Thursday, April 6, 2017

We Need Social Censure

How did we once maintain a society that was a model of prosperity, tranquility, and politeness?  Part of the answer is that, as a God-fearing nation, we employed several fundamental moral weapons which we have now become too timid, or too politically correct, to use.  These weapons include disapproval, ostracism, and other sanctions.

Let’s see how such weapons would relate to the phenomenon of illegitimacy.  Thirty-five years ago [53 now], the unmarried teenage girl who became pregnant was sent away to have the baby.  The shame she brought on herself and her family was deep and lasting.  In addition, the bastard child carried the disgrace throughout his life, with diminished career and marriage prospects.  As we approach the end of the millennium [the book is copyright 1999], our enlightened generation tends to throw up our hands in horror at the thought that ostracism and moral censure should be put to such barbaric use.  I would argue to the contrary, on three grounds.  First, I suggest that the traditional use of ostracism and censure educated society on the proper ties between people, God, and community, while the abandonment of these tools has led to rampant and dangerous individualism.  Second, I maintain that proper and judicious use of social sanctions prevents far more problems and misery than it creates, as do other forms of punishment.  Finally, I argue that no community can succeed without ostracism and censure. . . .

The point of social sanctions, like the point of any other deterrence mechanism, is not to ruin lives but to preserve the common welfare.  Anyone urging the return of such sanctions hopes that their very presence will make the need for their use quite rare.  Back in the 1950s, the number of pregnant schoolgirls who were stigmatized was tiny, and so was the rate of illegitimacy.  The number of vagrants who were harassed out of respectable neighborhoods was minute, and the streets were safe and clean.

The tool of ostracism and social censure was used most effectively to limit both drunken driving and cigarette smoking.  In both cases it was not considered sufficient to merely penalize the actions; it was also necessary to brand those who engaged in those behaviors.  As a society, we are obviously quite comfortable employing social disapproval as a tool for social improvement.  We are just a little queasy about utilizing these undoubtedly effective tools for moral ends.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, "America's Real War," pg.255-256

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