- Despite our conventional wisdom, man is the homemaker and woman is the ruler of the home, even if she is not its titular head.
- The modern matyr is discounted because their supposed sacrifices for their cause are nothing more than mere inconvenience that drunks take upon themselves for fun.
- Nothing is allowed to remain in secrecy except for those things that are too obvious to be named and those things that really are too important to bear telling.
- We look to our doctor for which well to pull water, rather than simply for the effects of drinking water to begin with.
I could go on and on, for Chesterton's essays in All Things Considered are treasure troves of insight and whit. But for this day, I want to look at a more recent paradox that has started to form on the dark horizon, one more recent (at least in its more malevolent form) than Mr. Chesterton's day. Namely, that our worship of human rights and freedom leads to debased and dehumanized bondage.
The Supreme Court yesterday in its case United States v. Stevens overturned a ten year old congressional statute that outlawed videos depicting animal cruelty. This continues a general trajectory that is at least fifty years old to analyze the morality (or, to use the terminology of our modern Republic, constitutionality) of a thing based on the most extreme case imaginable (which is usually in a different category of case anyway). Whether it really would ever happen that hunting videos would be prosecuted in Washington, D.C., where hunting is illegal, I do not have the foggiest of notions. To even ponder the scenario in the context of this case shows how far we've drifted from the vision of federalism, localism, and juries employed by the Founding Fathers. But I do have a clear notion that many pit bull and cock-fighting rings suddenly have new streams of legal revenue opened to them by virtue of this ruling.
In all our concern over whether the government ought to be able to tell someone whether they can record this or do that, we have lost all ability to know whether this or that should even be done in the first place. We protect the right of the pornographer to distribute his videos without even thinking of the dehumanization and objectification of the women he used to make the video. We concede control over to a woman to the point where a baby in the womb is not a human, but a fetus or, more sinister, a mistake. We have freed people married to each other from the "contract" of marriage in the name of privacy and they proceed to privately rip apart the lives of their children, leaving the public to help the kids pick up the pieces to their lives.
The seeds of analysis of this paradox are picked up in this excellent article by Weekend Fisher: The missing superego: removing religion from the public square. She writes:
So what happens when cultural expectations for ethical behavior are largely removed? What happens when a number of leading voices say that the ideas of "right" and "wrong" are meaningless or even destructive? What happens when prevailing voices say that morality is solely a private matter? In terms of our inner struggles, it means that the person can no longer enlist the help of the culture in taming his lower instincts. It means that the person develops a less-controlled animal side than would have developed otherwise. It leads to a stunted conscience.
The part of us that makes us communal or relational creatures - the superego, to use the Freudian term employed by Weekend Fisher - does not have the boundaries once erected by society, so we easily wander off into areas that are not safe for us. All men and women are slaves to something - jealousy, greed, passion, righteousness, demons, God. It is not an accident that we call a dastardly thing that disturbs us (even when we are not quite sure of the source of the disturbance) everything except what it truly is - wrong. In our commitment to be free, we do not recognize the shackles in which freedom binds us. Nor the binders that blind us.
For centuries, mankind struggled to overcome the license of tyranny that kings and emperors and governments claimed in order to wield arbitrary power over people. That's why the American Revolution was fought and why the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution. But never knowing when to stop, we have exchanged the license of tyranny for the tyranny of license. The sin of rulers in the distant past was their arbitrary application of power. At least they moved with purpose. In the name of freedom from control and power, we wander about aimlessly, content to have power (which abhors a vacuum afterall) applied to us arbitrarily.