Love in the Time of Syphilis and Master Narratives of Morality (June 7, 2007)
I have updated the Readers Journal with a selection of lively commentaries in the weekly Journal and a stunning new essay, Love in the Time of Syphilis by Protagoras.
I highly recommend reading this essay, as it is filled with thought-provoking themes of human nature, literature and history. The central thesis is that the "master narrative" of sexual morality from 1490 through 1950 was dominated by the very real threat of a terrible death due to the ravages of syphilis, a sexually transmitted and then-incurable disease which could also be transmitted to one's offspring.
Protagoras very entertainingly reveals how this narrative, so evident in the literature of those centuries, has been lost to us. What we see with modern eyes as some sort of fusty Victorian concern with chastity and monogamy was in fact a highly practical concern with protecting oneself and one's offspring from an early death or a madness which ended in a cruel decline.
The disease was not rare, nor was it limited to the lower classes. Winston Churchill's high-born father died of the disease, to name but one example.
In our own time, HIV/AIDS traced a similar narrative in the arts, literature and film, a narrative which is already being blurred or lost as more effective treatments stave off what was until very recently a death sentence.
If we take this notion of a "master narrative" that can be lost, and apply it to the malaise gripping the print and broadcast media--the "mainstream media" or MSM--what do we get? What we have now--the collapse of a higher ethical calling.
Yes, there is the "news" which is supposed to be "objective." But the unremitting attacks by political hacks (the Karl Rove types of all political persuasions) and "politically correct" interest groups (unions, the elderly, etc. etc.) has enfeebled the media to the point that every story has to be gingerly treated in a "fair and balanced" fashion--in other words, one without any ethical compass.
Here's how it works. If the media investigates a right-wing nest of abuse of power/corruption, it's immediately accused of "Liberal bias." If it goes after a Liberal hive of self-serving feeding at the public trough, it's immediately accused of ethnic/gender bias, or even worse, of being "mean-spirited" or "trying to stir up trouble." Duh--that's it's job, people, if "trouble" means exposing what perpetrators. hacks and con-artists are trying so desperately to hide.
The net result: there is no moral center in the media. Here are some stories which have largely gone unreported (by which I mean buried on page B-19, and reported only once), I assume because they don't meet various "politically correct" litmus tests:
We are constantly being told the solution to the media's malaise is "local coverage". Like I want to pay $234 per year subscription to read about hip-hop chess, another pretentious restaurant review or some local politico's pet "feel good" projects.
What's lacking is an ethical compass to guide the media to pursue abuse of power or corruption to the bitter end, regardless of what Karl Rove or his lackeys sputter, or which union or PC interest group stands to lose.
Raiding the public treasury was once upon a time a Master Narrative of wrong-doing which had to be limited or punished: power being abused, public trust pillaged and special favors rewarded. We now live in a time where this narrative has been lost, where literally everyone from fire department employees, Medicare recipients and providers, Homeland Security (sic) and private Pentagon contractors, hedge funds, the mortgage lending industry--everyone is relentlessly "gaming the system" to pile up their own benefits and profits regardless of the fact they are pilfering from public monies or ripping off the public via other means.
Meanwhile, the media stands by, lamely reporting the latest mugging or the latest phony "morality play" about gay marriage staged for distraction by political handlers, while our nation is plundered for personal gain and run aground on the reefs of debt, leaving our children and their children a broken state: broken in the sense of a shattered ethical compass, and fiscally broken in the sense of leaving them with untold trillions in debt which can never be paid off.
What will it take to restore some moral core to the media? It may well be that the rise of blogs is the thinking public's reaction to the silly shallow "balanced news" pumped out by the networks and print media. It is in this light that I reprint a recent comment made by frequent contributor Harun I. regarding the media's breathless cheerleading about the "new highs" in the Dow Jones Industrials and the S&P 500 stock indices:
It is a great failure of the MSM to not balance their reporting of the Dow’s ‘new highs’ with equal reporting of the loss of purchasing power. The lack of objectivity of the MSM is alarming. That people have to rely on blogs written by concerned citizens and true patriots such as you is quite remarkable. On the one hand I fear for our great nation but on the other I read blogs like yours and know that there are enough good people in this country to get it back on track.
For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.
copyright © 2007 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
I would be honored if you linked this wEssay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.