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Kersten Missed The Real Problem In Her Liberal War Critique

Category: Kersten
Posted: 10/22/13 19:39

by Dave Mindeman

Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow with the Center for the American Experiment.....a conservative think tank. She is one of those people who seems to "know" all the answers for everything. And they all have a common theme. Her latest posting continues that theme. The title gives us the crux of the matter....

Liberals are Waging a War on the Weak
A Weak Moral Code is Responsible for the Divide Between Rich and Poor

It is hard not to notice that her premise regarding a Weak Moral Code being responsible for the rich/poor divide does not equivocate. Kersten believes that liberal thought and its supposed consequences ARE the cause.

This has to be broken down and examined....

We hear from all sides that America is becoming "two nations." The upper class of highly educated professionals is flourishing -- rich and getting richer. But many in the working class are struggling -- dropping out of the workforce and leading increasingly dysfunctional lives. The middle class is shrinking and beginning to show similar signs of dysfunction.

Liberal opinionmakers bemoan this inequality, which they tend to view solely in economic terms. Yet ironically -- even as they call for more wealth redistribution and job training -- they fail to see the responsibility they bear for the social conditions in which many of our society's less fortunate members now flounder.

Yes, Kersten believes that we, liberals, are responsible for this divide. And she feels it goes back to our quest in the 60's for liberation...you know, freedom to do your own thing.

Since the 1960s, America's elite -- on the campus and in the media, government and nonprofit sectors -- has led a crusade for social and cultural "liberation." In the process, it has jettisoned once-clear standards of conduct, substituting a fluid new moral code that champions self-actualization and "choosing your own values."

She gets the 60's culture reaction wrong here. It was not a quest to choose your own values....it was a rejection of having values imposed upon us. The 60's revolution was a reaction to forced conformity. We were told to accept the premise that the War in Vietnam was necessary. That society needed to be rigid. Education rigid. Futures rigid. The 60's generation felt the need to question everything and to test the limits of what is supposed to be.

That didn't necessarily mean that "values" were rejected. Even the Christian religion saw a new awakening at the time. But when it came to "values", that generation put everything on the table for examination and a lot of it was found wanting.

Kersten goes on....

In a recent issue of First Things, R.R. Reno, the journal's editor, listed the multiple arenas in which America is seeing the relaxation or abandonment of once-universal norms: from sex and marriage to the legalization of gambling, marijuana and assisted suicide. On all these fronts, moral restrictions are being dropped in the name of expanding freedom for all.

Who gets to define what "universal norms" are? And why, in her new context, is expansion of freedom a bad thing? Sure, some of these ideas are changing - some would say its about time - but to judge the changes as good or bad just because they are different from the past requires a very narrow and puritanical judgment.

But then she gets deeper into the matter....

Affluent, college-educated people -- the top 20 percent -- can generally handle the new smorgasbord of choices, thanks to their education, their grasp of risk and the social capital that helped them achieve success in the first place. But the poorly educated and vulnerable, who often lack these resources, cannot.

Reno cites statistics that prove his point. For example, upper-class Americans have developed a "relatively disciplined approach to drugs," he says. But parents who dropped out of high school are twice as likely to have children who use marijuana as are parents with college degrees. The less educated a person, the more likely he is to be a frequent gambler.

Kersten assumes that affluence and a college education apparently makes you "smart" enough to judge things as you are supposed to judge them. In other words, have a more "moral" compass. The less educated and the poor, it would seem, are more susceptible to poor decisions. Kersten almost gets to the point of a medieval class structure. The "poor" are just not responsible for their behavior,

So Kersten makes the big jump - "Our society, despite professed concern for the less fortunate, is waging a "war on the weak."

Ironic isn't it? Liberals have fought for decades to try and look out for the rights of the disadvantaged (the only ones who do) and yet Kersten calls us out for waging "war" on them.

In our newly liberated world, the biggest advantage the strong have may be their ability to manipulate the complex, open-ended moral code that is replacing the straightforward rules that once guided life......Today, however, the language of right and wrong is evaporating. In its place, we promote subjective rules for living, open to endless interpretation. "Make healthy choices," we tell our youngsters. "Value diversity." Do things that are "in your comfort zone." People with the education and ability to conjure prosocial meaning from these therapeutic buzzwords feel in control of their moral lives. Others, who need a clearer compass to navigate life's shoals, are set adrift.

For Kersten, the language of right and wrong has no nuance. It is a black and white divide with no gray areas. It is conformity to a moral code which Kersten wants to interpret for the weaker members of society - the poor and uneducated. I have to ask, why should any of us dictate concrete moral values for anyone else? We can impart our ideas and give examples and reasons for why we think they are acceptable, but to tell someone they are wrong to think differently breaks a community contract that we are all in this together regardless of belief systems.

Sure, we have laws and regulations that we have accepted to give society a sense of order -- but that doesn't hold for every phase of life and even the laws need a periodic examination for relevance.

Essentially, Kersten thinks that society cannot function properly unless it has a moral conformity. She brings that forward as she moves further into her posting....

The consequences have been most dramatic in the arena of sex and family formation. On these issues, we live in a moral Wild West. "Decide for yourself when you're ready" for sex, we tell our kids. Sex of any kind is OK so long as it's "safe" and there's mutual consent......Even if we could magically equalize incomes, our nation would still be marred by the kind of inequality that matters most: cultural and moral inequality.

There, that is the crux of the matter. Its not about education or social standing...its about moral values. Its about the moral family. True morality, her idea of morality, is what is needed in Kersten's way of thinking. And it is clear that blaming liberals for expanding thought in regards to what are individual "moral values" is the true reason that Kersten wants to blame them for this faux "war".

The reality is that Kersten is the one at war. She is at war with anyone who would question here 1950's world view. She is a conservative thinker, not in policy, but in preserving a past moral mentality that is her personal comfort zone. A place that doesn't want true individual thought but is searching for dictated conformity.

There is the real war. The real reasons for the problem have slipped by her.
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