This piece will be rather brutal, I fear. I have some ugly ground to cover, and it’s not easily compressed into a thousand exquisitely appropriate and entirely non-vulgar words.
Someone once posited that the way to structure an exposition is to lead off by telling your audience what you will tell them. You then proceed to tell them. As your conclusion, you tell them what you’ve just told them. The idea has its points, if you’re lecturing a gaggle of somnolents who are listening to you against their will and would like nothing better than to hear that you’ve suddenly been struck by acute laryngitis (or in a writer’s case, immedicable carpal tunnel syndrome). I prefer to treat my Gentle Readers as more intelligent than that. So buckle up; this ride will get bumpy.
Does anyone else remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie The Running Man? Most of the way, it’s an ordinary SF / action tale with Schwarzenegger doing what he did best back then. However, it embedded a brief scene that spoke to me rather powerfully.
In brief, the movie concerns a totalitarian U.S. in which a sadistic game show, “The Running Man,” is popular entertainment. In each episode of the show, a prisoner is challenged to navigate his way through four “game zones” without being killed by one or more “Stalkers.” Ben Richards, played by Schwarzenegger, is compelled to play the part of the Running Man after an unsuccessful attempt to flee the country with Amber Mendez, played by Maria Conchita Alonso. Mendez, who works at the studio that broadcasts the show, betrayed Richards to the authorities before he could complete his escape. The scene below shows Mendez looking on as Richards is led away, presumably to his death for the show’s audience’s entertainment.
The scene is unsubtle, but the message is powerful even so: Richards didn’t abuse Mendez, not because he could not, nor because someone or something could have stopped him, but because he would not.
To be a good man, it’s necessary to believe that there are absolute moral-ethical standards: rules about right and wrong that apply to everyone, at all times and places. A good man doesn’t murder, rape, steal, defraud, or break his sworn word: not because he doesn’t think he could get away with it, but because it’s wrong.
Except for that one scene, The Running Man is not any sort of preachment. It’s entertainment. Yet the moral message that scene delivers is critical to the survival of our nation.
The Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch are mostly much more intelligent than average. That’s guaranteed by the sort of material we post here, which is inaccessible to dullards. So it’s quite possible that you, Gentle Reader of the moment, have the mental horsepower required to reason your way to the moral-ethical standard we usually call the Judeo-Christian ethic without any need to be persuaded that God has written it into the fabric of our temporal reality. However, it is in the nature of the distribution of intelligence – the famous “Bell Curve” of which Herrnstein and Murray wrote — that if you possess that much intellect, you’re one of a tiny minority: about 2% of the American population. The other 98% of our countrymen could never do so. If they sincerely hold to the Judeo-Christian ethic, it’s because they absorbed it from the authorities over them as they grew up: most commonly their parents and / or their religious education teachers.
Mind you, the “smart 2%” don’t all get there. I could name quite a few who haven’t…and quite a few who have rejected the ethic because it impedes them from getting what they want. Some years ago a criminal, Caryl W. Chessman, came to public attention as the result of a conviction for a kidnapping-rape – a crime he went to the gas chamber swearing he did not commit. Chessman had been IQ tested and scored at a level adequate to reason his way to the Judeo-Christian ethic. Plainly, as he made his living through robbery, he had no interest in doing so.
Chessman, a career criminal, is relevant only as an extreme case. However, the gradual large-scale disavowal of the Judeo-Christian ethic, especially among people who regard themselves as highly intelligent, is of critical importance. Why such persons do so varies as greatly as they do. Yet their example, when followed by less intelligent others, has consequences that would wreck any society beyond repair.
In the main, the promulgation of the Judeo-Christian ethic, henceforward to be called simply the Ethic, proceeds from two fundamental ideas:
- That God exists;
- That He will punish eternally those who violate His Ethic.
The specter of eternal suffering in Hell is enough to frighten just about anyone into compliance with the Ethic. However, if a subject rejects either of those fundamental ideas, the specter vanishes; the Ethic loses the force of the postulated consequences. What remains to constrain the behavior of the subject then?
- Fear of the potential consequences of lawbreaking (e.g., being shot down while committing a crime);
- Fear of punishment as applied by the secular justice system;
- Fear of the opinions of others.
All three of those deterrents have been badly weakened. The steady assault on the right to defend oneself, one’s loved ones, and one’s property with lethal force is eroding #1. The “rehabilitation over deterrence” philosophy has eaten deeply into #2. The “what’s right is what’s right for you” thesis has all but destroyed #3. As a result, an increasing number of Americans have adopted “whatever I can get away with” as their standard.
The recent trial of Kyle Rittenhouse is a data point of importance. The prosecution strained logic and evidence completely out of proportion to convict that young man for daring to defend himself against murderous thugs – two convicted criminals and a domestic abuser – who had already attacked him. The huge number of hardened criminals being granted clemency, suspended sentences, or paroles without any substantial justification is a forest of data points. Yet the judges who commit those crimes against public safety preen themselves for their “compassion.” Of the diminution of the force of opinion, it’s unnecessary to speak.
Anyone able to comprehend the drivel I post here can see where this is headed.
I’ve ranted before about the erosion of America’s high-trust society. When that essay first appeared, there was nothing comparable to the crime wave that’s swept the nation these past two years. The “knockout game” and “flash mobs” of violent teenagers were as yet unknown. No one could have imagined that armed gangs would descend upon retail stores and empty them of goods. Nor did we yet have thugs obstructing public roads, burning down businesses, and attacking peaceable pedestrians as a “protest.” Those things were still a decade away.
What’s changed since then, that such infamies should have become regular features of the evening news? Well, I believe I’ve provided a lot of clues already, but if it must be said straight out, let me do so and be done:
John Adams, the second President of the United States after the Constitution was ratified, said this:
There’s an assumption beneath that statement, plus an unnecessary restriction of scope. The assumption is that a “religious people” will be moral as Adams understood it: i.e., that such persons will constrain themselves according to the Ethic. That is not the case for all “religious peoples;” consider Islam and Muslims. However, it is the case for the Christian cultures that provided the original population of the thirteen colonies. The restriction of scope is to the Constitution. In point of fact, any society in which the populace is largely self-governing – i.e., in which armed, uniformed men aren’t found on every street corner, poised to run toward any eruption of violence or disorder – must be “moral and religious” as Adams understood it. If it is not, mutual predation will cause it to collapse, either to chaos or to authoritarian or totalitarian rule.
Clay Christensen’s classic video is entirely on point:
That short, brilliant statement omits only one thing. Christensen notes that “most people” obey the law voluntarily “most of the time.” But what is the value for “most” in that statement that makes possible the high-trust society that America once was? The America in which the “knockout game” and “flash mobs” were unknown? The America in which large gangs did not rob Nordstroms’ and Louis Vuittons of massive quantities of goods? The America in which thugs did not block public roads, burn down businesses, and attack peaceable pedestrians as a “protest?”
I can’t put an exact figure on Christensen’s “most.” I can say with some confidence that it’s at least 98%. It might be higher. However, it is now observable that with 2% of the population rampaging lawlessly through the relics of our “high-trust society,” that society cannot function.
Christensen is quite correct: we cannot hire enough police. Were we to try, and by some miracle to succeed, those police would also have to possess plenipotentiary powers to intervene in anything, with any degree of force they please, to quell the chaos that has beset us. We would henceforward be under a police state. Whoever commands the allegiance of the preponderance of the police could do whatever he pleases to us, as is the case with any dictator.
Note that the police forces we already possess don’t act that way. Indeed, they’ve begun to stand aside even when intervening would obviously be justifiable. They’re too afraid for their jobs and their freedom. The fate of Derek Chauvin has been burned into their memories.
I could go on. I could enumerate the myriad ways in which America’s ruling class has brought about the chaos we suffer. I could detail the ways in which America’s churches have been colonized and corrupted by the Left under the guise of “social justice.” I could talk about the schools, their rejection of civics instruction, and their deliberate perversion of the teaching of history. All that, and more, take part in the crumbling mosaic of America’s formerly “high-trust” society.
But what matters is the Ethic. Nothing else comes close. And the Ethic has been reduced to a laughingstock by the preachers of “moral and cultural relativism.”
There isn’t much more to say that a Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch needs to hear. The breakup of our society, in all probability, will continue as it has begun. There are no brakes strong enough to do more than slow it a trifle. People will “laager up” along the lines of what trust remains to them: familial, religious, and small community trust, where every member knows every other, and the ethical bona fides of every member are beyond question.
America as we knew it is dead, a walking corpse. Some relics of it will function as we’ve come to expect for a little longer, just as a galvanic current applied to a muscle or joint will cause a cadaver to twitch by reflex. But the day in which peaceable persons had no fear of going about unarmed, in which retail establishments didn’t need massive armed security just to stay viable, and in which our traditional forces of order were actually ready, willing, and able to maintain order has passed. The disappearance of the Ethic, and of the Christian faiths and institutions that made it a living force to which 98% or more of Americans willingly bound themselves, is the reason.
Let him save himself, and those he loves, who can.