Americans traditionally adopted demanding standards of behavior because they believed that people, not inherently good, needed moral guidelines and laws to prevent bad behavior and encourage good behavior. In contrast, progressives tend to believe that demanding behavioral standards are damaging because they hurt the feelings of those who can’t live up to them.
The unconscious logic supporting this belief goes like this, starting from the “Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble” branch of the newthink worldview tree:
• Human beings are inherently and transcendentally noble.
• Our bad behavior is caused by society damaging our nobility.
• Demanding standards of behavior are damaging because they hurt the feelings of those who can’t meet them.
Newthinkers believe that humans are inherently noble. Because of this belief, they often fail to strive for an ideal standard of behavior. It’s unnecessary; they’re already filled with built-in merit. Virtue is much easier to achieve without behavioral ideals. Besides, nobody can live up to all the traditional “shoulds.” Before newthink, the inevitably unfavorable comparison between the ideal and oneself led to a healthy humility. But newthink posits that ideals of behavior are damaging to the human psyche and offers an alternative reaction to that uncomfortable comparison: the rejection of the “shoulds.” For instance, the popular ideal of a non-obese body is thought to be damaging because it hurts the feelings of the obese. In progressive France, they considered making it a crime to promote thinness.*
The unconscious logic branching out of this belief is:
• If you espouse an ideal behavioral standard that you don’t live up to, you’re a hypocrite.
• It’s better to avoid hypocrisy by not having unattainable standards of behavior.
Newthinkers believe human virtue is inherent; traditional Americans believed it was earned. To newthinkers, espousing a behavior that you can’t live up to is hypocritical because you either inherently behave that way or not. If you don’t meet the mark, you’re a pretender. Newthinkers tend to believe it’s better to dispose of unattainable standards of behavior and avoid hypocrisy.
For instance, devout newthinkers often believe the traditional ideal of monogamy is damaging. Say you hold the ideal that one should never commit adultery. If you then have an affair, progressives will consider you a hypocrite. However, a hypocrite is defined as “one who affects virtues or qualities he does not have.”** Newthinkers aren’t hearing the complete message of traditional Americans: “One should never commit adultery and I, a flawed or sinful person, will try to live up to that standard.” A traditional American who breaks his marriage vows is not a hypocrite because of his act of adultery. He has simply failed to live up to his ideal of faithfulness to his spouse. If he then pretends to be faithful, that makes him a hypocrite. To traditional Americans, acknowledging one’s failure to live up to an ideal is the act of a normal, flawed human being; pretending one lives up to an ideal when one doesn’t is the act of a hypocrite. Therefore, the newthink sub-belief “If you espouse an ideal behavior standard that you don’t live up to, you’re a hypocrite.” is only true if you don’t believe that normal human beings are flawed.
The moral path of progressivism leads ever downward because, without a felt obligation toward a standard of personal good behavior, we revert to the barbarian mean of moral anarchy.
Newthinkers believe that their virtuous qualities are inherent, not earned; that demanding standards of behavior are damaging; and that failing to meet an ideal equals hypocrisy. Because of these beliefs, progressive culture suffers from a dearth of behavioral ideals. Nihilism has set in. The moral path of progressivism leads ever downward because, without a felt obligation toward a standard of personal good behavior, we revert to the barbarian mean of moral anarchy.
That is, unless the newthinkers are correct about the nobility of humanity.
* Molly Moore and Corinne Gavard, “France Takes Aim at Cult Of Thinness,” The Washington Post, April 16, 2008.
** Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, (G. & C. Merriam, 1977).