Castigat Ridendo Mores
Yep, it sure has been fun so far, right? Lots o’ laughs. And who really cares if Stephen and Trevor and Seth et alia, might eventually be sued, or prosecuted for lifting their shtick directly from the leaked documents? But how much effect does the satirical jamboree* have? Will we look back on this time and realize that there was nothing funny about it?
While the Latin phrase above is literally “laughter corrects morals,” the most helpful explication of the WOW (Words of Wisdom), for me, is this: “the best way to change the rules is by pointing out how absurd they are.” No question that some of the jokes have helped to assuage the anxiety that’s inevitable when, by hook or crook, the worst person in the world has managed to become also the most powerful one. Sure, he’s making every effort to fork over the power and the prestige and the influence and the moral authority and the legitimacy and the respect, but will the project be completed soon enough? To quote the SCPOTUS himself: “time will tell.”
*jamboree Who needs to worry about our upstanding youth brigades being corrupted? After all, the most entertaining tall tale of the word’s origins is from 1866, when it was used to describe “carousal, noisy drinking bout, any type of merrymaking.” The jam part is pretty self-explanatory, describing the pressing of things close together, and will be appropriate unless the decline in scout enrollment continues apace. And the boree evidently comes with minor variation from bourree, which might sound high-falutin’, but referred to a rowdy folk dance. BTW, tends to go right by ya when the organizer needs to apologize for the off-keynote speaker, but important to remember the public private partnering, and recognize the cultivation of patronage systems when they start early: the permanent home of the BSA Jamboree is The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. And not to go all conspiracy theory, but check out Friends in High Places by Laton McCartney and The Profiteers by Sally Denton to know more about the networks that enabled Bechtel to become BECHTEL (c.f “Cap(s)” Weinberger–get it? and George Schultz)
As you know, Emile Durkheim defined anomie as a condition in which social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. It’s ironic to me that the push to roll back regulations has been championed by the same dude who has forced us to realize that norms aren’t enough, and that we don’t have nearly enough regulations–at least when it comes to 1) an absolute requirement that presidential nominees fork over their goddam tax records 2) an absolute requirement that there be certified blind trust divestment no later than the New Hampshire primary 3) an absolute requirement that campaign funds may not be commingled with those for legal defense and 4) an absolute requirement that taxpayer funds will be used to maintain a suitable living arrangement, but that discretionary travel to secondary residences is the financial responsibility of the officeholder.
Of course it would be swell if norms were enough. But for two reasons, they simply ain’t:
- The share of freedom we may each be afforded in a world of finite air, water, and resources is inversely proportional to the number of us that inhabit the planet.
- When we have relied on each other to abide by the norms dictated by common understandings of decency, and been abused for our trouble, it is past time for time to tell.
That first one points to what I hope is a double-edged sword with no handle–all blade–so it cuts the greedy hand that tries to use it: continuing population growth is the only way to ensure that a fresh sucker is born every minute. But if we accept the notion that individual freedom in a world of 3 billion needs less constraint than one with 7 billion, 11 billion, or 15 billion, take your pick: accept an upper limit on your wealth, or an upper limit on your freedom.
If there was just one person on the earth, norms would be completely unnecessary. And that poor lonely shlub would be able to make it up as he went along. Sure, he’d have to tend to his own food, his shelter, his security, his varietal gratifications. But no one would give him grief for his ahhh, no: Me. Me. Me.