Friday, January 29, 2010

Moral decline? What moral decline?

At least that's the message coming from one analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, an otherwise useful organization whose analysts apparently have had no access to a television set over the last 10 or 15 years, never been past the home page on the internet, and paid no attention to the redefinition of simple, straightforward meanings of terms like 'marriage' and 'gender'. Here is Paul Wehner at the American Enterprise Institute:

In a recent story in the New York Times, we learned that Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, is starting a new radio show that will “give him greater leeway to hold forth on politics.” In announcing his new venture on his Facebook page, Dobson wrote, “Our nation is facing a crisis that threatens its very existence. We are in a moral decline of shocking dimensions.”

In fact, a great deal of empirical evidence argues that, if anything, we are in the midst of a social and cultural re-norming of some significance.
A cultural re-norming? You can say that again.

The term 're-norming' comes from the educational testing world, where it means 'dumbing down'. I was having lunch with a regional representative of a prominent national testing company several years back and we were discussing the difference between the older tests her company produced and their newer tests. The newer tests, she said, had been "re-normed."

"Now when you say 're-normed,'" I asked, "that really means that the test has been made easier, right?"

"That's right," she said, not even blinking.

One of the reasons people are not as alarmed about their schools as they ought to be is because the deterioration of academic expectations is so slow that they just haven't noticed the change.

Anyone who got into a time machine and went back, say 20 years--a very short period of time historically speaking, would enter a completely different cultural world. And if you told people then what would be commonly accepted today as cultural commonplaces, they would laugh and tell you that you were some sort of alarmist.

"Re-norming" indeed. Just as test standards are constantly deteriorating--so slowly and unnoticeably that we think the current test scores are comparable to the older scores, so moral standards are deteriorating. And we don't notice the change because we have forgotten what we once thought was the norm.

In fact, one of the measures of our moral decline is that people looking straight at it don't see it. If you don't believe it, just check out Paul Wehner's article.


Lee said...

I feel intuitively that you're onto something, Martin, but how can it be measured? Dumbing down tests can be measured and has been known to occur. How do you measure levels of moral depravity?

Personally, I think the article to which you linked had some encouraging news -- murder rates and abortion rates down, marriage and two-parent families, up. If those propositions are based on facts, it's hard to argue that it isn't good news.

I do think there are definitely some bad trends as well. We are a much less *polite* society that we were thirty years ago, let alone fifty years ago. But I don't think politeness is a reliable indication of moral blessedness. The Japanese have always been regarded as the most polite people on the planet, yet somehow the Nanking massacre happened. (I'm not arguing Japanese are somehow more depraved than Americans, just showing that politeness doesn't tell us everything.)

Another thing we are today, in my opinion, is a society that feels more entitled to everything good than any in our history. I think as a society we have bought in too much to the liberal/socialist view that society owes us free this and free that. (I think the government does owe us some things, but only because we pay for them with money and allegiance: national security, enforcement of the law, equal protection under the law. "I'm entitled to be treated under the law the same as Warren Buffet" does not mean "I'm entitled to Warren Buffet's money.") I think we are entitled in this life to precisely Jack Squat. Jesus truly was entitled to everything and look what we did to Him.

Anonymous said...

I say that things are really getting much better. People are starting to wake up and stop worrying about non issues like is Jesus real, is abortion homosexuality OK etc and starting to realize we have freedom to think believe and act how we like GO AMERICA GO PAGANISM DOWN WITH TRADITIONAL BIGOTED MORALITY.

Martin Cothran said...

So before people were not free to have non-traditional moral beliefs?