Duncan, Oklahoma: big little town on the prairie. County seat of Stephens County. Crape Myrtle Capital of Oklahoma. Hometown of Jackie Sherrill, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ron Howard, Erle P. Halliburton (yes, that Halliburton), and Hoyt Axton. Home to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center. Host of the annual Western Spirit Celebration and the Stephens County Fair; perennial host to rodeo-circuit events galore.
Now known for a senseless thrill killing by three “bored” teenagers, whose minds have – of course – been immersed in gangsta culture. All is not well with the spirit of our culture. And the problem is not a lack of school funding, grief counselors, or “anti-hate” syllabi. The problem is the lack of a moral compass.
Young men don’t navigate their way to what’s right by steeping themselves in gang culture, fight culture, and rap culture. No one gets to what’s right by that path. It is literally impossible. The only thing that path illuminates is what’s wrong. Filling your head and heart with what’s wrong is a sure ticket to a life of existential despair and crime.
That goes for dwelling on grievances as a policy matter, as much as for giving yourself over to the practice of evil. Self-conscious instruction in “tolerance” or “rejecting hate” doesn’t make headway against hearts filled with wrong. The focus of such instruction is inherently destructive – because it’s on evil. The only thing that does make headway is preaching and living out what is good: setting an example, showing the benefits of good, and encouraging and expecting the best from those who have been put in your sphere of influence.
You cannot parse evil, just as you cannot parse good. They are powerful rudders of the heart; pretexts and guides for attitude and action. What matters is that they direct you one way or another, whether you acknowledge that or not. Picking them apart to “prove” things against them – make them the subjects of doubt, cynicism, or ridicule – is the opposite of wisdom. The least “educated” among us can be wise and good; what is good doesn’t change with education, nor does what is evil.
Gangsta culture is evil. It leads young men into evil and imprisons them there. How stupid of our society to ignore and excuse that. How irresponsible. Gangsta culture has all the hallmarks of evil, making its devotees obsess over revenge, death, imagined slights, “disses,” humiliation of others, and pathetic dunghill triumphs. It operates on a death-spiral cycle of unrequitable longing for validation through inflicting hurt. It is everything that is bad about leaving young men to govern each other in the back alleys, instead of joining society on their fathers’ terms, bringing all the things that are good and noble about men to our common human project.
What a terrible, destructive waste it is, to leave these young men full of promise to the ministrations of a culture of death. As Colin Flaherty discovered, one of the Duncan-killers’ mothers has a foolish, blinkered view of who her son is – but the father of another of them has a similar view about his son. This atrocious crime is about the decline of fatherhood, but it isn’t only about that. It’s about the totality of our culture, and its see-no-evil complacency.
Evil can’t be domesticated. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can laugh with it, subsidize it, refuse to name it, and yet not have it come back around to smack us down. No amount of bicycle-helmet wearing, child-safety-seat requiring, or cell-phone-while-driving banning can protect us against the consequences of sitting down to the table with evil and letting it form a constituency, with claims against our substance.
But that’s where we are as a society. Government, as ever, is not the answer to this problem. In important ways, government is the problem: encouraging multigenerational welfarism and fatherlessness, and actively perverting the concept of moral instruction in the precincts of public discourse (e.g., with victim-politics themes and outright, lying propaganda).
We need to find ways, each of us for our households and families, to disentangle ourselves from what is evil in our culture. It is at least equally incumbent on us to identify what is good, and align ourselves with it: practice it, honor it, preach it. There is no interstitial space in which we can be safely agnostic about this. The idea of that mythical space is a great lie. We are either actively pursuing what is good, or we are going bad.
We need to encourage each other in this effort, through non-governmental means. That means especially encouraging and helping the most vulnerable among us.
We need to work against the growth of prophylactic government, which proposes to manage our whole lives on the same principles on which it has encouraged a thriving subculture of housing-project-tethered gangs and drug rings. Those demographics lie in wait for the children of the working classes, drawing them in while their overburdened parents struggle with their own obstacles and demons, mostly doing the best they can in a manufactured America of high regulatory and tax burdens and low expectations.
The thrill-slaying of Chris Lane, blameless young man full of promise, cut down at 22, is not what progressive leftists intended to be the result of their policies. And we must be clear: the evil in the human heart is what is most proximately at fault here. Social trends, even those encouraged by public policy, don’t “make us do it.”
But it was always inevitable that the progressive-left’s policies would tear down the walls of belief and character that form our day-to-day bulwark against anarchic barbarity. Nothing binds us to ignore that fact. Progressive leftism has been wrong from the beginning, about human nature, moral incentives, and the meanings and purposes of freedom and responsibility.
It is well past time the time of caring about the insignificant, like whether we are among the “cool kids,” or whether the media or the pop culture laugh at us. What is set before us today is life and death. We must choose life. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,” Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.
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