Horace Walpole once famously observed that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel. The times in which we live certainly gives support to the sometime accuracy of that maxim. My favorite living historian, Victor Davis Hanson, helps buttress the point:
What explains these contradictions in our wide-open but prudish society? Decades after the rise of feminism, popular culture still seems confused by it. If women should be able to approach sexuality like men, does it follow that commentary about sex should follow the same gender-neutral rules? Yet wearing provocative or inappropriate clothing is often considered less offensive than remarking upon it. Calling a near-nude Madonna onstage a “hussy” or “tart” would be considered crude in a way that her mock crucifixion and simulated sex acts are not.
Criminal sexual activity is sometimes not as professionally injurious as politically incorrect thoughts about sex and gender. Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer — found to have hired prostitutes on a number of occasions during his time in office — was given a CNN news show despite the scandal. But when former Miss California Carrie Prejean was asked in the Miss USA pageant whether she endorsed gay marriage, she said no — and thereby earned nearly as much popular condemnation for her candid defense of traditional marriage as Spitzer had for his purchased affairs.
Critics were outraged that talk-show host Rush Limbaugh grossly insulted birth-control activist Sandra Fluke. Amid the attention, Fluke was canonized for her position that federal health-care plans should pay for the contraceptive costs of all women. Yet in comparison to Fluke’s well-publicized victimhood, there has been a veritable news blackout for the trial of the macabre Dr. Kermit Gosnell, charged with killing and mutilating in gruesome fashion seven babies during a long career of conducting sometimes illegal late-term abortions. Had Gosnell’s aborted victims been canines instead of humans — compare the minimal coverage of the Gosnell trial with the widespread media condemnation of dog-killing quarterback Michael Vick — perhaps the doctor’s mayhem likewise would have been front-page news outside of Philadelphia.
Modern society also resorts to empty, symbolic moral action when it cannot deal with real problems. So-called assault weapons account for less than 1 percent of gun deaths in America. But the country whips itself into a frenzy to ban them, apparently to prove that at least it can do something, instead of wading into polarized racial and class controversies by going after illegal urban handguns, the real source of the nation’s high gun-related body count.
Not since the late-19th-century juxtaposition of the Wild West with the Victorian East has popular morality been so unbridled and yet so uptight. In short, we have become a nation of promiscuous prudes.
Go here to National Review Online to read the brilliant rest. What has happened of course is that traditional morality has been supplanted in many venues for a person being regarded as “moral” if he subscribes to the latest shibboleths uttered by the perpetually censorious Left. Instead of being a guide to good conduct, this new “morality” is merely adherence to political beliefs that twist and turn to meet the political needs of the moment. Trying to live by such rules is like expecting solidity from a vial of mercury spilled on a floor, and it gives rise to endless hypocrisy as people utter what is expected of them in public, and do what they please in private. Hypocrisy is ever a popular charge on the Left, and I can certainly understand why. They are experts on the subject.