Politicians and Other Moral Amateurs

Bill Murchison
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Posted: Sep 24, 2014 12:01 AM
Politicians and Other Moral Amateurs

That's it, that's it! Why did no one think of it before Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., concocted the solution to NFL violence?

"If the NFL doesn't police themselves" -- she meant "itself," but never mind grammar when a senator is in the throes of inspiration -- "we will be looking more into it."

"We"? Congress, of course. The investigatory remedial fraternity, always with the solution to newly recognized human problems -- in the NFL's case, brutality toward spouses, other players and likely humanity in general.

We not only can't have brutality -- players beating wives and children, for instance -- because Congress, duly involved, won't allow brutality. The political process, as always, will prevail over human nature and temptation -- except when, as usual, it falls short of prevailing over these old adversaries of liberalism.

The liberal creed, in 21st-century terms, is a top-down mechanism for enforcing the tolerance and spirit of equality that the liberal establishment takes as natural, except, naturally, for capitalism and male chauvinism.

Whoa! Did we never until recent times see the likes of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson? A backward look -- as far as the eye and the mind can travel -- would suggest otherwise. There was this guy in the Bible called Cain, and after he got through with Abel, things got steadily worse. To put the matter another way, there is an element of evil in the human character, a spirit of malice and disobedience that would hardly have infected the pro football game without some encouragement, inner as well as outer.

The moral institutions of humanity were meant in part to teach about malice and disobedience, and to warn away such as sought to profit by them, or, like Rice, just to express themselves with some fisticuffs.

The moral institutions of society had, among other tasks, the job of saying, "It's not all about you -- much as you think it ought to be all about you." The foremost moral institution in the West is, of course, the Christian church, with its narrative of man's duties toward the Creator. Then there's the family, a unit devoted, at its best, to the mutual upbuilding, rather than the disintegration and humiliation, of its members. Next comes the school, a many-layered institution, whose duty is -- or used to be -- to teach and reinforce the right things, the right choices, in life.

Clearly, in the lives of Rice and various of his co-workers, any vaccinations they might have had against malice and so forth didn't take. It often works that way. This hardly argues for the intervention of politicians with little authority of their own outside the ability to make speeches, pass laws and, especially these days, turn over to unelected officials the making of rules and regulations.

Gillibrand's indignation at the spectacle of violence among pro football players may be genuine. We ought to concede that to her -- without ceding to her, or to any other politician, credit for knowing what to do about the problem. "What to do," in political terms, always turns out to mean "do something political."

How about, for a welcome change, do something non-political? How about step back and honor the authority of the moral institutions we used to rely on prior to "discovering" in the past half-century their blindness and capacity for tyranny?

Twenty-first century America's moral consensus -- its broad assumptions about right and wrong and duty and responsibility -- isn't much of a consensus. The dents and dings visited on it for the past half-century have had their effect. We just don't much believe in a right way of doing things, as opposed to a wrong way. We don't like censuring people's inner visions, telling them, in effect, "no."

Along comes such as Rice to remind us what can happen when a society removes the old moral fences that were themselves reminders of what we're supposed to do, how we're supposed to do it, why it's important that we do it.

Let us consider ourselves duly reminded.