We’re not Puritans anymore

David Brooks, writing about Penn State in the NYT

In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.

But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey. People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?”

Thou…need’st not strive

The Latest Decalogue

by A. H. Clough:

Thou shalt have one God only; who

Would be at the expense of two?

No graven images may be

Worshipp’d except the currency:

Swear not at all; since, for they curse

Thine enemy is none the worse:

At church on Sunday to attend

Will serve to keep the world thy friend:

Honour thy parents; that is, all

From whom advancement may befall:

Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive

Officiously to keep alive:

Do not adultery commit;

Advantage rarely comes of it.

Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,

When it’s so lucrative to cheat:

Bear not false witness; let the lie

Have time on its own wings to fly:

Thou shalt not covet; but tradition

Approves all forms of competition.