Arnold and the collapse of Western civilization

Posted: Oct 07, 2003 12:00 AM

There used to be -- generally speaking -- something called rules, and they used to be acknowledged as -- generally speaking -- a good thing.

Through differentiating the possibilities in human behavior -- rewarding some possibilities, penalizing others -- the rules definitely eased social stresses. Courts or policemen rarely enforced the rules. People did that, from friends to neighbors to cane-waving grannies.

Among the rules: no grabbing or groping women.

You'll be guessing at this point, gentle reader, that the point I would make concerns Arnold Schwarzenegger and the, ah, um, reputedly direct way in which he once made female acquaintanceships.

On the other hand, isn't there a lot more here than just plain old did he or didn't he? The point is, what happens when the rules go down, and it's Katie bar the door -- or sock the boor?

Human nature being human nature, impolite behavior between men and women doesn't exactly qualify as news (unless, it seems, the man in question is seeking high office), but rules and expectations used to govern such behavior. These rules and expectations got handed down generationally, often in forceful form.

George Bernard Shaw lampooned rules as "middle-class morality" -- without disclosing to his audiences what was wrong either with the middle classes or with morality The middle classes manifestly had their lapses, but they did work to keep the lid on things.

A particular point on which they insisted was that a man shouldn't be a man and nothing else. He should be a gentle-man, normally rendered as "gentleman." I note this datum inasmuch as only a few decrepit, wing-collared relics recall when "gentleman" was more than a name suggesting to males which restroom door they were to enter.

The rules said that a gentleman did certain things and refrained from other things -- or, at any rate, was expected to.

Among these latter things was the practice known as Taking Advantage. The Los Angeles Times' election-eve disclosures about Arnold suggest (or more than suggest) that he Took Advantage of certain unwary women. If the charge should stick, the very least one can say is that he shouldn't have done so. You can't say he plainly shouldn't have done so, inasmuch as nothing is plain anymore. The rules that used to take care of such eventualities dropped into disuse some three decades ago.

Feminism -- women's lib, it was called back then -- asserted the constitutional and political equality of men and women. Back then, you might not have recognized the assertion as an invitation to a groping party, but men (the brutes!) drew that hopeful conclusion from circumstances.

Everywhere, the bars were falling. No longer did an undergraduate say to the dean, "Good morning, Dean." He said, "Power to the people, you fascist pig!" Jerry Rubin urged that we kill our parents. Groups such as the Weathermen undertook to bomb the Establishment into submission. The Black Panthers exhorted their followers to "get whitey." At the Woodstock festival-happening, it was "Hi! Whatcha doing with your clothes on?"

An environment like this doesn't precisely entrench public regard for self-restraint or for the morality of the middle classes. Toss into this stew the agitation for erasure of male-female distinctions, and if you can find a rule -- a social prohibition, a cultural injunction -- still standing anywhere, your eyesight exceeds my own. Forgive me, I mean apart from the rule of "Put out that cigarette, you scumbag!" For every American, male or female, who is outraged (on political grounds, if no other) that a famous man might Take Advantage, another can doubtless be seen yawning: Advantage? Whaddaya mean by "advantage"?

In this latter category of Americans, you won't find many of the wing-collared set: those who see rudeness, vulgarity and brute force as deadly to any notion of civilization and social order.

These, of course, have another query to answer:

Social order? What social order?