Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cultural laments from other blogs

Today, you need to go and read a few other blogger's posts. Trust me: this will be worth your time.

First up, my friend Magister Christianus, who has written an eloquent post about what it's like to be a serious Christian teaching in a public high school:
As I walked the halls of the public high school where I teach Latin, returning to my room after submitting six failures from Latin I to the guidance office, I felt the weight of an elephant on my chest and burning tears around the rims of my eyes. It was not the six failures that produced these sensations, but they contributed to a cumulative, crushing effect. Perhaps it was that one of our students was raped on her way home earlier this week. Perhaps it was the cheating scandal that has rocked our school, involving a young man who photographed with his phone a final exam and sold it to students. This same young man was discovered to have stolen multiple tests and quizzes from another teacher during the teacher's absence. Perhaps it was a colleague's discovery that a student had gotten onto his computer and changed grades. Perhaps it the sadness I have felt for some time and that hit critical mass yesterday over a former student who is a friend on Facebook. This student, who must be in her late twenties by now, was a dark, edgy girl as I recall her. Now, she works at a local bar, and the vast majority of her body not covered by clothing is decked out in tattoos. I do not want to know what a former student looks like under her clothes. She friended me a long time ago, and I accepted, but now I see frequent updates of her in all manner of undress at her work, which seems to promote such appearance. I am praying the Lord will draw her to Him and out of the life she is living. [...]

Yet today as I walked the halls, I felt oppression. My school is above average in academic, athletic, and artistic/musical achievements. We have the awards and statistics to prove it. We are, however, feeling the crushing weight of the immorality and despair that seems to be sweeping the nation, if not the world. I found myself wanting to get out, to leave, to do anything but bear the burden of this weight.

And then I thought of Mother Teresa and of Jesus. How long did Mother Teresa work in the slums? What oppression did her soul suffer? What weight of sin did our Lord have to carry in the moral sinkhole of the 1st century Roman empire? In the garden of Gethsemane, He asked our Father, "Let this cup pass from me," but added in His typical, faithful way, "nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."
Go and read the whole thing here.

The thing is, culture matters. When you have a nation that scorns chastity, shuns morality, and decides that the only virtue is pleasing one's own self, that is reflected in our youth, and wreaks a terrible human toll.

Next up: I don't agree completely with Patrick Archbold here, but this is a pretty thought-provoking piece of writing:

Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence. I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is. But some things were different in the back then. First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue. And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact. That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different. When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend. Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity. Its value is temporary and must be used. It is a consumable. [...]

Our problem is that society doesn’t value innocence anymore, real or imagined. Nobody aspires to innocence anymore. Nobody wants to be thought of as innocent, the good girl. They want to be hot, not pretty.

I agree with most of what Patrick is saying--but I would point out that in its day, prettiness was also something of a commodity. Pretty, after all, is a quality of the young--and only of some of them. Plenty of virtuous, modest, well-behaved girls in former ages were never pretty, and the plain, the too-fat or too-thin, the freckled or harsh-featured girls often missed out on those chivalrous impulses men had for the young and attractive, as did those women too old to be considered "pretty." I would, instead, speak of a different kind of female beauty, the kind of beauty that doesn't have to be "pretty" to inspire. Like this, for instance.

Last, but not least, Rod Dreher has written the customer service rant par excellence:

I no longer fear Hell, for I have spent two days dealing with AT&T customer service.

Honest, I cannot remember the last time I was so angry. It was the kind of experience that makes you think this must be a movie, or the Soviet Union. And it’s still not over! How are these people still in business? [...]

Well, the deadline came and went, and no phone service, and no Internet. I phoned AT&T myself. It took four minutes and 56 seconds of navigating through the automated customer service system before I finally got put through to a human being. And off we went again. It was as if the entire set of conversations Julie had had the day before had never occurred! After 45 minutes or longer on the phone with this particular person, and getting absolutely nowhere, my head was throbbing, and I lost my temper. I asked to be put through to a supervisor … and was transferred back to the automated system, at the very beginning.

I really do lack the words to describe how incandescently angry I was at this point. I had to give the phone to my wife to handle from that point on. I heard her say the words, “What do you mean it won’t be on till Friday?! That is unacceptable. You all have had over a month to make this work!”

I took the phone at that point. At least 30 minutes later, and three different customer service representatives (“Sir, I don’t know why they transferred you to me; this is not my area”), I reached the end of the line. The man told me there was nothing to be done. He said if it didn’t come on by midnight, that I should call this particular number. I realized there really was nothing else I could do at that point. There was no one left to talk to. He told me he lacked the authority to transfer me to a supervisor. I believe he was lying, but at that point, all I was capable of was screaming. (Julie had already asked me to go to the back of the house to carry on these conversations, because I was frightening the children). I gave up.

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, the real problem is that we now live in a culture that values low-cost goods and services and high returns for the stockholder over such old-fashioned notions as quality, customer service, and standing by one's words or promises. These days, an overseas customer service person can assure the irate American on the other end of the phone that tomorrow or the next day the problem will be fixed--and then, to all extents and purposes, the irate American ceases to exist, as far as the ironically-named customer service specialist is concerned. It is not the job of the customer service person to waste company resources and drain stockholder value by actually, you know, fixing the problem. And when the even-more-irate American customer calls back tomorrow, well, maybe he'll call at a different time and someone in a different country will answer the call; the odds are against getting the same person twice, especially given the automated maze at the beginning of the system.

I'm not (of course) the only person out there who writes cultural laments, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to share three really good ones with all of you!


Siarlys Jenkins said...

The first two posts highlight, in my mind, that we need to distinguish between what culture does for us, and what law does for us. The two are not synonymous.

There have been times and places, including some recent times in North America, when fornication was a crime. We've moved away from that, and in my seldom humble opinion, rightly so. However, the culture tailed the change in law, with the logic that if it is not illegal, then it should be indulged.

I would say the same for recreational drug use, abortion, and many other subjects. No, criminal penalties are not particularly helpful, but, there are reasons -- more subtle reasons than the law can deal with -- why one should think twice about any of those options.

We need to put that back into our culture, without leaning on the rigidity of the law to do this difficult job for us.

As for AT&T... I already joined the chorus at Rod's site, so here I will just say, Erin got it right on target.

Michael Maedoc said...

Wow, one time I spent up to 18 total hours on the phone with AT&T trying to get my new phone/internet service up and running. In the end I switched to another provider with next to no problems.

ElizabethK said...

Siarlys, I kind of agree with you, but I'm on the fence. the problem seems to be that so many people do equate law with morality, at least here in America. so when the law says it's ok, we think that must make it morally ok. perhaps this means we're not very sophisticated thinkers, I don't know.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

First, it means civic education has been lacking in what a constitutional "right" is. The bill of rights mostly delineates things government may not do, may not intervene in, may not prohibit. A constitution is a jurisdictional document, not a statutory one. In a few instances, like right to counsel, it has belatedly been interpreted to mean right to have something provided.

The government may not arrest, prosecute, or imprison me for the content of my speech. That does not mean that I should use no judgement about what words come out of my mouth.

There was a court case some years back where a man with Tourette's Syndrome wanted a retail store to "accommodate" his disability. The court ruled that there is no reason the store had to subject their customers to a stream of profanity, albeit the man couldn't help himself.

The reasons to be prudent, in the absence of criminal penalties, include "God will be angry," your friends will desert you, nobody will do business with you, and, seriously, listen to yourself, is THAT what you want everyone to think of you?

Of course for many people it does come down to Ambrose Bierce's definition of "oath" : A promise to tell the truth, made binding by a penalty for perjury."