mark malvasi

Mark Malvasi

Did we think we would get away with it?

In the coming days and weeks we will hear much discussion about how video games, television shows, and the movies have contributed to the rising tide of violence that seems to be engulfing American society. Such talk has already begun. I have no wish to challenge or dismiss a substantial and painstaking body of research that explores the influence of a violent popular culture on impressionable, and perhaps unhealthy, young minds. But it is not, to invoke a fashionable cliché, the “culture of violence” that threatens us. It is, rather, the breakdown of civilization and the growing prevalence of barbarism, the causes of which lie in the past.

Did the heirs to Western civilization in the twentieth century think that they could murder hundreds of millions of men, women, and children and then to expect that their descendants would not also find themselves splattered with blood? We did not get away with it, even though Americans were spared the worst. To be sure, much that spews forth from television, the movies, talk radio, video games, music, and the arts is relentlessly vulgar. Yet, the purges, the world wars, and the Holocaust coarsened our souls, corrupting our manners, morals, values, and standards of judgment. And it has taken the massacre of school children at last to remind us that the Founding Fathers of the United States saw it as their moral duty to bring civilization to the New World, which, in their view, was more important even than preserving it in the Old. What, I wonder, would they think of their handiwork now?

We must choose between barbarism and civilization. We must, as W. H. Auden put it, either love each other or die. Today, many of our fellow citizens, and perhaps especially our young people, have lost, or never possessed, the restraint and compassion essential to civilized life. Not surprisingly, they have developed a death wish. They perhaps hope that the end will come soon, and even in some instances they attempt to bring it about, for they have lost the ability to cope with life. They have become what the southern essayist Richard Weaver once called “moral idiots,” those incapable of responding to the challenges of being human. Heartless and indifferent, they live not immorally but amorally, without the capacity to tell good from evil or even to measure the extent of their depravity. They may find their progenitor in another young man wielding a pistol, who, nearly a century ago, initiated the ordeal that in the end turned the twentieth century into a charnel house.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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14 replies to this post
  1. In Britain, about 30% of households lack both a kitchen table and a dining room table, so if ever a family eats together it is on couch before the teevee. Hence no way to pass along values and strategies. How many American families eat together? Without role models and advice, kids see and hear violence aplenty; some acquire weapons and we all know what happens.

  2. One can detect indifference even in people's voices. Listen to an old recording of someone speaking, perhaps a guest on "Firing Line" or the "Dick Cavett Show," and the voice is expressive and modulated; listen to a comparable contemporary recording, however, and the voice is monotone and staccato. It's a generalization, but the contrast is common enough to merit a comment. How enthralling it would be to hear the voices of the distant past: Adams, Washington, King Henry V, Pontius Pilate, Jesus. I would include Lincoln, but Daniel Day-Lewis's wizardry has satisfied that curiosity. To modify an old adage, if tone is a signal from the soul, then ours is the Age of Apathy.

  3. Very thought provoking article. It is not the same repetitious dribble I can real on most commentary and news sites.

    I do find it telling that our generation and the following have been saturated in barbarianism and not moral/cultural civilization.

    Pictures of my nieces and nephews gathering with friends are crude and lewd. The mob scenes in Les Miserables reminded me of the party scenes of current young people immodestly pressing their bodies upon each other in drunken crowded bars. No self-respect. No boundaries. No thought for responsibility.

    And their eyes are cold, empty, wild, and dark…

    God alone can help – if the remnant who still recalls moral civilization, would bravely, boldly, stand as an anchor – a place of holding back the rushing tsunami of decadence, a lighthouse to those cold, empty, wild, dark eyed souls … the final, remaining ground of lasting, real hope for a brighter tomorrow.

  4. Do we think we can get away with slaughtering over fifty million of our most innocent children, the pre-born; and that's just us. World-wide, we have in less than half of my lifetime murdered more than Stalin, Hitler, and Mao put together.

  5. John, what's amazing to me is how many who rightfully found themselves distraught over the recent Connecticut shootings have no such reaction to abortion on demand. Why, I wonder? I really don't have an answer. But, it's clear that 1) most people love kids; and 2) at least half of Americans don't think of those in the womb as kids. There's a disconnect here that is beyond my imagination.

  6. I must also note that a Twitter friend of mine–absolutely horrified by the Connecticut shootings–was complaining today after having to sit next to a child on a airplane. I think for many folks, kids are great as long as they remain at a distance. Those who can't stand them in airplanes, restaurants, and other public places are, to my mind, reprehensible.

  7. Brad, My father (the last of the Country Doctors) had a mystical reaction to children who were born too soon. He also had an incredible desire to get kids born right, and to raise them as if they were the only person, in the history of the world, who had ever been born. And then at the age of eight or so he kicked their asses so that they would learn to be human. I find the people who are horrified by a few priests liking little kids, and are outraged by Adam Lanza, and also not bothered a bit by hundreds of millions of murdered babies, disgusting.

  8. I think I'd really like your dad, John. I meant to write "incomprehensible" not reprehensible, by the way. In some ways, I find pedophile priests far more disgusting than abortionists. But, it's like comparing Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot.

  9. The great shift in public opinion about abortions, where most Americans consider themselves pro-life, came about when ultra sound showed the world that there is a human being in the womb. But for more than half a century our society's "legalization" of abortion has cheapened the value of human life at all stages.

    When I was chairing a meeting on abortion, a blue collar worker made the point that if we do not acknowledge the sanctity of life we will always find reasons not to defend human life. Last week in the UK a story broke that nearly fifty elderly patients were starved to death in a public health care facility. There was publicly pronounced shock for two days and promises that it will happen again. In the Netherlands the denial of food and care to older patients is not uncommon. Our "civilized societies" are killing innocents young and old. I believe this is a preview of the kind of health care we will receive under Obamacare as the State makes more and more decisions on who gets care and who doesn't.

  10. Another point that is, to me, incomprehensible:

    In Poland, one of the reasons kids don't go around killing other kids is because they are all made conscious by omnipresent historical education that millions of their fellow citizens were killed by Soviets and Nazis. A basic, primal type of patriotism functions here. Like all things, it has its bad points, but nonetheless it does lend itself to the existance of a relatively coherent national community. The terms of debate are about the scope and definition of patriotism (merely ethnic and traditionalist, or perhaps creative, humane and living?), not about whether patriotism has any place in public life.

    American kids are generally alienated from any sense of historical belonging, but how about recent history? You would think that 9/11 would have seared the value of American life into the mind of our latest generation. It should have made it unthinkable for one American to lift a finger on another American.

    Yet given that the last string of mass shootings were all the work of 20 something year olds – clearly no sentiments of national brotherhood prevailed. Why?

    I suppose the sad answer is two decades of multiculturalism, experiments in value neutral education, and a rebellion against rationalism on all fronts all culminated in a society where you cannot recognize your fellow American, let alone your fellow man, any more.

  11. A minor amendment to my praise of Polish national community:

    Last year a young woman 20-something, reported her infant kidnapped. The entire national press took up the matter, people organized to search for the child, public appeals were made to the kidnapper, and the energies of the whole nation were turned towards helping her.

    Now, the mother is in jail, accused of murdering her child. Why? Because she felt tied down by her family. After all – having a husband and daughter makes travel and partying difficult. Prior to her incarceration, but following the discovery of the kidnapping hoax, the mother took her once in a lifetime opportunity to live in accordance with what nowadays passes for Western lifestyle and female liberation: she did paid interviews for all the tabloids, worked for a time in a strip club, and in the end plotted to flee the country with another man.

    So you see, Poland is making progress. We haven't quite hit Netherland standards of abortion and euthenasia, but all in good time.

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