Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A country that fears lipstick needs to think...

Once again Fred Reed rolls one over in the open.

Maybe a country that fears lipstick needs to think.

It reads well along with

Dynamite, Manhattan, 1939: ...If you were a 1930s man, woman, or child, Henry Ford or a resident of the tightest-packed block in Harlem, society's ought was an all-day, everyday hand on your shoulder. It checked your freedom and cramped your style. You would have been more comfortable without it. But in the end, like the man's stiff collar and tie or the woman's girdle, it was something you got used to; it was tolerable; it was even, maybe, not as bad as it looked. We rebel in our very souls nowadays against the idea that conventional behavior, dress, and manners could possibly matter. We abolished all those rules with the best of intentions. But there is no getting around the fact that in the 1930s, people simply got more practice in acting as they ought than we do. I can't say what all that dogged practice was worth when push came to shove. I do know that in 1939 you could leave a pile of dynamite unguarded in the middle of New York City.

Joseph Wambaugh's brilliant "The New Centurions" takes its title from a scene in which an old policeman and a young one watch the burning of Watts in 1966. The old policeman muses on the idea that a couple of thousand years ago, there might have been two Roman guardians of order wondering about these Christians- how they were different, they were discarding the old Gods, the old ways, the old don'ts. But the Cristians were replacing the old dont's (and oughts) with new ones. The rule Luddites of the 1950s and 1960s were replacing the old don'ts with nothing.

That was a tragedy in some ways and a blessing in others. Some of the old dont's were evil- ostracism of homosexuals, black folks on the back of the bus. Some oughts- like neck ties at the ball park- just inconvenient admissions of social obedience.

But we have to have some dont's and oughts. Some social obedience for the sake of obedience, some rituals of belonging.

The Freudians, hippies, jumped up academics, guilt ridden bourgeois, worn out greatest generationers, political hacks and weak aristocrats destroyed an irrational, crazy warren of social rituals and obligations, grown up like a medieval town. Product of centuries, millions of adaptations, made by the people. They wanted to replace them with appetite and license.

Which is the law of tooth and claw, isn't it? I believe that the bien pensants thought (and think) that imposed order is the cause of human unhappiness, because it's the cause of theirs. But the rituals and don'ts have to be there. And they have to come from someplace.

The smashers didn't believe that. But order and ritual believed in them. And they left only one source for rules, didn't they? They chose to use the government/academia/press beast to plan, prepare for, and impose the new rules.

So now we have a society where black people don't have to go to the back of the bus. And where "diversity coordinators" exist in private businesses to spend the owners' money on hiring people whose main qualification is their black skin.

Not saying that's worse, just pointing out that both are artificially crazy.

The two columns I cite are more than nostalgic whining. The America of 1910, 1939, and 1960 looked and felt pretty much the same. The America of today does feel different.

I'll give you an example in the next post but one. Have to get a thank you out of the way first.

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