A physician reader who blogs as AnonymousDr writes on the “Defending the Culture of Death” thread about why citing lower crime rates and lower rates of teen pregnancy does not convince certain kinds of conservatives (like me) that things are uniformly getting better:
If your only comparison is the catastrophe of the West from 1960s through the early 1990s, than yes you can maybe imagine that “everything is getting better”. Ponder this though, there were only 6 murders in Ireland in 1950 (population 2.9 million)! Crime has been going down for the last 20 years, (yay!) but we in the US are still just getting back to the crime levels of the 60s. And since we can’t really explain the decline, how can any ideology take credit for it?
Violent crime is also only one fairly crude way of measuring the health of a society-many oppressive countries are relatively free of crime.
Maybe we haven’t fought a big war in a while, but only because nuclear weapons make Great Power war too dangerous. We would have fought the Chinese in Korea or Soviets in Afghanistan if nukes didn’t exist. But, is anyone so naive that they don’t think nuclear weapons will ever be used?
Sure more people have a “college education” and graduate from “high school” than did in 1960, but only by drastically changing the meaning of those accomplishments–by this I mean gutting them of real content.
What about other measures of societal health–income inequality, obesity, children born in wedlock, trust in neighbors, number of friends, eating meals with friends and family, having real skills as opposed to some nebulous cubicle job, time spent in leisure activities, perception of meaning in life? What about the destruction of the environment? What about declining population that make the welfare states of the West, even the very modest one that the US has, un-sustainable? I’m not just talking about some golden age in the 50s I’m talking about questioning modernity tout court. And yes, I realize antibiotics and anesthesia are great, that is why I became a doctor, instead of a Dominican friar which was seemed to me to be the other reasonable option.
The discussions like this on this website (and in life) go around and around and around because the two sides have very different views of the Good Life–some judge the good life on how likely it is that one will be able to pass on a certain way of life to one’s children, one that usually involves a close knit family and traditional religion, manners, and mores. And others judge it based on autonomy–to what degree can I experience the world on my own terms without any received values or outside obligations. Both sides need the cooperation of society to achieve their goals, but since the horrors of 20th century totalitarianism, people on the Right (in the West at least) are reluctant to press their claims on those who disagree with them, which is a de facto victory for liberalism. I know because I am a milquetost trad. For example without pressure to stay married people don’t stay married, even if for the vast majority of people divorce is a disaster. But who wants to snub divorced friends or correct a divorced (and non-celibate) uncle that he can’t receive Communion? That is how it used to be.
I think I finally get the Benedict Option: we have to live in the world, but our home should be a beacon of this old way, and it has to be a deliberate choice or the world will turn the things we care about to dust. But we can’t be militant about it. We also have to be hospitable, to welcome people into our lives and homes, and show them what life can be.
That’s the best definition of the Benedict Option I’ve seen yet. Thanks from another milquetoast trad.
You bring to mind a conversation I had recently with my friend N. He’s one of the greatest guys I know. Big-hearted working-class guy, salt of the earth, the kind of man you want to have with you in the foxhole. Somehow we got to talking about religion, and he mentioned that he and his adult children have all left Catholicism, and simply quit going to church. There was no dramatic reason, they just drifted away, and don’t see much point in going to any church. Still believe in God and all, but not church. He’s not angry about it or anything. He’s just not in church anymore, and neither are his grown kids.
The world will not end because N. and his family are no longer churchgoers. But a world will end for that family and all its descendants. And I count that a loss. We traditionalist conservatives, however milquetoast we may be, measure these things by different standards. In material terms, life has never been better for more Europeans. And yet, and yet…
Reader Kijunshi, on the same thread:
I dunno… there seems to be a lot of hysteria around this topic on this thread. Maybe it’s because I’m young, or secular, but I just don’t see the doom and gloom. It’ll work out, this new culture of America, or it won’t. We’ll become more prosperous, or we won’t. It’s good to have the conversation, but I guess this is one of those threads where I feel an age gap? I and my cohort are the ones that inherited these trends, and are pushing them forward/pushing back upon them (mostly forward, and we have our reasons). And we are the ones that will reap the rewards/downfall of our choices. And what else is there to say? I’m glad to have the conversation but… so much hysteria about ‘pornification’… it’s just a pendulum swing, guys, aided by technology. There will be another prudish era following this one’s excesses, then another explosion of people who think they just discovered sex somehow, and on, and on. I know this, and I’m not even 30! I’ve lived through it, already!! There will be some sort of public backlash against the Girls type of public exposure by 2020 or before. Seriously.
One thing that does strike me – something that deadens the heart of young people, and I guess I still am one: not having a cause outside oneself to strive for. I knew – know – a lot of people that want desperately to commit themselves to a cause greater than themselves, but our culture offers so many options they become meaningless. Welcome to the marketplace of religion, where every single booth is convinced they have the One True Truth! Welcome to Internet social justice warrior-ism, where we nitpick which exact downtrodden population is most worthy of our paternalistic protection, and attack the others! Welcome to all the pet political issues of society, screeching as loudly as they can to be heard over the din! And every single one of them has mud on their public face…
For someone, especially a young someone, searching for a desperately needed cause outside themselves, it’s overwhelming – there’s no consensus and nothing seems truer than your own opinion, and two brain cells to rub together can tell you your opinion ain’t the Truth. Even your own parents have the mud of hypocrisy on them, after you’ve spent so long close up and personal with their choices and can see their every flaw. One of the truer articles I’ve read recently noted just how much institutions have been downgraded in the eyes of Millenials… anecdotally that’s true; I can’t think of a single one I’ve not been deeply, fundamentally disappointed with. I can shrug and carry on–contradictions are part of life and I’m comfortable with deciding my own truths–but I’ve seen it nearly destroy friends of mine who are – I don’t know – more sensitive? Idealistic?
TL;DR, the culture we live in today does not provide a clear cause outside oneself for those who desperately want it. And the fragmentation of our culture makes it even more difficult on them. I’ve pondered aloud enough, not certain if I have anything else to say ^^;
More of us are freer and richer than anybody in the history of the human race. But for what?