Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Alabama church pyromania again

Michael DeBow called my attention to this op-ed, by Birmingham-Southern’s President, David Pollick. Turns out that the impersonality of the internet is somehow at least partly to blame for the students who set fire to the churches:

Isn’t it ironic that at the very time when young people are most in need of healthy social relations, when our societies are more in need of mutual understanding gained through education and communication, that a world of cyberspace seductively counters with isolation, privacy, and a false and naive illusion of invulnerability.

In such a world, a person’s worst nature can emerge, unfettered by social rules that govern and regulate day-to-day human relations. This brave new world is characterized more by bravado than it is by bravery. But as we’ve seen, this bravado is anything but insulated from ever present reality.

Thoughts make actions.

Our two students, like literally tens of thousands across our country, found their way into this cyberworld of artificial relationships. They experimented with its distance and felt the addiction and rush of the exotic play it offers. An explanation for behavior gone out of control? Not likely. A significant contributing element? Probably. A warning to others, young and old? Most assuredly. The line between fantasy and reality can become very thin within the human mind. And there is no such thing as a safe and secure environment in this new age of technology.

I’m not quite sure where that came from in this context, but I’m willing to second a much stronger version of his relatively weak response:

First and foremost, we as parents, schools, teachers and friends need to pay close attention. Our collective willingness to tolerate more and more in each generation can so easily slide to the acceptance of behaviors that ought to be seen as simply over the line.

Yes, many times yes! By all means, we should all pay close attention. And by all means, we should all hold our young people to moral standards. But Dr. Pollick, whose training is in philosophy, studiously avoids saying what they are. Might it not make sense to hearken back to the religious tradition with which his institution is affiliated? But that might seem too narrow; our problems, he avers, come from "an inability to effectively understand one another and appreciate the differing values that peoples of the world hold." We need to be more tolerant, not less, even as we realize that we shouldn’t tolerate more and more.

If someone apparently this unable to render judgments and say anything decisive tried to pay attention to me, I’m not sure I’d notice. And if this same person tried to hold me to a standard of some sort, I’d likely challenge his authority to do so. I suspect that he’d either back off or ultimately recur to some raw assertion of power. I’d be pleasantly surprised if he could conjur up a more edifying, enlightening, and compelling response.

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