The idea that the bending of cultural “truths” have exceeded the capacity of a civilization to absorb them is not new. For the cultured Roman citizen such as Cato the Elder, the progressive influence of the Greeks in Roman culture, particularly the Bacchanalian festivals with their sordid lack of inhibitions, horrified him, Cato seeing the Greeks as a “worthless and unruly tribe.” The concepts of the universal catholic culture was felt to border on idolatry by northern European thinkers in the 15th and 16th century, leading to the rise of Protestantism. Exemplified at its cultural extreme by Puritans and Quakers, and its aggressive eversion to the papist influence, the reformers led to several hundred years of bitter wars, capped by the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, destroying a third of Europe’s population in the most cataclysmic cultural clash until World War II. The current western world continues to evolve from the countercultural revolution of the 1960’s , in which the accepted norms were rejected by a generation that eventually injected itself into every aspect of cultural life, from education to government, from concepts of individual freedom to collective security, and from religion to sexuality.
Yet the extremes of cultural deviation are always about who owns the center. In western culture, the center has fundamentally been based since the Age of Enlightenment on acknowledged truths of rational science, and the idea that progression of civilization is based on building on the foundations of the previous one. In America, the marriage of these two ideas was put forth in the concepts of the articles of civilization, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and the individuals who codified them, known as the Founders. For several hundred years, the reverence for these creators and their expressions of rational structure to manage the various expressions of a society formed the center of the civilization. The immense accomplishment of these founders proved resilient to the enormous strains applied to the ‘center’ concept by dangerous cultural anachronisms such as slavery, nativist racism, economic depression, and world wars.
Today’s culture however no longer accepts the adjudication of the center. The sexual revolution demands that concept of family, developed over tens of thousands of years, be overthrown for the particular desires of the individual. Islamic radicals seek the destruction of all who will not submit to their cultural version, and the annihilation of an entire people, the Jews, who as a religious culture, are fundamentally in sync with their monotheistic vision. Environmentalists see human beings themselves as the destructive element that must be made subservient to the more important concept of the Mother Earth, to the extent that individuals must be forced into lifestyles that revert to times when the concept of individual had little meaning. Politically correct speech determines who can be offended without an acknowledgement of their virtues, and which group’s virtues stand above any accepted discussion of their virtuousness.
The schism affects every facet of our societal interactions now. A movie that examines the character of an individual who sees himself as defending the center against barbarism, “The American Sniper,” is considered heresy by many who have not even seen it. The main character is a “coward,” a “racist,” “a hate filled killer,” those who have interpreted the center as a defense for the many “crimes and abuses” put forth by western civilization. Yet, the movie about to become the most successful movie regarding the concept of warrior of all time, and, to the incredulousness of those who see it as a homage to white western racism, a popular movie even in Iraq. To those who see the center as the enemy based on its immunity to the extremes of behavior and cultural mores, the movie has instead stirred the discussion regarding central themes of civilization independent of victim groups, such as good versus evil, civilization versus barbarianism, defense of society versus anarchy.
The modern culture is devoid of any formative basis for discussion of virtue, having thrown out the central philosophical tenets of religion, individual rights, and governance out with the peripheral strains that our more diverse society and scientific discoveries have placed on the core beliefs. Ask the modern western citizen as to elements that underrides their core freedoms, and a blank unknowing stare envelops their face. This citizen will deny the presence of a Supreme Being, without understanding the need philosophically for such a Being to explain the actions of an irrational existence, and the necessity of defining fundamental, universal good and evil. They will demand rights that don’t exist, while casually giving up those rights that exist to support their freedom to demand. They reflexively state that all ‘men’ are equal, without understanding that the carefully understood philosophy is that All Men are Created Equal, thereby making possibility the equality of opportunity, and the free will to accept or reject the opportunity.
It is not clear whether our current need to define all lifestyles, actions, and thoughts as having equal weight and import will overthrow the carefully tendered considerations and hard won concepts of thousands of years of human development. If they do, they will succeed at destroying the rational and positive impulses of cultural evolution that led to our current world that respects but does not deify individuals, balances progress against the gold standards of tradition, and has elevated the process of each individual’s life to most stress free, secure, and personally expressive in human history.
The center is a good place to return our civilization, founded on principles of multiple avenues of peaceful resolution, but active defense of the rights of man. As a culture in free fall, the safety net not available to the many cultural expressions that proceeded us is the template of both rights and responsibilities so carefully cultivated by our ancestral founders. In the chaos and entropy of our modern fractured society, the way to enlightenment has been with us all along. It is our duty to use our measured intellect again, to rediscover our abandoned center, where the soul of our civilization resides.