“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 1
In the past two weeks, America has seen no fewer than three highly public announcements of family failure. Last week, it was Senator John Ensign’s admission of an extra-marital affair. Earlier this week, the media circus that is Jon & Kate Gosselin announced their divorce in cliff-hanger fashion on their TLC reality show. And if one thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, enter Wednesday’s weird, rambling press conference by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who revealed that his Appalachian Trail hiking trip had taken a South American detour into unfaithful territory.
What to make of all this? Well, Tolstoy was correct in one sense — the Ensign, Gosselin, and Sanford families’ situations are each filled with their own complexities. However, the way in which each went public has a lot to say about the current state of our national sensibilities.
Of the three announcements, Senator Ensign’s was handled most deftly. It was brief, to the point, and details were kept to a minimum. By no means should he be given kudos. This was a preemptive strike to control the message. Classic, by-the-book PR tactics.
Message: “I screwed up, but I told you about it before the media could, so the public should still trust me.”
The Gosselin divorce announcement probably deserves its own essay-length treatment, but to do so would in some ways be playing into its own grand media plan. Rather than give up the show in which everyone gives stuff to their family, they’ll press on (how could they evict the children from the set?). No, the Gosselins, who deplore everyone peering into their business (those evil paparazzi!), keep — as their business — everyone peering into their business. You can find out all about their divorce on their show — every Monday at 9pm EST on TLC, and, by the way, you should also buy some Crooked Houses® and any other of the many fine products the Gosselin family gets for free.
Message: “We’re doing all this so our kids can see the videos and remember, as our family’s brains can only process events that happen on TV. Even if the marriage can’t, the show must go on.”
Finally, Gov. Sanford. Presidential hopeful, conservative stalwart in public if not so much in private. The staggering detail he gave at the presser, along with the fact that he accepted questions from the media shows that he is a fool in love (lust?) who threw caution to the Argentine wind long ago. Sanford knows that publicly, he is a dead man walking, and he doesn’t care.
Message: “I’m just gonna throw it all out there. Even if you don’t ask about it, I’ll tell you. My political career is toast, my wife kicked me out, so if I can make you all understand that it’s all about ‘that spark’ one gets with a dear, dear friend — maybe y’all won’t hate me so much.”
Spectacle like the above only fuels the fire of cynicism at the ebb and flow of our national conversation. Whence humility?
10 Best Prison Breaks: I assure you, I assisted in none of these…
The current financial crisis elicits explanations, excuses, and blame from the full breadth of the political spectrum. There are no shortages of would-be saviors to our pallid pocketbooks, and none loom as large as government–sponsored humanitarianism. It’s a view in which the gap between the rich and poor, widened by the abuse of power, must be eradicated by government’s strong hand. Well-meaning humanitarianism is fraught with many dangers, and Herbert Schlossberg’s description of what it really does to us still applies today:
It exalts categories of weakness, sickness, helplessness, and anguish into virtues while it debases the strong and prosperous. In the country of ontological victimhood, strength is an affront. Denying the possibility of strength for the weak keeps them weak. Being freed from dependence would bring the victim back into the human family, responsible for himself and others. How much better to remain a victim, shielded from trouble and responsibility by altruism. Imposing a load of false guilt on the strong, ressentiment elicits a countering resentment that blinds them to the need of repentance for their real sins. Both poor and rich need to be made whole, but nobody can be made whole with a humanitarian understanding of his life. Poor and rich need to be reconciled, but altruism accentuates the self-righteous hypocrisies of both.
Times like ours are ripe for making weakness into a virtue. The problem with this, of course, is that if weaknesses are seen as virtues, they have little need to be overcome.
Weakness should be seen as something to dispense of in favor of growing stronger, but the humanitarian impulse thrives upon weakness and is out of a job without it. In light of so many Americans being out of jobs themselves, we would do well not to feed the humanitarian monster. Blessed are the poor, indeed. But if poverty was really virtuous, the poor wouldn’t need blessing, would they? Better to strengthen through struggle than to keep down through luxury.
Swift on the heels of the new definition of tolerance, the meaning of hate is being slowly eroded by the tides of cultural abuse.
Take, for example, this recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle (emphasis mine):
In papers filed Thursday night in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office argued that Proposition 8 was motivated by hatred of gays and lesbians and violates their constitutional right to be free of discrimination.
Although sponsors of the November ballot measure said they were trying to promote traditional marriage and protect children, “excluding same-sex couples from marriage does nothing to advance those goals,” Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart said in the 49-page brief.
Prop. 8’s “real aim (was) harming gays and lesbians and expressing moral disapproval of them,” Stewart said.
Clearly here “hatred” is equated with “moral disapproval.” Don’t get me wrong, moral disapproval can certainly be present alongside hatred. The problem is that hate and moral disapproval are mutually exclusive. Moral disapproval can exist without hate (I morally disapprove of people using “Jesus” as a curse word, and might even ask them to refrain, but that doesn’t mean I hate them). Likewise, hate can exist without moral disapproval (think of hatred caused by envy).
The irony created here by the abuse of the term is thick. While condemning Californians who supported Prop. 8 as acting out of hatred, the plaintiffs are expressing moral disapproval at their actions. A move which could — if their own advice be taken — be labeled as hatred. Go figure.
If hate is diluted to the point of simply meaning mere moral disapproval, the true, more dangerous nature of hatred is masked. Better the biblical take on hatred, which allows for moral disapproval while keeping hatred at bay:
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. (Leviticus 19:17, NASB)
I’ve got to get me one of these…