Moral decay in Britain
My musical career came to an abrupt end when, at the age of 15, I left the school oboe on a bus. The following four days, before the call came through from the London Transport lost property office, were among the most miserable of my life. When I borrowed the instrument, I was given strict instructions that I was to take the greatest possible care of it, since it was worth 110 pounds. That may not sound a huge amount today, but to a 15-year-old schoolboy in 1969 it was an unimaginably vast sum.... If I didn't get it back, I took it for granted that I'd be expelled from school. But that was the least of my worries.
Crippled by the fees, my parents were hard up at the time. There was no way they could have found 110 to reimburse the school for my moment of criminal absent-mindedness. We'd all be utterly ruined - and I'd never be able to look any of my near and dear in the eye again.
I never discovered the identity of the kind passenger who handed it to the bus conductor (we still had them in those days), or indeed the names of the London Transport staff who made sure that it made its way to the lost property office, and then back to me and my school. All I can say is, whoever they were, they earned the undying gratitude of a 15-year-old schoolboy, who has never dared touch an oboe in the 40 years from that day to this.
Chances are I wouldn't be nearly so lucky today. The most depressing article I've read this week - more so even than the grim economic news we've all become used to of late - was yesterday's report on the conduct of railway staff responsible for returning lost property to its owners. An investigation by Which? discovered that, these days, two-thirds of station employees fail to contact owners whose property has been handed in. The consumer watchdog asked undercover agents to hand in coats, each containing a wallet and 22 pounds in cash at 16 stations across the country, saying that they had found them on a train. Every wallet contained the name and address of the owner.
Yet, shockingly, staff at only five of the 16 stations made the effort to contact the coats' owners. Furthermore, in one of those five cases, at Plymouth, the coat and wallet were returned but the 22 was missing (according to First Great Western, it had been put into a bank account for safe keeping - though the Which? researcher who picked up the coat was told that no money had been found).
It's not necessarily true, of course, that staff at the 11 stations which failed to return the lost property simply stole it. But at best, none of them did their job properly and none was prepared to make even the slightest amount of effort to do a kind deed for a fellow human being. Have these railway staff never lost their own wallets - and discovered what huge inconvenience and distress this can cause?
As I write, mine contains 35 in cash, my driving licence, Visa card, NHS European Health Insurance card, photographs of my four sons (taken about ten years ago, when I was still soppy about them), a Blockbuster video card, various friends' and acquaintances' contact numbers, a Nectar card and the electronic pass that lets me into the office and allows me to buy coffee in the canteen.
If I lost it on the train, never to see it again, my life would be in turmoil for weeks, what with all those cards to cancel and renew, no access to the cashpoint machine, no record of those vital contact numbers and no canteen coffee. That's not to mention all those modern worries about identity theft. Yet at railway stations all over the country, from Edinburgh to Brighton, there are staff either so dishonest or so indolent and downright unfeeling about other people's problems that they couldn't be bothered even to lift up a telephone to tell me it had turned up.
You'd think that dealing with lost property would be a richly satisfying job, with all the opportunities it offers for bringing joy to strangers and filling 15-year-old oboists with lifelong gratitude. But no. For many, it's just an opportunity to steal, with hardly any chance of getting caught (unless the lost property happens to have been handed in by an undercover agent for Which?)
What it all comes down to is that we just don't know who we can trust any more. I don't want to romanticise the past. There was always a strong chance, even 40 years ago, that a fellow passenger on that bus to Neasden would have picked up my forgotten oboe and walked off with it into the night. Hence my four days of panic and misery before it turned up. But back in 1968, you could be almost completely sure that once an item had been handed in to an official in charge of lost property, it would be 100 per cent safe. For the huge majority of people in positions of trust, whether they were rich or poor, it was a point of pride to show themselves worthy of the confidence placed in them.
How desperately sad that in 2008, so many more people in all walks of life look upon trust as something to be abused. They seem to think that if they can get away with it, that's all that matters. ...
Undercover agent Larry Grathwohl discusses the Weather Underground's post-revolution governing plans for the United States on a YouTube video. The video is taken from the 1982 documentary "No Place to Hide". The Weathermen's plans included putting parts of United States under the administration of Cuba, North Vietnam, China and Russia and re-educating the uncooperative in camps in located in the Southwest. Since there would be holdouts, plans were made for liquidating the estimated 25 million unreconstructable die-hards.
The most interesting moment of the video comes when Grathwohl asks the viewer to imagine what it's like to be in a room with 25 people, all of whom have master's degrees or higher from elite institutions of higher learning like Columbia, listening to them discuss the logistics of killing 25 million Americans.
Actually, it's easy. What's hard to imagine is sitting in a room full of plumbers discussing the same thing. The longer I live the less I believe that humanity is able to live without submitting itself to some kind of belief system. Western Civilization decided to liberate itself from a belief in Christ - whose Kingdom was not of this world - and went straight to the altars of Nazism and Communism, whose kingdom was in the camps. People like Ayers aren't atheists, they're true believers. GK Chesterton was right when he said that a man who declares he has stopped believing in God often doesn't mean he believes in nothing. It only means he's willing to believe in anything.
Jean Paul Sarte believed Che Guevara was "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age . [the] era's most perfect man", which just goes to show you can get a fancy diploma from the Ecole Normale Superieure and still graduate with not an iota of common sense. Unclogging a drain with a snake is something anyone with a little intelligence and persistence can do. Planning the death of millions of Americans takes an education.
The Dangers of a Diminished America
In the 1930s, isolationism and protectionism spurred the rise of fascism
In the face of this onrushing river of red ink, both Barack Obama and John McCain have been reluctant to lay out what portions of their programmatic wish list they might defer or delete. Only Joe Biden has suggested a possible reduction -- foreign aid. This would be one of the few popular cuts, but in budgetary terms it is a mere grain of sand. Still, Sen. Biden's comment hints at where we may be headed: toward a major reduction in America's world role, and perhaps even a new era of financially-induced isolationism.
Pressures to cut defense spending, and to dodge the cost of waging two wars, already intense before this crisis, are likely to mount. Despite the success of the surge, the war in Iraq remains deeply unpopular. Precipitous withdrawal -- attractive to a sizable swath of the electorate before the financial implosion -- might well become even more popular with annual war bills running in the hundreds of billions.
Protectionist sentiments are sure to grow stronger as jobs disappear in the coming slowdown. Even before our current woes, calls to save jobs by restricting imports had begun to gather support among many Democrats and some Republicans. In a prolonged recession, gale-force winds of protectionism will blow.
Then there are the dolorous consequences of a potential collapse of the world's financial architecture. For decades now, Americans have enjoyed the advantages of being at the center of that system. The worldwide use of the dollar, and the stability of our economy, among other things, made it easier for us to run huge budget deficits, as we counted on foreigners to pick up the tab by buying dollar-denominated assets as a safe haven. Will this be possible in the future?
Meanwhile, traditional foreign-policy challenges are multiplying. The threat from al Qaeda and Islamic terrorist affiliates has not been extinguished. Iran and North Korea are continuing on their bellicose paths, while Pakistan and Afghanistan are progressing smartly down the road to chaos. Russia's new militancy and China's seemingly relentless rise also give cause for concern.
If America now tries to pull back from the world stage, it will leave a dangerous power vacuum. The stabilizing effects of our presence in Asia, our continuing commitment to Europe, and our position as defender of last resort for Middle East energy sources and supply lines could all be placed at risk.
In such a scenario there are shades of the 1930s, when global trade and finance ground nearly to a halt, the peaceful democracies failed to cooperate, and aggressive powers led by the remorseless fanatics who rose up on the crest of economic disaster exploited their divisions. Today we run the risk that rogue states may choose to become ever more reckless with their nuclear toys, just at our moment of maximum vulnerability.
The aftershocks of the financial crisis will almost certainly rock our principal strategic competitors even harder than they will rock us. The dramatic free fall of the Russian stock market has demonstrated the fragility of a state whose economic performance hinges on high oil prices, now driven down by the global slowdown. China is perhaps even more fragile, its economic growth depending heavily on foreign investment and access to foreign markets. Both will now be constricted, inflicting economic pain and perhaps even sparking unrest in a country where political legitimacy rests on progress in the long march to prosperity.
None of this is good news if the authoritarian leaders of these countries seek to divert attention from internal travails with external adventures.
As for our democratic friends, the present crisis comes when many European nations are struggling to deal with decades of anemic growth, sclerotic governance and an impending demographic crisis. Despite its past dynamism, Japan faces similar challenges. India is still in the early stages of its emergence as a world economic and geopolitical power.
What does this all mean? There is no substitute for America on the world stage. The choice we have before us is between the potentially disastrous effects of disengagement and the stiff price tag of continued American leadership.
Are we up for the task? The American economy has historically demonstrated remarkable resilience. Our market-oriented ideology, entrepreneurial culture, flexible institutions and favorable demographic profile should serve us well in whatever trials lie ahead.
The American people, too, have shown reserves of resolve when properly led. But experience after the Cold War era -- poorly articulated and executed policies, divisive domestic debates and rising anti-Americanism in at least some parts of the world -- appear to have left these reserves diminished.
A recent survey by the Chicago Council on World Affairs found that 36% of respondents agreed that the U.S. should "stay out of world affairs," the highest number recorded since this question was first asked in 1947. The economic crisis could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
In the past, the American political process has managed to yield up remarkable leaders when they were most needed. As voters go to the polls in the shadow of an impending world crisis, they need to ask themselves which candidate -- based upon intellect, courage, past experience and personal testing -- is most likely to rise to an occasion as grave as the one we now face.
Financial crisis has a moral dimension
I cannot understand how, along with every other form of human interaction, the administration of capitalism cannot have a moral dimension. It is surely important that bankers behave ethically, that politicians behave responsibly and that ordinary people behave prudently.
I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values - the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as `rights' and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is `militant atheism' which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda -- and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.
The financial crisis was brought about essentially by a public which threw away all notions of prudence and committed itself to spending today what it could never afford to pay back tomorrow, and a banking, regulatory and political sector which ruthlessly and cynically exploited and encouraged such catastrophic irresponsibility with a criminal disregard of the ruinous consequences for the poor. The financial crisis and our social meltdown are thus combining to form a perfect cultural storm.
The link between all that and the US presidential election is - as Oliver himself acknowledges - the figure of Sarah Palin. It seems to me that the reason she has sparked such an unprecedented campaign of lies, smears, abuse and dangerously unhinged hatred (if you think that's an exaggeration, just look at the readers' posts on this very site) is because, as I wrote in the Mail on Monday, she stands against the tide of secular nihilism in the culture wars. Oliver and I dare say Hitchens (although I have not discussed this with him) may be shoulder to shoulder with me on foreign policy but they stand on the other side from me in the culture wars - what I see as nihilism, I suspect they view as progressive -- and it is no coincidence that they both stand also for militant (or in Oliver's case, rather less militant) atheism which they assume (falsely, in my view) is synonymous with rationality. Palin's evangelical Christianity, and the moral and social positions that flow from that faith, would therefore strike them as beyond appalling. That's why Oliver sees her as embodying anti-intellectualism, insularity, social intolerance and anti-rationalism.
For me, by contrast, although the nature of her faith and the churches with which she has been associated certainly make me uneasy, they do not alarm me. That's because I regard evangelicals as allies in the fight to defend authentic liberal, and thus moral, values which I believe are rooted in Judeo-Christian thinking. I'm sure that, had I been around during the Victorian era, I would not have cared either for the evangelicals then trying to convert everyone to Christianity - but the fact remains that it was through their faith that they campaigned against slavery and for just about every social reform that we now think of as enlightened and progressive. For me, `anti-intellectualism, insularity, social intolerance and anti-rationalism' have indeed been unleashed upon our society - not by Christian evangelicals but by the forces of secular fundamentalism and bigotry through such phenomena as scientism, political correctness and post-modernism.
I don't much care whether Palin believes in a hundred ridiculous things before breakfast -- because what she stands for is a defence of bedrock western moral values against the nihilistic onslaught. Although like many others I do not like the way she has used her family on public platforms, the fact remains that the reason the image of her cradling her Down's Syndrome baby Trig was so electrifying was that she was making the most explicit statement possible that, in a society which has so lost its respect for human life that it believes it is actually a progressive act to destroy unborn lives 'on demand' (and Obama actually opposed anti-infanticide legislation in the Illinois state senate) she stands for a culture of life against our culture of death, which sees no innate value in human life and will destroy it with increasing abandon if it is not deemed to be `useful' enough.
The moral relativists -- most viciously embedded on the left but represented in conservative circles too under the ambiguous banner of libertarianism which prevents such circles from grasping the threat being posed to real liberty -- understand very well indeed that, as the first culture warrior from the opposing camp to stand on the threshold of power, Palin poses a threat to the established amoral order which must be resisted with all the ferocity they can summon. That is why she has been the target of this astonishing campaign of lies and smears -- most of which have been uncritically accepted by large numbers of people who play no role in the culture wars at all, but believe that if the media say something is so with one voice, then it must indeed be so.
I do not by any means defend or support everything Palin stands for or has ever done. But I do know a witch-hunt when I see one - and when people scream that legitimate and indeed urgent questions about Obama's extensive radical profile are `deranged' and `racist' smears, while they themselves describe Palin herself as `a cancer' and even spread the calumny that she is not the mother of her own son, you can be sure that profoundly irrational forces are at work.
It is a matter of considerable regret to me that someone like Oliver, whose acumen I much respect and who would never descend to such levels, cannot see this and the fact that Obama, despite his professed Christianity, is the candidate of this cultural Marxist onslaught against western values. So much so, indeed, that in junking McCain because of his choice of vice-president, Oliver appears to overlook Obama's choice of the appalling Joe Biden, whose career has been defined by serial grovelling to and appeasement of Iran with all the disastrous consequences that have flowed from that. Not to mention the fact that Biden also revealed during his TV debate that he thinks the US president during the 1929 Wall Street crash was Franklin D Roosevelt, rather than Herbert Hoover who actually was, and that FDR talked to the public about it on TV, which was not yet possible at that time. How can such an idiot be elected to serve `a heartbeat away from the presidency'? Yet that question is asked of Palin alone - and in disgusting terms which have absolutely zero connection to rational debate.
The reason, I would suggest, is that behind this political battle lies the culture war. That is why the stakes are so high, and passions so enraged.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.