Some years ago, when our teenagers were tots, my husband and I took them to a puppet version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Or was that "The Three Bears and Goldilocks"? Turns out, we were seeing "the other side" of the old story. Here, Goldilocks was no wandering lass improbably meeting up with an even more improbable household of bears, but a human interloper vandalizing the home of her fellow mammals.
When the bears came home from their walk, happened upon Goldilocks' mischief and chased her out of the house, they were acting in fright, not anger, and had no thought of, say, devouring the heroine -- which is often the conventionally climactic possibility in this and other such fairy tales. The puppets made it clear that the whole incident resulted from a lack of communication. Everyone -- bears, children -- should listen to one another because, as the puppets sang in conclusion, "there are two sides to every story."
This really burned me up. First, the kids in the theatre were too young to have their Goldilocks narrative down pat, and, therefore, too young to have it messed with. And who did these puppeteers think they were injecting a dose of moral relativism into age-old tales? It's not that Goldilocks is a rallying figure exactly, but there's a disconnect here. For kids still grappling with moral absolutes known as right and wrong, it's very confusing to contend with the "alternate" message: essentially, that there is right and right again. For the preschoolers in the audience, this was just the beginning of their postmodern education.
It's no coincidence that this anecdote comes up in the aftermath of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's obscene caper across New York City -- from Columbia University (with a threatened detour to Ground Zero), to the United Nations, and to the Intercontinental Hotel where he hosted a dinner for 50 American guests from academia and the media. The same childlike ethos of right and right again -- moral relativism -- of the PC puppet show was the institutional rationale that permitted Ahmadinejad's terrible public relations triumph over America. I fear it has only convinced him that he can win more.
He came, he raved, he hosted the media. Question: Couldn't news stars Brian Williams and Christiane Amanpour and Time magazine's Richard Stengel and whomever else supped with Iran's jihadist-in-chief have told him, if not where to go, that they had to wash their hair? Alas, no. Not the president, not the State Department, not Columbia, not the media, could think of a single reason to say no to this thug -- this sworn enemy of our country fighting a covert war against U.S. troops in Iraq, this largest sponsor of terrorism in the world, this Holocaust-denier seeking the nuclear tools for another Holocaust -- and deny him an American showcase on the world stage.
That's because they don't know a single reason. Decades of multiculturalism, positing that all cultures are equally valuable, except, of course, for Western culture (which is the pits) have undermined our ability to make distinctions, to understand that being open to everything -- including Ahmadinejad's presence -- is not the same as preserving a tolerant society.
"If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant," Karl Popper wrote, "then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them."
From the puppet theatre to the Ivy League, we are not prepared. Instead, we act as though Ahmadinejad has his point of view, and we, or, rather, the U.S. government -- as, for example, Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" carefully pointed out in his A-jad interview (I've never heard a reporter say "sir" more times) -- has its point of view. "This is America at its best," according to Columbia president Lee Bollinger. No, it's America at its morally paralyzed.
Transforming Ahmadinejad into a grand old statesman, some have noted, has parallels to the notorious 1933 Oxford Union resolution declaring "That this House refuses to fight for King and country." Among Britain's enemies, Churchill later noted, "the idea of a decadent, degenerate Britain took deep root and swayed many calculations."
This is the recurring danger. But this time the decadence is more widespread and the degeneracy more entrenched. Why? The Oxford resolution was passed by college students -- very young people. Ahmadinejad was admitted into the country, hosted by Columbia, and respectfully received by the media on the say-so of supposedly seasoned adults. Which should make us all cry out: Where have all the grown-ups gone?