Paterno the next morning and went along with the mild reining in of Sandusky, who continued his deviant ways.

The overwhelming odds are that if Mike McQueary had come across this sort of behavior in an alley he'd have put a stop to it. He'd have "punched Jerry out". The Penn State locker room, though, was like accosting the Pope in St. Peter's Square. The worldwide Catholic altar boy abuse scandals have made it impossible for public moralists to ignore the massive ethical lapses and personal guilt of people who knew and did nothing, or said nothing, or went along, or actively covered up. They're still ignoring the uncomfortable and clear conclusion that the institutions themselves are part of the problem.

McQueary's failure is personal, colossal--I hope it tortured him before he was discovered, and I hope it continues to, as it should; I'm not required to believe in forgiveness or redemption, as some people are--but it owes more than a little to the very notion of "hallowed institutions", and the hallowed notion of unquestioning service, and the heroism of career building.

All the soul-searching of the "How did we get to the point where our institutions lie to us so freely, so awfully, so criminally" is just another form of listening to the slap of wet genitals on forcibly exposed buttocks then calling Dad for advice. The damned human edifice is corrupt. Always has been. It's not a question of timeless Foundations with a little spalling brickwork on the fa├žade. What keeps it standing is the mass insistence that there must be Good underneath. Because we don't like the alternative.

No, people and their institutions ("also people") aren't wholly, transparently, agents of evil. Everyone condemns Jerry Sandusky. Some would have stopped him, even at risk of a paycheck. We call those people "whistleblowers". And we don't really like 'em.

“Most Americans continue to think of their lives in moral terms; they want to live good lives,” said James Davison Hunter, a professor of religion, culture and social theory at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Death of Character.” “But they are more uncertain about what the nature of the good is. We know more, and as a consequence, we no longer trust the authority of traditional institutions who used to be carriers of moral ideals.

“We used to experience morality as imperatives. The consequences of not doing the right thing were not only social, but deeply emotional and psychological. We couldn’t bear to live with ourselves. Now we experience morality more as a choice that we can always change as circumstances call for it. We tend to personalize our ideals. And what you end up with is a nation of ethical free agents.

Why does this argument--Lord knows I've been hearing it since at least 1972, without the slightest appreciable movement in Our Public Morality--always sound like it's headed for "and that's why we should ban all abortions", not "and that's our pledge to you. Sincerely, The School of Religion and Ethics at the University of Virginia"?

And what is our political discussion about nowadays? Not about asking, let alone making, our institutions behave, but about how unfettered unfettered Capitalism needs to be before it can really get comfortable. Maybe instead of checking "our" morals, we oughta be checking our eyesight. Maureen Dowd is a Pulitzer (hallowed institution!)-winning author who's done her best to trivialize the issues of the day ("What? I should cover policy?" she's alleged to've said once. Or more than once). That may not make her a Good German, like McQueary or Dottie Sandusky. Talking about Lindsey Lohan's latest antics may not be the moral equivalent of turning up the sound on TMZ so you don't hear the screams coming from the basement. But is it really impossible to trace a connection?


R. Porrofatto said...

Hear hear and well said. I'd really appreciate it if one of these hired keeners lamenting the sinking of our institutions into moral dystopia would tell us when, say, the Catholic church or Goldman Sachs were at their moral zenith. Just so's we could compare.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I will continue to claim that the decline of the NYT and the WaPo can be laid at the doorsteps of entitled Richie Rich's Pinch Sulzberger and Donald Graham, respectively.

Deggjr said...

I was shocked to learn Santa Claus isn't a real person but I was somewhat younger then than Maureen Dowd is now.

Anonymous said...

On the money, Riley, as usual. Why I keep coming back.

I still remember (and fault) Dowd for her 1,000 columns grilling Ole Bill for Monica Lewinsky. Not letting up even when everyone could see what hay the Rethugs were making of it, all the way up to impeachment. The Times loves middlebrow scolds, but tends to shy away from writers who cut too deep.

Anonymous said...

The lack of criticism about the U.S. Government’s killer drones seems far worse than “listening to the slap of wet genitals on forcibly exposed buttocks then calling Dad for advice.”

prairie curmudgeon said...

What's the fashion editor of the Times doing discussing morality anyway?

Both Sides Do It said...

The entire post is wonderfully sharp, as usual, but "All the soul-searching of the "How did we get to the point where our institutions lie to us so freely, so awfully, so criminally" is just another form of listening to the slap of wet genitals on forcibly exposed buttocks then calling Dad for advice." is far and away the leader for best sentence of commentary of the year.

KWillow said...

The people who deliberately dug holes in the "decency" dam so as to get the cretins' vote, are wailing in horror now because their houses are in the path of the flood, two.

John Daly said...

I'd still like to know if my failure to find any reference to the late JoePa's relationship with Morality in Media is just a coincidence, or the result of a thorough CYA campaign conducted at the behest of Patrick A. Trueman.