The Institute for American Values gives us the news that -- all right, they don't say it in so many words, but two and two are easy to add, and there seems no way not to understand that David Letterman didn't inadvertently become a cad and a bounder and Roman Polanski a rapist on the run.
Our culture's grasp of the right relationship between men and women --founded on a proper understanding of marriage -- is in sorry shape.
New York City-based IAV, which studies and comments on the state of the culture, reported the other day on the problems faced by our basic civilizing institution, the family. The report packs no surprises, at least for Americans old enough to have glumly watched the steady erosion of valuable inhibitions on wrong behavior over some years.
Maybe "glumly" isn't the right word. I'll wager Letterman wasn't glum as moral barriers to the exercise of raw appetite started crumbling around the time he was in high school -- the mid-'60s -- greatly broadening the market for cads and other non-respecters of women. What people used to expect in the way of male behavior toward women, women quit expecting and males quit delivering, as nobody expected it anymore.
Our current problem: a lack of norms anyone feels obliged to recognize in this present culture of liberation; hence weaker and weaker family structures, just as the IAV report shows. The report, to be found at www.americanvalues.org, has a quasi-sociological name, the Index of Leading Marriage Indicators (which is a play on the Index of Leading Economic Indicators). The authors measure the state of marriage. They dislike the findings.
For instance: Whereas 78.6 percent of Americans, ages 20 to 54, were married in 1970, only 57.2 percent are married today.
The drop-off, during the same period, in number of intact first marriages is steeper still -- from 77.5 percent to 61.2 percent. Do the math: that's three in five. Unsurprisingly, births to married parents, which were nine in every 10 back in 1970, are now just three in five. There's more, but you get the drift: What I referred to earlier as our basic civilizing institution is weakening. That means increases in non-civilized behavior.
Granted, the un-noblest Roman of them all didn't invent teenage rape, nor was Letterman the first lecher to carry on fancy-free office affairs. The withdrawal of cultural stigmas, unfortunately, makes those behaviors more common, the victims more numerous.