Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 32 - No 2 Contents 30 POLICY • Vol. 32 No. 2 • Winter 2016
COUNTERING THE COUNTER-CULTURE I: THE MARIE ANTOINETTE EFFECT
you may recall, dressed up as a shepherdess in
order to live a bucolic idyll for a few hours, but
always returned—in fact, never really left—her
regal and aristocratic milieu. It was a form of moral
exhibitionism that showed she was far in advance
of her times, in a way a prophetess.
Once again, there had been a long preparation
for the belief in the supposedly liberating effects
of illicit drugs: ‘O just, subtle, and mighty opium’,
wrote Thomas De Quincey in 1820. He turned
his own efforts to abandon opium into a titanic
struggle of the kind that would appeal to all self-
aggrandising romanticists, for whom any titanic
struggle was preferable to the humdrum workaday
world of steady endeavour.
Not a moment’s thought, not a fraction
of a second’s, was given to the possible effect
of widespread drug use on the poorest and
most vulnerable section of the population.
Notwithstanding the propagandists’ self-declared
sympathy for the poor and downtrodden, the
actual effects of their self-indulgence (which they
could mainly themselves escape) on those very
poor and downtrodden interested them not at
all. And still the main advocates of the complete
liberalisation of the drug trade, so that all drugs be
freely available, come from the same social group,
namely that which can escape the consequences of
its own advocacy.
The model of human relations that was
proposed, and that social reforms went a long
way to promoting, was one freed of convention,
contract and condemnation: only consent was
important. Once the only thing that bound people
together was the state of their affections at the
moment, the full beauty of the human personality
would be free to emerge. What actually emerged
was breakdown and chaos, especially, of course,
in the most vulnerable sectors of society.
Now every mature person knows that families
can be hell. It is doubtful if there is a person, or
at any rate many people, who could not tell a
horror story about his or her family. I know
I certainly could. But in human affairs, the choice
is not between hell on the one hand and heaven
on the other, or perfection and unutterable vileness.
Our lives are permanently unsatisfactory in some
manner or another, and to take only one very
obvious example—commitment to something
or somebody automatically though voluntarily
precludes many other possibilities. It is true of
course that commitments are often broken because
the flesh is weak however willing is the spirit. But
now we have reached the stage where the flesh is
weak and the spirit is weak, and the results are not
at all pretty, as I discovered from my clinical work
as a physician.
Hypocrisy, said La Rochefoucauld, is the tribute
that vice pays to virtue; but at least it knows the
difference. The only way that hypocrisy can be
eliminated from human affairs, given that Man is
an imperfect creature, is to destroy the distinction
between vice and virtue, to deny its existence: and
that is precisely what so much intellectual activity
of the past century has been concerned to do.
In many cases this activity is humbug, of course.
It can go to astonishing lengths. I once shared
a platform with a woman who was in favour of
prostitution. I asked her whether she would like
her own daughter to be a prostitute, and she said that
she would not mind in the least. I did not believe
her; she said it only to appear unconventional or
transgressive. Transgression is the new virtue.
Incidentally, a change of terminology can have
practical effects. Prostitution is now universally
called sex work in medical journals, as if it were
just another form of employment. In Germany
there was a brief and unsuccessful attempt to force
women in receipt of unemployment benefits to
accept sex work as they were forced to accept, say,
hospital cleaning. The attempt failed because there
was an outcry and everyone knows that sex work
is in a different category from hospital cleaning:
but the significant thing in this story is that the
attempt was made.
So we may ask: what is the solution to the moral
morass in which we now find ourselves? The first
step is to change the culture. Of course, that is far
easier said than done, as Jeremy Sammut explains
in the pages that follow.
Hypocrisy, said La Rochefoucauld, is the
tribute that vice pays to virtue; but at least
it knows the difference.
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