The Problem Of Right And Wrong

A signal feature of civilization is the eternaland eternally frustratingquest to distinguish right from wrong.  Standards of behavior have changed dramatically over time, and our search for moral clarity has led humanity in many different directions. Guidelines for a good life have come from many religions, cults, monarchs, autocrats, academics, poets, entertainers, politicians, authors, and relatively ordinary individualseach offering their own visions for organizing our governmental, social, and individual lives.  What all have in common is that they have tapped into our deeply felt human desire to embrace principles that elevate our intentions and actions above those whom we deem our enemies or inferiors.

Moreover, we have always needed those to whom we look for moral or ethical leadership to possessor at least be able to plausibly fakea purity of individual character that can inspire us to follow their example and teachings.  The truth of the matter is almost beside the point.  John F. Kennedy may have spent his adult life running around with his zipper hanging open, but he spoke well, dressed sharply, and could pilot a sailboat with his photogenic family smiling by his side.  

It obviously helped JFK that the press was happily complicit in hiding his peccadilloes from public view, but their willingness to do so was a function of their starry-eyed admiration for his easy charm.  He seemed to fit their vision of what a moral and inspiring leader should be, so they were content to engage in some willful blindness in the pursuit of what they perceived to be a greater good.  Those on the inside will always shield a personally compromised leader if they believe his or her purpose is pureand their own power and prerogatives are protected in the bargain.

Finally, it is beneficial to have the right enemies if you are to offer compelling moral leadership to the masses.  Having a great and good vision is important, but it is much easier for your followers or potential followers to offer their support if you can offer an apocalyptic alternative that will occur if your teachings are not followed.  Many centuries ago the Catholic Church was able to exercise domination over Europe because failure to obey meant Satan would arise and your immortal soul would be damned to hell fire for eternity.  Today the conviction that the Earth will spiral into unthinkable environmental catastrophe in only 12 years if draconian measures are not immediately taken to remake our daily lives and entire economic structure is driving the fervor of some for eating insects, living in yurts, and using composting toiletsthe enemy is our species and its crimes against our planet.

The obvious problem with seeking guidance and leadership in the quest for moral clarity is that heroes are not always clearly heroic and villains sometimes not overtly villainous.  It would be helpful if the enemies of humanity were legally required to live in secret lairs inside active volcanoes (evil assistant optional) or daily dress in black leather embossed with swastikas, but we have learned the hard way that truly terrible people can be superficially quite charming and engaging.  Conversely, some of the most heroic people in our history have been bland, awkward, or confrontational.  

Worse yet, it is extraordinarily difficult (if not impossible) to know for certain whether a given individual or action will in the long term serve the interests of good, evilor perhaps both.  For example, the scientists who created the atom bomb toward the end of World War II helped to end the actual combat more quickly; however, it was also the case that hundreds of thousands of people died horribly as a result and a nightmarish era of nuclear anxiety and paranoia warped world politics for many decades to come.  Were these scientists heroes, villains, or dupes?  We are still arguing the point, and the final answer eludes us to this very day.  Right and wrong are often maddeningly complex concepts with innumerable twists and turns.

Nonetheless, we are surprisingly comfortable with condemning the beliefs and actions of others with sometimes startling viciousness, and our inability to recognize the limitations inherent in our perspectives is an impediment to productive dialogue.  In addition, our predilection for rhetorical overkill and fallacious linkagesI just today read of a Presidential candidate equating being pro-life with racism and anti-Semitismrenders all involved less heroic despite their intense beliefs in the merits of their causes or ideas.

Although we have spent the past several decades insisting that our feelings are more important than hard, verifiable facts, relegating our emotions to the margins of our conversations might be the only way out of the quandary we find ourselves in today.  It would, of course, be foolish to forget that facts can be readily manipulated and twisted by those with a partisan purpose, but cool-headed inquiry based on data is less fraught with difficulties than determining who is the most angry, offended, or appalled by a given proposal or viewpoint.  

Some are now convinced that logic is an oppressive tool of patriarchy and racism (Dont believe me? Look it up!).  However, it could be reasonably argued screeching at one another until our eardrums burst is an oppressively stupid method of resolving our disagreements that leads only to unending discord and misery.  

Numbers are not hateful.  Although some would certainly disagree, your bathroom scale is not discriminating against you when you check your weight in the morning. Standardized test scores might be influenced by a familys social-economic status, but that is not a reason for discontinuing the use them as one basic measure of K-12 academic outcomes.  Our spiraling national debt has many causes, but it cannot simply be dismissed as an irrelevant annoyance when contemplating governmental programs that will cost tens of trillions of dollars.

Determining whoand whatis right is never simple.  It is possible to believe with all your heart and soul in an individual or idea and still end up being in the wrong.  However, arguing by attacking and government by grievance are the dead end roads of representative democracy.  Unless we change our style and methods of discussion and resolution very soon, it is all too easy to imagine an America that is irretrievably Balkanized by passion divorced from reasona dystopia born of our self-righteous rage.

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Fears R Us

I sometimes feel as if we Americans are living in a national Doomsday cult—or some nightmare far worse.

Although the timeline for our imminent demise due to global warming/species die-off/genetically modified crops/fire/flood/drought/ leaf burning/natural resource shortages/mass infrastructure failure/killer bees/lawn chemicals/cell phones/slow internet/sugary soft drinks/atomic war/pollution/lone gunmen/poor dietary choices/incivility/general stupidity is instantly extended whenever one deadline or another passes, it is difficult to escape the constant message that our very existence as the keystone predator on the planet earth is about to end.

Over the past couple of decades. the general prescription offered to forestall the end of the world as we know it has always seemed to be either a new tax, a new fee, a new law, a new bureaucracy, a new government program, a new form of state-sanctioned monitoring or control, or expanded censorship of thought and expression—basically more power flowing ever upwards from the general population to a distant priesthood of the educated, enlightened, and unaccountable elites.

In other words, Superman won’t save us—but the 2nd Assistant to the Secretary of the Global Commission on World Oversight surely will.

Doomsday cults must, by definition, be able to accomplish two basics: scare us half to death about our impending deaths and offer the only possibility for salvation. This is necessary in order to engender the overwhelming fear that ensures mute compliance. The constant drumbeat of documentary and news reports explaining the disasters soon to befall us provides the fear. The sage—and usually government employed or sponsored—experts explaining the only possible solutions provide the hope for salvation. The mass media, of course, love these types of stories and run them constantly and gleefully because their audiences are like audiences everywhere—we just can’t look away from a frightening and gory car accident.

Fed a constant diet of the coming—and certain—apocalypse, many people naturally sink into hopelessness and despair or join the Doomsday cult itself, where they grasp for control of their own lives by adopting a quasi-mystical belief in the protective powers of all that is “natural” while voting for candidates who promise new and improved controls of individual behaviors and personal beliefs that they find upsetting or threatening.

Like small children who insist that mommy check under their beds for monsters before bedtime, these fearful people loudly and continually demand that which can never be guaranteed in a vast and complex world: an absolute freedom from all fears—both real and imagined. Perhaps it is little wonder that 1 out of 6 Americans are reportedly now filling a prescription for either anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. It is kind of a drag being constantly told that the world as you know it is resting on crumbling precipice overlooking a deep and unforgiving chasm—and no one has yet devised a way to provide the protection that you now so desperately require.

It is, of course, the case that real problems do exist that are harming our lives and daily existences—American life expectancy has, for example, now dropped for three years in a row—but it is also certainly true that many risks are exaggerated while others that might actually pose a more dire threat are paradoxically ignored. Possibly it is simply the case that the fears that seem more grim and tangible are more likely to seize our attention. Hollywood studios are, for example, going to sell more tickets with a movie that revolves around a gigantic meteor striking the earth (which is exceedingly unlikely to ever occur) rather than one that deals with the ongoing and decades-long collapse of academic standards in our nation’s public schools—which is happening right now and is truly horrifying.

It is perfectly understandable that we pay more attention to spurting blood, cacophonous explosions, and piteous screaming, but an idiotic decision made on a sunny Thursday afternoon inside a quiet conference room at a federal agency in Washington, D.C. is far more likely to be the causal agent for the next catastrophe affecting our lives.

Moreover, rather than focus on the many, many problems that are outside our control, perhaps we can most immediately and dramatically improve our lives by focusing our energies and irritation upon those matters we can most directly impact.

Spend a day in your children’s classrooms and see what is—and what is not—being done to prepare them for future success. Go to a county planning board meeting and find out what is—and what is not—being done to provide affordable housing in your region. Attend a public meeting at your local police department and learn what is—and what is not—being done to reduce crime in your community. Most importantly, ask questions, expect answers—and take action. Doomsday cults preach the end of the world precisely because it encourages passivity and thereby empowers the priesthood; instead resolve to be active and involved in your own life and that of your town or city. Leave the priesthood to babble among themselves.

Big national and international problems grab our attention, but a thousand smaller local problems offer our best opportunity to exit the cult of utter hopelessness and seize control of our own lives. I guarantee that taking action will feel a lot better than being a powerless victim waiting for some bureaucrat or government agency to improve your life—or provide the security that you crave.

However, as I write this, I find myself wondering whether I am wrong that we are living the nightmare of a national Doomsday cult. In could, in fact, be the case that a problem far more nefarious and dangerous is actually afoot, and this explains why the obvious solution to fear and passivity—bold thought and action—is simply beyond the reach of so many who seem sincerely flummoxed at the notion that they need to take responsibility for their own happiness and well-being.

Those who work in our nation’s penal systems speak of the problem of “institutionalization” that affects those prisoners who have been incarcerated for many, many years. Having grown so accustomed to having all of their life decisions made by all-powerful authorities who control every aspect of their daily existences, these prisoners eventually reach a point where they are simply unable to function outside of a cage because no one is directing and managing their lives.

Maybe this accounts for the odd and seemingly inexplicable mixture of unfocused anger and crazed frustration that seems to grip so many today—particularly our younger men and women who struggle mightily with the very basics of “adulting” as they flail aimlessly and disastrously through their lives. Having grown up with helicopter parents who hovered over their every move and compelled them to continually trudge along a pre-determined life path, perhaps they are now simply unable to survive without someone directing their every action.

Thankfully I still meet many young men and women who are able and aware, but I am often startled by others who find the ideas of independent thought and action completely beyond their grasp. Given that a successful transition from child to adult requires the ability to embrace and navigate complex—and sometimes conflicting—life needs, the crippling inability to manage adult responsibilities is driving skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among those in their late teens and twenties today.

A Doomsday cult might be too charitable a metaphor for our social, political, and cultural life in America today. Perhaps a better metaphor is one that is much simpler and more direct: a prison. This prison is not one made of concrete and steel. It is instead one where the bars of the cells are forged of the fears that are constantly drummed into our heads by those who find monetary and political advantage to be found in frightening us. In doing so they are polarizing our nation, destroying our young, and creating crises far greater than those they claim to be able to solve. By ruthlessly promoting never ending fear over assertive confidence, they are encouraging the misery and passivity that is killing so many souls and condemning us all to live locked in our own sad, little cells—with no hope for escape.

Harming By Helping

To seek to help others is, for the vast majority of individuals, a basic human instinct.  We want to comfort the afflicted, aid the helpless, protect the vulnerable, shelter the homeless, and feed the hungry whenever this is humanly possible.  This laudable aspect of our humanity combines with our simple desire for self-preservation to produce many of our governmental structures and policies, and we have typically—but not always—demanded some degree of self-reliance and personal responsibility in exchange for all manner of aid and protection.

However, as much as some might fervently wish it to be otherwise, no government yet devised can protect us against the consequences of every tragedy, personal mistake, fear, or plain discomfort. We cannot outlaw natural disasters or man-made stupidity, although we can—and should—always try to lessen their impacts upon both individuals and communities.

Therefore, the many catastrophes caused in American today by all the “help” our government provides are truly a Greek tragedy of mind-boggling proportions.  Our prideful efforts to provide the most perfect forms of government possible have instead produced family dysfunction, community chaos, state fiscal crises, and national gridlock—all with the added “benefits” of punishing personal initiative and rewarding irresponsibility.  Sophocles would be proud.

Over the past half-century of liberal hubris, we have watched as government in all its glory has pursued a variety of well-meaning but ultimately misguided policies.  These have caused the costs of housing, education, and medical care to spiral out of control while supposedly improving affordability, simultaneously increased both taxes and public debt, and screwed up capitalism so badly that now young people somehow now find socialism an attractive alternative to our present punitively expensive system.  In addition, half of our nation seems to be angry at the other half, our public schools fail to adequately educate the majority of our children, and the legacy costs of big and bigger government—retiree pensions and healthcare—are bankrupting many of our cities and states.

The problems are basic.  Compassion exercised by individuals, private charities, and faith communities is compelled to live within dollars and cents realities that government can easily circumvent by continually raising taxes or taking on more public debt.  In addition, the heavy hand of government tends to alter the cost/benefit ratios of a whole range of human behaviors, which later requires yet more government interventions to “fix” the problems its own programs created in the first place.  The old adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” has never been more true than when the wonders of government goodness are involved.

In American we see this cycle most vividly within the four walls of our own homes—and the brunt of the problems are borne by our children.

The U.S. Census has amply quantified the astonishing increase in single parent households (most of which are headed by women) over the past fifty years, and this has repeatedly been correlated with worsened educational, emotional, and economic outcomes for children who grow up with only one parent.  This trend has been accelerated by all manner of public aid that has served to allow one of the parents—typically the man—to shirk financial and parental responsibilities owed to their children by forcing the taxpayers to raise the offspring whom those parentsconveniently forget.  By decoupling reproduction from responsibility, government “help” has perversely only helped generations of families to deal with yet more of the dysfunctions that are typically—but not always—inherent in single parent households.

The net outcome of the startling increase in the number of single parent households—enabled and accelerated by the government assistance that makes this living arrangement possible for parent and child—has been the equally startling growth of government programs and bureaucracies set up to battle the many problems caused by those other government programs and bureaucracies that initially supported the maintenance of single parent households.  Got that?  This self-reinforcing loop of government “help” has now destroyed families and communities on a scale that would make even the cruelest tyrant proud, and the perpetuation of single parent households across generations continues to wreak havoc and compels taxpayers to subsidize an ever-widening circle of personal injury and societal harm.  Now that roughly 1/3 of American children live with either a single parent or an unmarried couple—a separate arrangement that provides its own unique blend of issues and insecurities—we should not be overly surprised by the many problems afflicting our nation’s young and their overwhelmed parents.

As the number of single parent households has risen, we have seen the inexorable march of the pathologies associated with the poverty, instability, and trauma that often impacts both parent and child.  Rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, drug use, physical and sexual abuse, hunger, homelessness, self-harm, and sexually-transmitted diseases have reached epidemic levels for both children and adults.  Although many times these problems can be attributed to unique personal circumstances or local economic conditions, their sheer number speaks to the rot within the foundation of our society—the family unit.  If families fail to thrive, it is impossible to for a community to flourish.  The most expensive home in the world will collapse if it is built upon sand.

The defenders of our expansive social welfare state will, of course, assert that they are doing God’s work by helping those who cannot otherwise help themselves.  It is an interesting “chicken or egg” argument: Has government helped to create dependency or merely helped those who must depend upon the government?  

One could use the pernicious persistence of generational poverty, for example, to argue either side of the issue.  Those who support the programs that provide food, healthcare, and housing to the poor will whistle up all manner of learned experts who will confidently proclaim that entrenched and pervasive inequality condemns many to lives filled with desperation, and it is the role of government to relieve their suffering.  However, others might point out that programs that provide for all the needs and wants of the poor without the bother of work are a disincentive to developing the self-reliance and self-discipline necessary to provide for oneself and one’s family.  In specific circumstances both viewpoints likely have some validity, and the endless haggling over the shape and scope of welfare reform that has consumed so much attention over the decades points to the near-impossibility of both discontinuing government programs once they are started and convincing people that work is better than sloth when there is little or no price to pay for living life on the couch.

I sometimes see the broad outlines of this debate when I listen to educators bewailing the many difficulties of teaching children and adolescents raised in our nation’s many troubled homes.  Many of these students walk into the classroom completely uninterested in the curriculum being offered because they cannot connect with the idea that education is the key to a better future for reasons that are obvious to them—“we’re doing just fine right now with the checks my family has been getting from the government since before I was born.”  Therefore, why should they bother reading a book, writing an essay, or solving a math problem?  Having had few—if any—examples in their lives of adults engaged with the real world of work and taking pride in their own accomplishments, school is at best an opportunity to hang out with friends and at worst an incredible irritant.  

To this extent, those who blame families for the failures of their children are correct.  As much as many may denigrate the notion of role models, we can unfortunately predict much—but not all—from observing the adults who influence a child’s daily life.  For this reason, teachers can play a key part in changing the lives of these children by opening their eyes to a world of possibilities that have heretofore been closed to them—but this is too often a sad struggle against a host of familial and parental influences that are pulling in exactly the opposite direction.

Government can protect the public in a variety of ways that provide a bulwark against disasters that can be neither foreseen nor readily prevented.  However, government and its representatives must be keenly aware that the more they help—and the longer the duration of this help—the more likely it is that harm will be the final outcome of their best efforts.  Worse yet, this harm will continue throughout the generations yet to come.

Our Many, Many Addictions

This year the World Health Organization decided that playing too many video games is a bona fide addiction deserving of medical treatment. This newest certified addiction is tagged onto a very long list of daily behaviors and activities that have over the years joined alcohol and drug use as problem behaviors. We can apparently now be addicted to eating, collecting, cleaning, gambling, anger, sex, golf, clutter, work, pornography, sunlight, sleep, exercise, shopping, guilt—and so much more. However, our many “addictions” raise a variety of questions regarding our self-perceptions and how these impact our own lives and the lives of those around us.

In addition to the more recognized addictions to drugs and alcohol, which have spawned massive rehabilitation industries that provide little in the way of actual long term cures, we seem incredibly anxious to define more and more of our daily lives and life outcomes as the inevitable results of one addiction or another. Although many behaviors provide pleasure or reward and can readily turn into habits that are difficult to break, I worry that our ever-expanding list of addictions is a symptom of our society’s pernicious flight from the concept of personal responsibility. Although it is certainly more comfortable to blame our failures on forces beyond our control—particularly when “experts” absolve us of all blame—our desires to shrug off our individual responsibilities is ultimately both self-defeating and self-destructive because it excuses a willful avoidance of adult behavior that continues to infantilize our nation and culture. Moreover, an inability to take responsibility for oneself also paralyzes the ability to take responsibility for the well-being of others—which has had a catastrophic effect upon our nation as a whole.

It is impossible, for example, for an irresponsible man or woman to be a responsible parent. If a parent is irresponsible, the burdens of child rearing are typically transferred to grandparents and government—often working in desperate tandem to ameliorate the damage done by parents who are unable to adequately care for themselves or their suffering children. By the same token, those irresponsible adults will be disasters as neighbors, spouses, and employees because they will continue to perceive themselves as being unable to take full control of their own lives.

As unpleasant as the truth may be, most of the time people screw up their lives because they excuse their own immaturity and stupidity on the grounds that self-control and self-regulation is unachievable. This lack of personal agency—continually reinforced by cultural norms that insist on framing basic irresponsibility as an outcome of addictions—is a prescription for wasted lives that lay further waste to everyone else with whom they come into contact.

It is no accident that the Golden Age of Addictions and the Golden Age of Big Government have arisen simultaneously—each serves the interests of the other. The more irresponsibility is excused by our supposed addictions, the more government programs must be created to “cure” those addictions and lessen their real world consequences. On the flip side, the more government programs that are created to shield individuals and families from the irresponsible behaviors caused by their “addictions”, the more entrenched government becomes in the daily lives of our families and communities in order to hide the continued consequences of childish self-absorption. It is the perfect symbiotic storm of waste and stupidity—and taxpayers foot the bill.

There are, of course, addictions that are exceedingly difficult to break, and great personal struggles are involved. However, the signal difference between addictions and diseases is that you can stop engaging in bad or self-destructive behavior. One can, for example, stop drinking too much, but you cannot simply stop having cancer. However, now that we routinely conflate addiction and disease (these two words are even now linked in Google searches), this distinction is often lost in our day-to-day discussions of ruinous personal behaviors.

This confusion also serves the interests of our nation’s many incredibly lucrative rehabilitation programs—and the corporations and agencies that run them. These have embraced and promoted medicalized models of irresponsible behavior because they can both offer the prospect of a “cure” and demand that private and public insurance programs pay for “treatment”. Unfortunately, the treatment will typically fail because the “patient” is continually told they are in the grips of a disease instead of plainly speaking a harsher and less welcome truth—you’re screwing up your own life and the only one who can change your life is you. However, given there is money to made with extended and expensive courses of monitoring and care that offer little prospect of a cure, and which are often repeated multiple times over that individual’s lifetime, it is little wonder that addiction treatment programs continue to spring up like poppies after a heavy rainstorm. The business model is a license to print money.

Very costly treatment programs are typically justified as being less expensive than the prison sentences, healthcare needs, or job losses that might result from an addiction, but it might be reasonable to ask whether spending vast sums of money to shield people from the consequences of their irresponsibility or poor choices actually impedes the development of the self-examination and self-control that is a necessary precursor to positive personal changes. Pain is a powerful motivator, and having to deal directly with the train wreck that you’ve made of your own life is about as powerful a wake-up call as life can provide. Although a night spent in jail and a screaming spouse the next morning are infinitely less pleasant than a sympathetic addiction counselor carrying a plateful of banana-nut muffins, it could well be the case both of these are far more efficacious pathways to long term improvement than any soothing, blameless, and protracted course of expensive counseling and treatments could ever be.

Adulthood is rough, maturity often comes after a few hard knocks have been delivered, responsibility occasionally gets in the way of sleep, failures are the fuel for success, and sometimes a good kick in the pants is the most effective lesson possible. All this is true, and we forget life’s realities at our own peril. Perhaps, as awful and wrenching as it might be for some, now is the time for our nation to ditch our addiction to our many, many addictions and resolve to finally grow up.

A Supreme Problem

The three co-equal branches of the United States government—executive, legislative, and judiciary—each have their roles to play in the management and mission of our nation. However, the federal judiciary and its judges, whose role current Chief Justice John Roberts famously (and perhaps disingenuously) characterized as one of simply “calling balls and strikes” regarding the matters before them, has until recently clung to an air of impartiality—but those days are now gone.

People who study the Supreme Court assert that 5-4 split decisions are no more common than they once were, but now every close or controversial decision has become another component of the partisan battles that are the background music of our hyper-politicized nation. Moreover, the celebrity, notoriety, and visibility of today’s Supreme Court justices invites speculation regarding their personal and legal agendas. Unfortunately, the near anonymity that the justices once cultivated has been replaced by a public advocacy for which those are both sides of the many issues dividing the Court and our country are equally culpable.

It would have been much better if the late Justice Antonin Scalia has been a little less fond of celebrating his own conservative viewpoints and linguistic cleverness in his speeches and writing. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the “Notorious RBG” to her fans among liberals—foolishly interjected the Supreme Court into electoral politics in 2016 by openly criticizing the candidacy of Donald Trump and joking about moving to New Zealand if he were elected.

The abandonment of the circumspect silence that was once the glory of those who served on our nation’s highest court has thrilled some advocates, but this has also served to reduce the status and credibility of this branch of our government. This disintegration of the dignity once associated with the Supreme Court is evident in the ever more contentious confirmation battles over the past couple of decades. Supreme Court nominations are now yet one more piece of raw meat for partisan attack dogs to fight and growl over—and the perceived integrity of all our judicial processes are harmed as a result.

All of this makes me wary of the upcoming fight over seating a replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement from the Supreme Court this week. Due to his unique position as the swing vote on so many cases before the court during his thirty year tenure, his replacement will likely become the deciding factor for a great many 5-4 split decisions in the years—and perhaps decades—to come. Given what is a stake, partisan fervor regarding the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee is likely to rise to levels that will make all our other fractious arguments seem mild by comparison. The net effect of this pitched combat will be to cement the public perception of the Supreme Court as just another governmental outpost of politicized and polarizing discord, which will likely irreparably damage its already tattered status and cause it to lose more of its most precious asset—the nation’s trust.

Given the vast and often unbridgeable social, political, cultural, religious, economic, and regional divides in our nation at the present time, it is not surprising that our nation’s courts have been asked to arbitrate the fights around the table at Thanksgiving. Because so many disagreements do not easily lend themselves to compromise—a women cannot, for example, have half an abortion—and communal values have been largely replaced by assertions of unfettered individual rights heretofore unprecedented in history, judges are more and more trapped in the unenviable position of acting as the arbiters of our nation’s morals. Setting aside the basic reality that humans tend to disagree about everything, this task is made yet more thankless and impossible by the fact that significant segments of our population are openly and loudly adverse the very idea of morality, viewing it as either a vestigial annoyance or a pointless guilt trip.

Courts can—and should—mediate regarding the application of laws, but can—or should—the courts continue to mediate in ever more granular and quotidian aspects of our daily lives? The evidence would tend to suggest they should not, but our nation’s courts have, nonetheless, tried their best to solve the conundrum of differing moral and ethical values by simply granting more and more “rights” that are divorced from any notion of responsibility. The problem with this approach—which has become more and more obvious over time—is that trying to create a civil society by allowing everyone to do as they please is like trying to fix the economy by printing more money. A period of euphoric happiness follows, but an inevitable and catastrophic crash will ensue—and the problems that follow are certain to be beyond easy or painless remedy.

We now live in a rudderless nation where we are free to be as self-centered, spoiled and entitled as we want without fear of either consequence or rebuke from individuals, institutions, or government. To express even the mildest disagreements with the behavior of others is today a sure sign of hateful intolerance—which must, of course, be adjudicated through the courts. To a certain extent I suppose inventing more and more rights is wonderful new business development for lawyers and judges, but it is also guaranteed to facilitate every sort dysfunction, infuriate those who act responsibly, and destroy any sense of community and common purpose by privileging the few at the expense of the many.

Supreme Court nominations matter. The tone the Justices set for the entire judiciary matters. However, unless the rulings by all levels of the courts re-establish some balance between what individuals contribute to society and what society can reasonably provide to individuals, expect the worse.