Friday, March 5, 2010

Let’s Ban the Word

Those of us living in metropolitan Detroit now sigh as we read about Governor Patterson’s problems in New York and Representative Charles Rangle’s temporary yielding of the hammer over House Ways and Means in Washington, DC. Here we have been embroiled in a mayoral corruption scandal for more than a year. It led to the ouster of Detroit’s mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick last year; most recently we’ve learned of a belated FBI investigation of his reign about to boil up in earnest. In seeking distraction from steamy and/or monetary corruption charges, we are then treated (we were yesterday) to proof positive that the man appointed to lead the Detroit School Board cannot actually write a grammatical sentence. To describe the Detroit school system as “failing” is to use a euphemism.

I tend to see these things through a cultural lens. Corruption has everything to do with morality and morality with custom. In sorting through these matters in the past, I’ve looked at the distinction between morality and legality on LaMarotte (here) and have pondered the fact that corruption in one domain may be custom in another (here). This morning, glancing at the New York Times over coffee—and setting aside a sudden impulse to join the Coffee Party on Facebook at once—it occurred to me that the loud cries of Corruption! are not, perhaps, relevant to modern, secular culture at all.

Such cries suggest that morality has actual standing in our secular culture. Is not the public promotion of morality the nose of the camel under the tent flap? Isn’t it religion trying to get itself established again? That, my friends, should be treated as a problem, an assault on the modern values of staunch value-free realism. All right. Morality, arguably, has its place, may be tolerated. It belongs to the lower, the less important, the voluntary, the life-style, the private sphere. As such, we know, there are as many different moralities as there are cultures, and we’re resolutely multicultural. If it isn’t illegal, it should simply be labeled behavior.

Let me illustrate. It is perfectly legal to finesse in bridge. If you do it, and it works, you win. If you guessed wrong, you lose a trick. Is it illegal to send a message to the battered mistress of a governor’s aide that she should keep her yap shut? Isn’t speech free? Is it illegal to make assignations to fornicate outside of marriage? Or is the illegality merely confined to using City-owned texting devices when doing so? Get it right, Media. If a presidential candidate sleeps around, isn’t that his private business? Or perhaps his wife’s? If being homophobic is a no-no, shouldn’t being adultryphobic be condemned as well?

I urge all sectors—media, punditry, politicians—to be consistent. Use the word Illegality! Avoid the word corruption. It implies too many things that reek of the Old Time Religion. To be sure, even that nasty word, corruption, is inconsistently applied. Why hasn’t it been applied to the Too Big To Fails when they engage in underhanded, deceptive practices however legal? Why do we call that creativity or financial innovation?

Ban the word, I say. It’s just behavior, stupid. Behavior. Got it? And when it’s illegal, why then, by all means, let the wheels of justice slowly grind away. But let’s not get judgmental. To be judgmental is to act immorally in the context of modernity.

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