Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
One of the foundational myths of modernity holds that the progress of scientific knowledge and technology has been accompanied by moral progress. As wealth and knowledge increase, the old impediments to moral improvement such as poverty, religious superstition, and ignorance are being swept away, resulting in a kinder, gentler, and more pacific human nature.
Last week we were presented with evidence that this argument is woefully mistaken. In New York a bill was passed that removed restrictions on late-term abortions, allowing infants viable outside the womb to be killed “at any time” to protect the mother’s life or “health.” Worse yet, this regression into primitive custom was met with celebratory cheers and a standing ovation by the “lawmakers” who had approved it. In Virginia a similar law was proposed but rejected. It had been defended by Del. Kathy Tran and Gov. Ralph Northam (pictured above). They admitted that a baby could be killed even after the mother went into labor, or after delivery. Tran, by the way, on the same day as she introduced the bill to liberalize late-term abortions, also introduced a bill to protect gypsy moths and cankerworms.
In other words, infanticide, once a practice of savage and barbaric cultures like cannibalism, incest, and human sacrifice, has now been legalized by the culture that boasts of its moral progress and superiority. But this legislation is not just a return to ancient brutality, but a species of moral idiocy much worse than the savagery of the past.
Abortion and infanticide in the past had practical and religious purposes. Tribal bands aborted the unborn or killed the newly born, usually females, as a means of controlling their numbers to avoid overstressing their resources. The militarist Spartans killed infants deemed inferior in order to protect the strength of warriors. Several cultures sacrificed children in order to propitiate the gods. The ancient Phoenicians burned children, usually infants, as offerings to Baal or Moloch. The Aztecs cut the hearts out of children as offerings to the rain god Tlaloc; the tears of the parents and children were considered signs that the god would reward the people with abundant rain. The Incans also killed children to commemorate the death of a ruler, or to propitiate the gods during calamities like famines.
As horrific as such practices were, they made religious sense to the peoples who performed them. In their spiritual darkness they thought such barbarity pleased the gods and ensured their favor, since an infant or child was the purest and most valuable gift one could offer. Nor is there evidence that the ancients ever stooped to our ghastly crimes, like the charnel-house butchery of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, or the peddling of baby organs by government-subsidized Planned Parenthood abortion mills.
But to what god are we, who fancy ourselves morally superior and products of reason and science, legalizing the sacrifice of a baby able to live outside the womb at 22 weeks? Very few late-term abortions are performed to save the mother’s life, or because of the infant’s severe deformity. The protection of the woman’s “health” is vitiated by the inclusion of “mental health,” which often involves subjective and vague interpretations of moods and emotional states. The justification based on protecting the mother is a red herring.
In fact, for the supporters of no-limit abortions, the god is “choice,” the right of a woman to be free to make decisions regarding her life, even at the cost of another life. But this “choice” seems to be a strange deity, one that is indifferent to the non-negotiable corollary of choice –– responsibility for one’s freely chosen behavior and its consequences. True freedom cannot exist without people taking responsibility, and holding themselves accountable, for their choices. To sacrifice a human life––and scientifically, a person at any stage of development is still a human being––in order to avoid the consequences of one’s careless choice and to serve one’s own convenience, is moral idiocy.
But abortion is just one example of our culture’s daily demonstration that we have morally regressed, not progressed. The Virginia governor who casually described a scenario in which a woman would give birth, and then legally could kill the baby, was not criticized by his party for this ghoulish speculation. But he has been attacked and pressured to resign for a medical school year-book photo from thirty years ago in which he allegedly posed dressed in either a Klan robe and hood or in black-face. Even conservatives called this photo “horrific,” which is a hysterical debasement of that word’s integrity. You want to see some truly horrific racist acts, visit this website about lynching postcards (not for the squeamish). Abusing the meaning of words, a staple of the totalitarian playbook, is moral idiocy.
Indeed, the issue of race is rife with moral idiocy. Nearly 5000 male blacks are murdered every year, the vast majority by other black men. This yearly toll is about equal to all the blacks murdered in race-riots and lynchings over the last century. Yet this crisis of slaughter only occasionally gets in the news, or is addressed by politicians “woke” or otherwise. Instead, an uncorroborated and sketchy story about a black, gay star of a television show claiming to have been attacked by two white men in MAGA hats is hysterically reported and analyzed as yet another example of Trump’s inveterate racism––the same Trump whose policies have put millions of blacks to work and lowered black unemployment to historic levels. Ignoring those benefits to blacks while harping on a dubious claim of racist assault is moral idiocy.
How about immigration? Well-heeled progressives who enjoy walled compounds and armed security, who interact with immigrants legal or illegal only as domestics or gardeners, whose children attend private schools or ritzy zip-code public schools, who agitate against immigration reforms and border security, or who preen morally about their city’s or state’s “sanctuary” policies that release felons and murderers back onto our streets, where their primary victims are other immigrants–– they are moral idiots.
Likewise with “climate change.” The green catastrophists, mostly comprising the upper-class and college educated, demand anti-carbon policies that primarily will impact the developing world and our own low-income people. People who never think twice about their gas or electric bills lobby for global regulations that deny coal-fired electrical power to the one billion people across the globe who lack it, and who have to burn charcoal or dung for light and cooking. What makes this callous indifference even more reprehensible is that all these policies will do nothing to stop the alleged warming the warmists blame on human use of carbon. These modern-day Marie Antoinettes are moral idiots who blithely sacrifice the lives and well-beings of the less fortunate not for a practical purpose, but to signal their class sophistication and “moral” superiority.
Or take the willful blindness to the intolerance, misogyny, illiberalism, and sanctified violence of Islam––proudly proclaimed in word and deed for fourteen centuries, and still today inspiring terrorist murder and state violence against Christians and other “infidels.” Westerners who fret and fulminate about “Islamophobia,” which includes merely quoting accurately from the Koran, pass over in silence the oppression of women, anti-Semitism, and the on-going genocide against Middle Eastern and Nigerian Christians, even as they wax hysterical over the measures Israel is forced to take to defend itself against terrorist murder and global calumny simply because they are living in their ancestral homeland, which is also the home of the freest Middle East Muslims. That is suicidal moral idiocy.
But this contradiction between the Western claim to moral progress, and the immoral cultures and barbaric practices of Western nations, has been around since the Enlightenment started to popularize this self-congratulatory interpretation of history. Even as European nations created transnational institutions that presumably reflected this growing moral progress, they continued to slaughter each other with ever-increasing lethality and demonic ingenuity.
We haven’t progressed morally, we simply have become rich and comfortable. We can afford an empty sentimentalism about suffering, and think such conspicuous compassion is the same thing as moral judgment. But moral idiocy is unsustainable, particularly when it is enshrined in laws that diminish the intrinsic worth of human beings, and that sacrifice their well-being to ideology, cultural fashion, and political cults that choose which people deserve moral solicitude and which don’t. Politics then degenerates into raw power, and power becomes the slave of humanity’s worst passions and instincts. And that’s how civilizations die.