Quote of the Day:
All of Washington was transported back to high school—possibly its natural habitat, anyway. There it acted out the mythic morality play of the dominance of the jocks and popular kids over hoi polloi.
– – Lance Morrow in "High School Morality Play" in City Journal
Have we returned to high school?
In another of his lapidary essays, former Time magazine columnist (from the days when Time occupied an important place in American journalism), Lance Morrow examines the drama around two recent events that involved high school: the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which ended up hinging on a specific night when the Justice was in high school, and the more recent episode involving real high school kids, the suddenly famous Covington Catholic high school students. Some adults should be ashamed of the way they treated the kids.
Morrow suggests that "progressives' fixation on adolescent behavior reflects a stunted moral intelligence." Morrow describes the scene at the Lincoln Memorial, where the Covington kids were waiting for a school but to take them back to Kentucky. Morrow writes:
Finally, there came fresh-faced white Catholic high school boys from Covington, Kentucky, some in Donald Trump’s MAGA hats. One wore a wide frozen smile that might be understood in contradictory ways: Young Nazi . . . or nervous kid? All the white boys were, at the least, little Brett Kavanaughs—or so raged progressives who watched the videos later on Facebook and Twitter. The boys were in Washington for a pro-life march, were they not? They would be obliged to carry more moral freight than they could quite manage.
All these narrative energies banged against one another. Out in the vast, dangerous American air waited the social media people—millions of hair-trigger moralists, half nuts with adrenaline, many of whom, however, might have been a little vague, if asked, about exactly who fought the Civil War or who won it. How to disentangle the knots of the story, which coalesced so suddenly? What’s the moral?
The episode may, like so much else, seem to mean a great deal while actually amounting to little or nothing. The twenty-first century lives on a hermeneutics of hysteria. Sometimes it’s best to let these things blow over. But is there anything to be learned?
The moral theater—the context, the atmosphere, the dynamics—of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings last fall was high school. The Supreme Court nominee was not present at the Senate hearings in the person of the middle-aged distinguished jurist of 2018, but rather as a kid of 16, from Georgetown Prep. His accuser was a woman self-conjured at the hearings as a frightened girl from Holton Arms, channeling her high school self. All of Washington was transported back to high school—possibly its natural habitat, anyway. There it acted out the mythic morality play of the dominance of the jocks and popular kids over hoi polloi.
Here is the question for our society: Is it not odd for a society to argue crucial moral issues on the basis of the behavior of teenagers, debating great matters by trying to read the smile of a 16-year-old on Facebook? Do progressives understand that adolescence (volatile, experimental, mostly ignorant, and naturally running to extremes) should not be the territory on which to thrash out these issues? At work here—besides a massive failure of adult responsibility—is the cynical manipulation, for political gain, of shallow adolescent emotions.
. . .
Lincoln and King represented the most advanced and tragic evolution of moral thinking in American public life. It seems silly to have to mention that theirs were, transcendently, the minds of adults, even unto death. Could it be that the reason progressives take adolescent behavior as their model and baseline now is, among other things, that they have somehow failed to absorb mature, civilized examples in their own lives?
The bolding is mine–it is ironic that we find ourselves so mired in history without knowing the facts of history. Sort of like children.
I realize I have quoted at some length–but the essay in its entirety is well-worth reading.
And it does point to a kind of stuntedness in our society.
By the way, this is a terrific issue of City Journal.
In the same issue. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist, looks at the Kavanaugh hearings through the eyes of a psychiatrist. What did a shrink who formerly worked in U.K. prisons think about Dr. Blasey Ford and Justice Kavanaugh's testimony?