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The Coming Cultural Crisis

November 7, AD 2011 9 Comments

We are actually already there. It saddens me, frightens me, makes me want to lock my doors and bar my windows. As someone with four children, it is the cause of more than a few restless nights.

Here is Generation One. The Next One Saw the Destruction of the Temple.

Of course, the idea that our culture is on a collision course for disaster is not a new one. Since time immemorial, the prophet has been in the street hollering “repent”, covered in ashes, and we have been in the bar drinking ourselves under it. The unsolvable problem we all have is that we are all alive. That sounds strange, but the problem with living is you do not have the vantage of the dead, and for every generation that makes it, there is the next one that does not. The generation that lives through another prophet passes on a moral paralysis that eventually leads another generation to its abysmal end. That generation makes its exoduses into either historical oblivion or outright slavery. That is the history of man. Today, we find ourselves amidst three streams teleologically ordered for the end of western civilization. Keep in mind the motif of generation and progeny.

The first stream is a stream of life. It’s water is not perfectly clear, and I will explain why, but at its aquifer is something profoundly good. It breaks cultural ground in the meme that “every child is precious”. In fact, I just read the phrase here in a sports column by John Taylor about the sexual abuse scandal rocking Penn State University (all right CC bashers, I’m waiting for your moral outrage). I can basically sum up the message’s context by saying that we all desire the moral high ground no matter how low in altitude we find ourselves. Unfortunately, to assert it when one finds oneself drowning at the bottom of the Mariana Trench is pure lunacy. It’s like opening up google maps in a submarine to prove you are at the top of Mt. Everest.

“Look, we are here!”

Moral Fail.

This first cultural current is laudable, but as I implied, it is inherently schizophrenic. It is schizophrenic because it is grossly undermined by two other currents, the second of which is the current of laissez-faire sexuality. The history of laissez-faire economics is that there is a tendency in the market for all things to become an object of purchase. In other words, everything is reduced to currency or rather how a thing can get me more money. Laissez-faire sexuality, having persons and pleasure as its subjects, reduces every person to an object of pleasure. In other words, everyone is reduced to pleasure or rather how a person can get me more pleasure.

It does not take a moral genius to figure out how this stream pollutes the first current, but I want to explain the third so as to strengthen the force of the effect. The third current is the current of the culture of death. Whether it is plan “A” or plan “C” (I chose those letters to make it easier for you to infer their meaning), the culture of death ultimately makes every person a commodity. It leads to awkward questions like, “Are all those children yours?” OR “Is this your last?” While seemingly benign, both questions and others are motivated by a utilitarian concept of person that situates their place squarely within the context of use. The logic is simple: you have “x” number of kids why would you need more? While the commoditization of the human person seems to comport well with laissez-faire sexuality, it adds to it a qualitative difference that is important to note. It expands the definition of value beyond mere pleasure to the domain of utility. It is actually more dangerous, because utility is the place where we let down our passions and can cooly rationalize anything. Our passions, many times, will prevent us from doing all kinds of awful things unlike our steely ability to rationalize the bizar.

My Daughter Gemma: Not A Commodity

“Isn’t that so cute, don’t hurt it.” (Passions)

“While that is cute, it serves me no purpose, kill it.” (Utility)

See. Utility is a dangerous place. So what happens when laissez-faire sexuality and the utilitarian culture of death are literally in bed together?

The answer is the complete and total erosion of the value of the human person. A person that is reduced to terms of utility and pleasure cannot have worth most of their life. Heck, we sleep and defecate more than we do almost anything else (I guess it is a sunk cost). On the grounds of pleasure and utility, we are like a bad yard gnome. Yet we want to fit, and we know that somehow we are more than just mere pleasure-outcome objects. We want to assert that “every child is precious because its true, dang it, I know it is”. We are conflicted at the very level of being. The problem in our culture is that the phrase “every chid is precious” rolls off the tongue eerily similar to the emperor Commodus doing an open poetry reading in a third grade classroom only days after reading Jeremy Bentham.

There is no way we can take the moral high ground in the catacombs of Moria. The goblins are on foot, and this is the lare of the Balrog. We keep trying to escape, only to find that when we emerge from our subterranean domain the Uraki are everywhere. Even more, upon looking at a mirror we are shocked to find that we have in fact made our own pact with the devil. Blood is on our hands and face.

What can we do about this cultural crisis? I will honestly admit at times I feel helpless. The two streams that pollute our notion of human value are at their core the cause of all evil in the world. The first, our tendency to put our pleasure first, thereby subjugating the intellect to our passions. It was the problem with Rome. The second, our tendency to put our reason above God’s law, thereby subjugating the good, true and beautiful to our (ir)rational designs. That was the problem with the Reich. Thus, I am left to join the prophet and foresee an awful, inevitable and unprecedented end. I think we can only pray and hope with the words our Lord taught us:

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let us pray.

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.

That was the prayer that echoed in the catacombs in the first century. It will become a prayer of invaluable consolation as we find ourselves again plunged into the subterranean holding pen of this society, and as we grow in our solidarity with that generation, long ago, whose blood was the seed of the Church.

Maybe there is a silver lining…

Like what I had to say? Hate it? Check me out at my blog where I discuss why I’m Catholic and other things about that @ 

(feature image credit: Paris catacombs, Photographer: Vincent de Groot)

Filed in: Politics, Religion

About the Author:

is a father of five (+ 1 in heaven), husband of one, convert, and a generally interested person. He has a BA in Theology, studied graduate philosophy, has an MBA, is a writer (or so he tells himself) and prefers his coffee black. His website is Almost Not Catholic. His Twitter handle is @2bcatholic. His favorite color is blue.
  • The concept of “laissez-faire sexuality” is both accurate and insightful. But its insidious qualities are deeper than you indicate here. For while it has commodified human interaction and human sexuality, its elimination of strictures on conduct has actually stripped society of the capacity it once had to place values on human relationships.

    To take one stark example: there used to be, at common law and in every state, a variety of torts (compensable civil wrongs) concerning familial relations. So a father had a civil recovery against a man who seduced his maiden daughter (“seduction”) and a husband against a man who induced his wife to commit adultery (“alienation of affections”). Under the influence of the sexual revolution, however, courts and legal scholars drew two conclusions: 1) the law really doesn’t care who has sex with whom, and 2) because a father’s or husband’s interest in the sexual purity of his daughter or wife, respectively, was not reducible in a technical sense to a property interest, it was valueless. (The analysis sets aside the fact that the law routinely compensates people for the loss of things other than property, such as limbs, the capacity to earn a living, or the companionship of a dead or injured [but not betraying!] spouse.)

    So the conundrum is deeper than it appears at first: sexuality is a commodity, but, unlike pork bellies or automobiles, the rights that accompany a claim to this commodity are nearly nonexistent.

  • I tried to read your article the whole way through, but then I got distracted by the cuteness of your little gem!

  • I think we should do a pod-cast. You always seem to post about stuff that I want to write about, but as I am an “out loud thinker” it takes me a while to process such things. I too feel helpless at times when it comes to the idea of our culture… do we throw up our hands and recede into the Catacombs… or do we fight back?

    If we fight back, what are we hoping to save or preserve? If we give up and recede… what is our goal?

    I think prayer is a great start.

  • “Maybe there is a silver lining…”

    See the cute little one. That’s the solution right there. More like them please.

  • Donna

    “So a father had a civil recovery against a man who seduced his maiden daughter (“seduction”) and a husband against a man who induced his wife to commit adultery (“alienation of affections”) ”
    “So the conundrum is deeper than it appears at first: sexuality is a commodity, but, unlike pork bellies or automobiles, the rights that accompany a claim to this commodity are nearly nonexistent. ”

    I note that the rights implied were all rights of males.
    And surely you don’t mean to equate women with pork bellies or cars ?

    Now if there was also some civil sanction on male impurity and/or infidelity, you might have a point. But did any parents ever get to sue a woman for seducing their virgin son, or a wife get to sue her husband’s mistress for alienation of affections ?

  • Joseph,

    At this point all I’ve got is prayer.


    Right now I’ve got three more.

    Titus (and Donna),

    Titus, I think your observation is on target with a nuance that would, I hope, assuage Donna’s reaction. Your point wasn’t to say that tort history is some kind of gold standard of moral instinct, but rather to point out that before the sexual revolution there was a common sense about the moral nature of our sexual behaviors: some should be encouraged and others discouraged by the state. Whether the state executed this perfectly is beside the point, because what remains is evidence that we thought about sexual behavior in moral terms.

    My point is not so much that sexuality has lost its value, which it has, but that a laissez-faire attitude toward sexuality necessarily reduces that which operates in its economy to pleasure-objects. In this case, the state stays out and economic “players” step in. A person now has more or less value in terms of the pleasure I can derive from them and in proportion to my pleasure buying power (either through my own pleasure-producing value or other resources that can be traded for pleasure–e.g., money, property). In turn, humans derive their “worth” in this system by both their pleasure producing power and their pleasure purchasing power.

  • Evil is inherently self-destructive. It cannot last, and good will endure. Unfortunately, as evil crashes down the good people will have a lot of dodging to do. But there is certainly hope! God is not dead, and neither are we!

  • I note that the rights implied were all rights of males.
    And surely you don’t mean to equate women with pork bellies or cars ?

    Now if there was also some civil sanction on male impurity and/or infidelity, you might have a point. But did any parents ever get to sue a woman for seducing their virgin son, or a wife get to sue her husband’s mistress for alienation of affections?

    Brent already addressed the real thrust of my comment: the appropriate boundaries of sexual conduct were once agreed upon and protected by legal mechanisms, which performed important social functions. The law recognized transgressions against those boundaries as sanctionable conduct. The party to whom the remedy was afforded (that is, who received the benefit of the payment that was the sanction) was determined by procedural doctrines that were developed for the system of civil law as a whole. So at common law, no, a wife did not have any remedy for her husband’s adultery, because a married woman did not have standing to bring an action at law in her own name. Following the married-woman’s statutes that changed the common-law standing rules, a married woman did (and still does in North Carolina) have the same alienation of affections remedies as her husband. The writ for seduction was never available against a woman, on largely the same theory behind a woman’s immunity from prosecution for rape. Modern outrage at the sexual asymmetries of the common law are, I must confess, immensely tiresome: anyone who would like to express the same is directed to the 1970s, where he will find an eager audience.

    The point is not that women are the same as pork bellies or automobiles: the point is that sexual relationships are more important than commodities yet afforded less respect by civil society. We purport to have laws that protect sources of value in human interactions, yet they fail to protect at all the most important human interaction.

    Human sexual relations were for most of Western history non-alienable: there existed a mutual right to sexual exclusivity, created once and terminable in principal only by death of one of the parties. This system was protected by the the system of civil law I described (and a system of criminal law I did not), and even when breached and ignored the system of legal norms reinforced that there was a normative rule for such conduct; nobody disputed that the norm existed, even if they violated it. We have now made sexual relations and sexual exclusivity alienable, an object of exchange (like other commodities). But unlike conventional commodities, an individual can be deprived of his “interest” without his consent: we have assigned to sexual exclusivity all of the disadvantages of property and afforded it none of property’s protections. The result is distasteful and incongruous and likely to bear even more evil fruit than it already has.

  • Donna

    I’m not saying the present situation is good. I’m merely stating that as long as the traditional stances remain sexually asymmetrical they will be vunerable to attack.