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First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoeller.

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Cultural Sewage - Thursday, August 03, 2006
 

Cultural Sewage

David C. Stolinsky, M.D.
Aug. 3, 2006

Recently I saw something remarkable on TV. Was it a discussion of world events? Was it a riveting drama? Was it a concert of beautiful music?

No, it was a film called "The Aristocrats." Comedians tell versions a joke involving a man who is trying to sell an act to a theatrical agent. The man describes a filthy, disgusting act, and when the agent asks what it’s called, the answer is, "The Aristocrats." So far we have a barely amusing joke.

But each comedian tried to outdo the others by making the act even more filthy and disgusting. There was sex between parents and grandparents, and between people and animals. There was activity involving urine and feces. Worst of all, there was sex between parents and small children, and between children and other children. To cap things off, two of the comedians told these revolting stories in front of babies.

The babies looked about a year old, so probably they understood none of the filthy language and nauseating imagery. But babies understand more than we think they do. Just because they can’t talk yet, we mustn’t assume they don’t understand some words, and they surely pick up adults’ emotions. Who can know whether those verbal images of child abuse affected the babies’ minds?

No, this wasn’t an "adult’ channel but HBO, where it could be watched by children as well as adults. As a result, viewers may be led to believe that sex with children is something to joke about.

The idea was that talking about perversions in front of innocent babies was "funny." But to me, it was revolting – and itself verged on reportable child abuse. That someone would do this in private is bad enough. It is unbelievable that people would do it on a film that is shown in theaters and on TV. Even a low-budget film involves hundreds of people.

Did the people involved in the production of the film realize that joking about child abuse makes it seem less disgusting and more acceptable? Did they understand that by using babies, they were sending the dangerous message that children are objects to be used for adults’ amusement?

In a very real sense, those involved were defecating on the audience. If someone defecates on my body, I can wash myself. But if someone defecates on my mind and my soul, can I cleanse all the filth? Or does some of it remain?

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Law of Dilution: If you add a cup of water to a barrel of sewage, you get a barrel of sewage. But if you add a cup of sewage to a barrel of water, you still get a barrel of sewage. Beyond a certain level, a harmful substance overcomes a beneficial one, rendering the whole mixture offensive and toxic.

An obvious example is our entertainment media, which are filled with loveless sex, gratuitous violence, incessant profanity, and anti-American, anti-military fabrications. Then there is TV news, especially local news, which entertains and titillates rather than informs. But there are other examples.

Lawyers are now the butt of jokes, but my image of a lawyer was formed when I was a teenager and my father died. The estate was handled by dignified, kindly lawyer. There are still many fine lawyers. But the image today’s kids have of lawyers is not the solid professionalism of my youth, but the "Dream Team" style of bamboozling the jury, Clintonian disputation on the meaning of "is," and the use of language to confuse rather than inform. The problem is that lawyers compose all of the judicial branch and much of the legislative branch – almost two-thirds of our government.

The unethical minority has overshadowed the ethical majority in the popular mind. This must affect how lawyers act. Most people try to live up to others’ expectations. And it must affect the quality of applicants to law schools. The perception becomes self-fulfilling. A little sewage ruins the water.

Law is not the only profession that has deteriorated. When I went to medical school, graduates took the Hippocratic Oath, which forbids assisted suicide, euthanasia and abortion. It has been eliminated by most medical schools. Instead, oaths have been substituted that mention the health of "society" or the patient’s "dignity," which of course includes the "right" to die. And at some schools, including Harvard, medical graduates make up their own oath each year. How can a profession maintain its standards, if new members swear to uphold their own ideas? Following my own ideas is easy – and egotistical. What’s hard is following established standards. But that’s what keeps patients safe.

Schools are the subject of much comment. Some schools are excellent; but universities are confronted with freshmen who need remedial classes in English or math. SAT scores have declined for a generation, so the test was "re-normed" to conceal the fall. When I was in college, nobody graduated with a perfect 4.0 average. Recently a brave Harvard professor gave his students two grades, one the inflated grade for the official record, the other the grade the student earned.

In a competitive world, honesty can be a disadvantage. An honest grader, like a truthful lawyer, would encounter serious problems when facing dishonest competitors. There is strong pressure to conform to the "norm" of dishonesty.

The Law of Dilution applies not only to schools, but also to what they teach. My father was a respected physician and family man, and I try to live up to his example. But what if I believed he was a criminal? My whole life would be changed for the worse. In past generations, kids were taught that our Founding Fathers were great men. Some of this was exaggerated, but kids need role models. Perhaps they even need illusions. Later in life, there is plenty of time to be disillusioned.

Scholars debate the causes of the Civil War. But the end result was that one-third of a million white men and boys died fighting for the Union, and slavery was ended. Biographers have varying views of Lincoln. But the bottom line was that he held the Union together, hastened the end of slavery, and was murdered as a result. Many students no longer are taught these facts, but instead acquire a negative view of America’s history and its leaders.

As a kid, I gained self-esteem from what I accomplished, from what great Americans of the past achieved, and from the knowledge that I was a unique individual created in God’s image. Today’s schools claim to teach "self-esteem." Yet they inflate grades, reducing the sense of individual achievement. They denigrate America’s history and its past leaders, eliminating the sense of being the bearer of a proud heritage. And they don’t dare mention God. Schools remove sources of genuine self-esteem, leaving only unearned self-adulation that leads to narcissism – and cynicism.

Cynicism about our nation’s ideals and Founding Fathers can evoke anger, just as kids whose own fathers abandoned or failed them are often chronically angry. Fatherless males are more likely to get into trouble. Perhaps this also applies to males who were taught that their nation’s fathers were contemptible.

The two killers at Columbine High School gave the Nazi salute and observed Hitler’s birthday. They didn’t respect American ideals or observe Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. Cynicism and anger are poor substitutes for a sense of having to live up to a proud heritage. Sewage makes the water foul and unsafe for young people.

If the water is muddied, positive facts are obscured. Kids are left with anger about slavery and other past wrongs, but have no feeling of gratitude for those who risked everything to put them right. Angry ingrates make poor citizens of a free nation, but they do make good receptacles for hate. Just look at "Taliban" John Walker Lindh and "Beltway Sniper" John Allen Muhammad.

For a generation, we have been pouring sewage into our entertainment, our professions, our politics, our schools and even our history. Let us take care not to add more sewage to our national life, lest we discover too late that sewage is all we have left.

You may disagree. You may approve when schools sexualize even younger children with sex education that now may begin in kindergarten. You may relish even more blatant sex, violence and obscenity in films and TV. You may applaud when NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, marches in gay pride parades. You may support the ACLU in defending "virtual" child pornography. You may laugh when people joke about child abuse in the presence of children.

If you want to live in a sewer and raise children there, that’s your choice. But do me a favor – pull the manhole cover closed over you. The smell is really awful.

Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. He may be contacted at dstol@prodigy.net.

www.stolinsky.com


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