Herbert London: The Lack Of Seriousness

Jun 19, 2013

Have we reached a stage in our national development where seriousness on almost any subject is impossible? Examples abound.

Edward Snowden, who leaked National Security Agency surveillance projects to the British Guardian, said, “I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” And he noted, “the public should decide, not the government.”

Here is a remarkable claim of a bureaucrat who has arrogated to himself the role of spokesman for the public. Moreover, he seems to ignore the responsibility the National Security Agency has in lawfully gathering intelligence that assists in targeting prospective terror activity. In fact, the public does make a decision about these surveillance procedures in the form of elections; but no one ever attributed seriousness to Snowden’s arguments.

Reading a catalogue at a major university is also an exercise in frivolousness. From rock climbing to queer studies, from film noir to Lady Gaga, universities demonstrate a loss of purpose. There is an emergent orthodoxy that deals with environmentalism and homosexual marriage, but inquiry of a serious nature is in decline. The Socratic Method has been replaced by Star Chamber psychology of acceptance or banishment.

Popular film has remained popular by appealing to the sensibility of a fourteen year old boy. Films such as “Man of Steel”, “Iron Man”, “Fast and Furious” have scripts that could be composed by monkeys; what they offer are remarkable computer driven special effects, simply breathtaking technology that is riveting yet mindless.

In New York City a man found culpable of lascivious texting to teenage girls and consistently lied about it, (Anthony Weiner) wants to be regarded as a serious mayoral candidate. Remarkably, his Democratic adherents think this is a good idea. Where is the shame? Whatever happened to taste and modesty? Once again, here is an issue put through the cauldron of media cleansing without the slightest regard for serious criticism.

The Obama administration invested millions of taxpayer dollars in an electric car, Solyndra, which was bound to fail from the outset, yet the public response has been ho-hum, another day in Washington. But that money squandered to sustain a marginal company belongs to the taxpayers is theirs, John and Mary Public.

Obama’s State Department officials cannot address, with any clarity, the order to “back down” in the Benghazi affair in which four men in service of the country were murdered; nor is there anyone assuming responsibility for the sexual imbroglios among ambassadorial appointees. Does anyone care? Former Secretary Hillary Clinton referring to Benghazi brazenly said, “What difference does it make.” Alas, she is busy setting the stage for a presidential run. Are there adults in the State Department or is it a playground for teenagers?

Similarly, the lack of focus in foreign policy is astounding. In the haste to withdraw American focus from around the globe and convert the U.S. into a “normal nation” without so many international obligations, the administration is unable to define American interests abroad. This vacuum has left deep and continuing dangers, but blithely the administration continues on is merry way far more concerned about the terrorists housed in Gitmo than violence and confusion from the Suez to the Hindu Kush. Denying the reality of radical Islam doesn’t make it go away. Because we choose to leave the battlefield, doesn’t mean the war is over.

Yet from culture to foreign policy everything is a joke. It is as if Howard Stern and Jay Leno were responsible for public policy. As silly as it sounds, that may be the case since the nation appears to be unable to think seriously about any subject.

How can the nation pursue its future when seriousness itself is in retreat along with its companion belief in determination? You cannot be determined if you do not know what you cherish. Calvin Coolidge once argued, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” But how do you ‘press on’ when seriousness of any kind is missing? This is a dilemma without an obvious answer.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

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