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Wuss Culture

Dennis Prager writes some important reflections on recent events--events that in Prager's estimation demonstrate the "wussification" of American culture.  Are we becoming a nation that lives in the grasp of fear and organizes itself around the principles of risk-aversion?  And is it true that there is a generation gap like the one he sees between those over 40 and those under it?  I'm exactly on the fault line so maybe I qualify as a disinterested party in that last part of the debate.  I'm going to say that he is more right than wrong.  I think it is true that those under 40 grew up in a different (and weaker) kind of America than those over it did.  Unless and until we understand that, I think we're going to continue to be inadequate to the challenges that face us and, unfortunately, we may prove to be incapable of the real meaning of self-government.  Time to woman up, America.

UPDATE:  The Wall Street Journal picks up on this theme today in an above the fold promo dragging you to the Lifestyle section of the paper. 
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Discussions - 17 Comments

Not all risks are created equal. Is it really worth life and limb to go see a football game? Put it another way: Is it worth injury or death ... to be entertained?

If Dennis Prager wants to make the case that Americans are avoiding necessary risks and responsibilities that come with citizenship, I'd welcome the case. But this particular column just sounds like a bit of churlish wuss-slinging from somebody who makes a hobby of sitting behind a desk to gripe about how we used to be tougher and manlier. Sometimes avoiding risk is the smarter and worthier thing to do.

As a die-hard Eagles fan and a native philadelphian, I can assure you that the game was canceled not for the health and safety of the fans, but for the health and safety of the players (on both teams). What responsible owner or CEO would risk hurting members of a playoff bound team? What responsible insurance company would sanction such stupidity....think of their payout if Vick breaks a leg on an icy/snowy artificial turf field!

As for Prager, as soon as he advocates getting rid of the window-dressing security screening measures at airports and letting us all take the slim risk of getting blown up by terrorists, then I'll take his whining to heart.

Why do you think his reflections are in the least bit important?

"Not all risks are created equal. Is it really worth life and limb to go see a football game? Put it another way: Is it worth injury or death ... to be entertained?" I think Prager's point was that the question of whether or not such a risk is "worth it" ought to be left up to individual citizens and not pronounced upon by a government entity--as it was in that case. Clearly you have one opinion on the matter. As for me, I wouldn't cross the street on a sunny day to bother with the thing. But I'm glad there are people crazy enough to plow through snowstorms--even if it is "only" for entertainment (as if that somehow diminishes the thing) and I think we are a big enough country to accommodate the freedom and tastes of these people.

If avoiding risk is sometimes the smarter and manlier thing to do (and I agree that it is) how will we ever develop men capable of making that call? In this new age when everything is pre-determined in the direction of risk aversion, we're more likely to see a nation of sheep blithely following directions . . . as in the TSA upheaval over which we were in general agreement, I thought.

As for Anonymous--I think you're right about the insurance companies and the team owners. But I'd say that all contributes to a certain kind of wussiness too. I don't like it anymore than I like the wussiness of finger-wagging bureaucrats. I also think you're going to have to start paying attention to Prager now, or at least dig up some of his columns from around Thanksgiving. I think he pretty much said about TSA what you're asking him to say.

And on that subject, I think I still like David Tucker's only half-joking suggestion from one of Peter's terrorism podcasts (after last Christmas, I think) that we allow for the development of a "Wild West" airlines--where passengers can be (nay, must be) armed and there is no screening. Given the choice I think I'd fly those skies every time--and feel safer. And I'm only half joking, too.

Julie: We do largely agree abou the TSA. But there's a spectrum of risk and responsibility here, and I think the calculus is a bit different.

If you could tell me that taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for "bailing out" overzealous sports fans, I might agree with your position.

But: Say a few cars do slide off the road, or crash calamitously into each other. Suddenly you have ambulances and police cars racing -- probably cautiously -- to the scene, using taxpayer-funded resources to enable the hearty individualism you so describe. (And it's not like they'd all be driving from Center City: the game would've drawn fans from New Jersey, Delaware and the rest of PA, as well, spreading the risk and taxpayer culpability across the region.)

One can take this line of thinking too far, admittedly: By my lights its dangerous to drive to the ballpark even when the weather is great. Car accidents happen all the time. A sense of balance, proportion and proper use of resources is called for. But I don't think the decision was unreasonable.

And that decision, incidentally, was made by the NFL -- not by City Hall. It's a private business that weighed its options and decided it didn't want to risk the death or maiming of its fans ... again, for the sake of entertainment.

Prager says: "But last Sunday, the NFL and Philadelphia city officials called off the Eagles-Vikings game because of an imminent snowstorm -- in order to protect fans from having to drive at that time." (emphasis mine)

Are you telling me that he got the facts wrong?

To me, the most interesting part of Prager's column is his note that conservatives who agree with postponing the game are all under 40.

The rising generations have been raised in a world that is more risk-averse than the world in which the older generation was raised. Hence they are conditioned to have an instinctively higher aversion to risk. It's not a simply rational decision in either group.

On the whole, however, I'm with Prager. Why? There's a connection between the fear of being without health insurance and the fear that someone might have an accident if they choose to go to a game in a storm. In short, liberty and responsibility require that we accept that life is often full of risks.

Julie: I know the NFL's decision was made in consultation with City Hall--and Mayor Nutter had declared a snow emergency--but my understanding is that it was the NFL's call. I don't think Prager is factually inaccurate, but I think the buck stopped with the league.

Then I stand by my statement that they both acted like wusses . . . and the NFL's motivation is, probably, even lower than that of the city's. At least the city could make the argument that it was making its recommendations out of concern for the public interest--however wussy and liberty destroying they may be. But the NFL was, as Anonymous pointed out, really only interested in liability and protecting their big fat investments. Maybe it's only a matter of personal preference, but I prefer my greedy capitalists to be of the variety who don't give a rat's behind for the cowering counsels of lawyers, insurance agents, and lucher-leeching talent agents . . . Either way, you can see that you don't eliminate or elevate the motivations of them with "well intentioned" laws or rules. You just focus their energies around a different kind of activity. And in this case its focused on activity that sets an example of wussiness that I'd prefer to do without.

And your argument about the ambulances is specious. Taking it to its natural conclusion, we'd have to evaluate the wisdom of every idiot who takes a bad turn out of his own poor judgment before responding to an accident. Most "accidents" are, precisely, accidents because of someone's poor judgment, no?

Taking it to its natural conclusion, we'd have to evaluate the wisdom of every idiot who takes a bad turn out of his own poor judgment before responding to an accident. Most "accidents" are, precisely, accidents because of someone's poor judgment, no?

Speaking of which: http://www.theonion.com/articles/snowy-conditions-proving-hazardous-for-nations-idi,18705/

Oh, no! It's a "Snowlocaust!" This reminds me of actual TV news in Southern California whenever we get some rain. "Stormwatch" at 9! And the idiots abound when you dare to drive in it, let me tell you! It's true. Parody is becoming impossible!

Is the reduction in the number of children per household related to this trend? Parents who have one or two children have more time to watch over their children, and also may be more worried about what happens to each one.

Wussification came first; people are afraid to have more than one or two children.

"And your argument about the ambulances is specious. Taking it to its natural conclusion, we'd have to evaluate the wisdom of every idiot who takes a bad turn out of his own poor judgment before responding to an accident. Most "accidents" are, precisely, accidents because of someone's poor judgment, no?"

Well, why don't we NOT take it to its natural conclusion, then, and acknowledge that a big snowstorm combined with a gathering of 70,000 people in one building is instead a rather unusual set of circumstances -- the latter happens only eight or nine times a year, even in Philadelphia -- one that requires different decisions than normal circumstances, and in fact offers almost no information about the way we should or can conduct ourselves and society the rest of the time?

I return to my original assessment: My sense from Prager is that it is worthy to take on risk, regardless of the merits or likely rewards to be gained from that risk. That's a fine decision for an individual to make for himself, but it's not a smart way to run a city or a big corporation.

I think you have it backward. Prager thinks we should accept risk. A blizzard, a normal, regular, natural thing, is something we should not let get in the way of our normal routine.

Maybe acts of God, such as a major blizzard, are meant to get in the way of our normal routines. I live in what is called "The Snow Belt" and blizzards are somewhat routine. Where I teach is outside of the belt, so I go driving in blizzards, routinely. I have never not gone to work because of the snow; I adjust my schedule and am accustomed to coping with the weather. We all are up here.

There is scripture, from Proverbs, I think, that says "fear of man is a snare,but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected." Fear of anything can be a snare and we shouldn't be afraid to do any good thing. The example of driving to a football game in a blizzard may not be the best example of worthy courage; you guys spell out the problems with that, above. Yet I liked this from Praeger: "And when you are risk-averse, you are not only less brave, you are less free." If that is the point Julie is getting at, I don't see how we can really disagree.

"Are we becoming a nation that lives in the grasp of fear and organizes itself around the principles of risk-aversion?"

Silly me, I was thinking Prager's piece would primarily be about - or at least mention - The War on Terror and perhaps delve into some of the conservative/GOP elements of utter b.s. associated with it. That would seem to be the most salient source for a question such as that.

But, no; I see Prager's just doing his best Grumpy Old Man (channeling his Papa for vicarious manly-man points) impression ["That's the way it was.... and we LIKED it!"]:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9N2E93VzQSA

and recycling some vague talking points to give a few last sputters of breath to the lame War on Christmas meme.

I'm more likely to die in a car accident caused by an inebriated Glenn Beck listener (hoping that someday, he too will get sober and strike it rich by ranting on the radio - and at Ashbrook dinners - instead of just on a barstool) than I am in a terrorist attack of any sort. And I don't see the ultimate expression of Big Government being deployed to save me from the 'faced patriots. But that's okay - I live on the edge!

But if I would have to play the macho-boy pissing contest, I'll be honest that I don't really see anything particularly manly about driving in a car in the snow to go be a spectator (probably with a reserved seat) for a sporting event. If Prager wants to man up or whatever you folks are calling it these days (the "woman up" joke...huh?), he should walk 10 miles or so in a driving snow and meet up with some other rugged men and just PLAY football in a vacant lot. Now that would be hardcore. Or maybe build a massive brick Museum of Manliness with his bare hands.

I knew Craig would show up. He hates the words "manly", "patriotic", and "War on Terror" more than Al-Qaeda.

In regards to the game, the point isn't about taxpayers footing the bill for car accidents, the point is that 20, 15, or 10 years ago they wouldn't have considered postponing the game. Blizzards aren't a recent phenomenon but high-tech crash safety features are, yet the powers that be feared for our safety.

Why don't we look up the statistics on every traffic fatality of every fan on their way to or from a game over the past 89 years and have an honest conversation on if we should cancel American Football?

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