The sixth in my series of posts in which I give rants against trends that have developed in society since the days of my youth, the halcyon days of the seventies, when leisure suits and disco were sure signs that society was ready to be engulfed in a tide of ignorance, bad taste and general buffoonery.
We have started off the series with a look at seven developments that I view as intensely annoying and proof that many people lack the sense that God granted a goose. I like to refer to these as The Seven Hamsters of the Apocalypse, minor evils that collectively illustrate a society that has entered a slough of extreme stupidity. Each of the Seven Hamsters will have a separate post. We have already discussed here the Tattooed Vermin, here the Pierced Vermin , here the F-Bomb Vermin, here the Texting Vermin and here the Trashy Vermin. The sixth of the Hamsters is the Whatever Vermin.
When I was growing up in the Sixties, I watched a lot of classic television from the Fifties that was rerun endlessly. One of my favorites was I Love Lucy. A comedic genius, Lucille Ball had a straight man of genius, although, alas, not a faithful husband, in Desi Arnaz. Often the climax of the show would be the collapse into utter chaos of some scheme of Lucy’s with Desi Arnaz as the unforgettable Ricky Ricardo confronting her with the immortal line, “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”, or words to that effect. Lucy would eventually confess all, after feeble attempts at deception failed, and Ricky, after a period of explosion, exasperation or incredulity, would forgive all, and the couple would be reconciled in love. Amusing, and not completely unlike the interactions that I witnessed among adults, although the roles of Lucy and Ricky often were assumed by both sexes, depending upon the couples involved.
The lessons I drew away from all this were: 1. Television was quite a bit more amusing than real life when the feathers hit the fan; 2. In real life bad behavior did usually end up calling for explanation and contrition; and 3. When contrition was offered for bad behavior, forgiveness was usually called for.
My mother, the rules enforcer in my home (Dad being reserved for only the most extreme situations) of course would have taught me all about the virtues of confession and contrition without any help from television land. Mom, who could have given many an attorney I know lessons on the art of cross-examination, had three rules: 1. If you mess up, tell me about it quickly. 2. Be sorry for what you have done, or I will make you sorry for what you have done. 3. Mom can forgive almost anything except lying. Good rules for raising two rather rambunctious boys, and Mom’s rules worked well.
Mom of course was not atypical at the time in regard to her view of the world. She certainly would be now. Today we live in a “Whatever World”.
“Whatever” of course is used today as an all purpose non-response in almost any conceivable situation. It conveys indifference, apathy and, in many situations, contempt for the person the word is directed towards.
The neologism, at least in usage, “Whatever” as a response to a correct accusation of bad behavior, manages to combine the following in one word: a complete indifference to one’s own poor conduct, a refusal to acknowledge one’s error or sin, total unwillingness to discuss one’s bad conduct and an insult to the offended party. Not bad for one word! According to a Marist College Poll, “whatever” topped the list of most annoying words, even edging out the grating, and ubiquitous, “you know”. Perhaps the fact that it is annoying is one reason why so many people use it so frequently.
Indifference and apathy to one’s own evil conduct degrades us both as individuals and as a society. Too many people today drift through life in a fog of self-obsession, apathetically satisfying appetites how they can, giving vent to every impulse no matter how low and base. Little wonder that in our society a phrase as popular as “Whatever” is “Don’t judge me!”. This attitude can prove especially difficult for defense attorneys as many clients have lost the capacity to even feign contrition for their crimes, not a good thing before sentencing. Mr. Simpson, as an example, demonstrated the consequences of such an attitude when he was sentenced to 33 years in 2008.
Hmmm, perhaps I have been too rash in judging this attitude if it ends up causing people guilty of crime to do more time in the slammer! However, most people guilty of crime are never prosecuted and the harm of the “Whatever” attitude is certainly not restricted to criminals. The refusal to even accept that one has behaved badly deadens our moral sensibilities and leads to evil consequences in both our lives as individuals and for society at large. CS Lewis, prescient as ever, in his Screwtape Proposes a Toast, saw all this coming as individuals became increasingly unconscious of the concept of sin:
Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.
Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.
The great (and toothsome) sinners are made out of the very same material as those horrible phenomena the great Saints. The virtual disappearance of such material may mean insipid meals for us. But is it not utter frustration and famine for the Enemy? He did not create the humans — He did not become one of them and die among them by torture — in order to produce candidates for Limbo, “failed” humans. He wanted to make them Saints; gods; things like Himself. Is the dullness of your present fare not a very small price to pay for the delicious knowledge that His whole great experiment is petering out? But not only that. As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more effective agents for us. Every dictator or even demagogue — almost every film star — can now draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him. They give themselves (what there is of them) to him; in him, to us. There may come a time when we shall have no need to bother about individual temptation at all, except for the few. Catch the bellwether, and his whole flock comes after him.
It is impossible to lead a decent life if one is apathetic to the whole concept of right and wrong, and simply engages in spur of the moment impulsive behavior that one does not even bother to feebly defend. Such a life merely prolongs infancy throughout life, with predictable consequences. O tempora, o mores!
However, perhaps I am being too harsh. There are worse things than indifference to evil I suppose, and that brings us to the Ignorant Vermin. However, it is time for me walk my elderly hound. (She now merely stares longingly at the rabbits that she formerly chased, just as I look longingly at the ambulances I formerly chased.) Until next time.
Hattip to my daughter, or, as we refer to her, our Arguer-in-Chief, for rousing the Whatever Vermin from his apathetic den and taking his photograph.