“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” - Proverbs 16:18
Pride is the "love of self, perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor.” - Dante
Original sin arose from a failure to trust in God; it was a sin of pride wherein man thought he knew better than Our Father and creator. - paraphrasing Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC
Three large-screen televisions are suspended over the cardio section of my gym. One is always sports and the other two are news/morning programming. The sports network repeats the scores and stories so often that it’s unwatchable after ten minutes, but as with many unfortunate disasters or proverbial train wrecks, it can be hard to look away from the other two screens. During National Pride Month in June, one local network in New York City had a 12-year old guest, a self-described “drag kid”, who dances at an adult club in the City and is touted as a poster child for the transgender movement. And his mother is thrilled. Perhaps most shocking was that the two “adult” anchors were speaking with him in such earnest, hanging on every word as if he were enlightening them. In that moment, I could hear the British at Yorktown playing The World Turned Upside Down.
Last January I commented on the Warpath article entitled: Morality: Do I Have To? The author noted that objectivity and God’s domain as the arbiter of morality were replaced by statutory laws set forth by legislators, lawyers and judges. My gloss was that our society had moved from the legal premise that law should promote the good to one which says that only “I” matter, that law only promotes “me" and my rights, irrespective of the outcome or good. I submit that the illustration above is evidence that We the People have crossed the moral Rubicon. How did this happen?
The United States was founded upon an overarching belief in a social contract between government and the governed wherein the government agreed to protect the God-given and natural dignity, rights and purpose of the governed. In return for those protections, the governed agreed to obey the laws for the common good and order of society.
An excellent review and analysis of our ensuing Constitutional history may be found, for instance, in Democracy’s Discontent, America’s Search for a Public Philosophy by Sandel. However, the short-form history is this: we were once a society that created laws to foster good outcomes; we are now concerned only with the fostering of rights. Where the procedural was once meant to support the substantive, the substantive good has been subsumed by the procedural rights. Hence, rights alone define what is good; I dare say, rights alone have become the good. The Constitutional world is turned upside down or possibly even inside out.
If then the exercise of rights alone defines the good, there is no more common substantive good. What’s left of the common good becomes amorphous since all that matters is my exercise of my rights, your exercise of your rights. The self is glorified, objectivity and God are replaced.
How does this translate into our daily lives? The change in privacy laws is illustrative. Before joining the Supreme Court, Justice Louis Brandeis opined in 1890 that: “…the next step…must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual…the right ‘to be let alone’ [emphasis added]…Numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” He was decrying the invention of the portable camera and the rise of the paparazzi.
Historically, the right to privacy was simply a passive one; it did not condone the commission of any affirmative act. As such, it was not promoting a substantive good but rather was a procedural protection against intrusions that may reveal the commission of the act. For example, what you did in the solitude of your home was protected as private. No one had the right to peak through your curtains to see it. The right, therefore, was not to perform the act. The right was to be left alone while doing it in the privacy of your own home. This was the unwritten and common understanding later built into the Constitution in such places as the Fourth Amendment, which secures our homes from government searches absent a probable cause warrant. Society does not condone the commission of criminal acts behind closed doors; it does generally require court process to invade the area of privacy to gather evidence.
This concept of privacy radically changed when the Supreme Court ruled in 1965 that privacy was far more expansive. In Griswold v. Connecticut the Court ruled that affirmative actions could be encompassed by the right to privacy; in this case, it was the purchase and use of contraceptives. Putting aside the moral question, the Court could have overturned the law for an everyday legal reason, such as the all-encompassing “changed mores of society” but chose instead to recreate the law of privacy. Privacy was now an affirmative right to act. Let’s understand this: as a passive right, an outsider cannot look into or force his way into your zone of privacy. But now as an active right, the insider can expand outward his zone of action. Not only am I to be left alone and safe from unwanted intrusion, but I can now also step outside and affirmatively perform certain acts beginning with the purchase of contraceptives. Privacy then includes a “penumbra” or zone within which it operates; it allows for the commission of acts and is therefore substantive, meaning that it is a good by itself.
The downward spiral continues but I will end the history segment with this piece of jurisprudential nonsense: in 1992, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, opined in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” That’s it then. Truth is a free-for-all. Thousands of years of philosophy going back to the Greeks and their search for meaning and truth…all for naught. Why do we need Socrates, Plato and Aristotle when the answers are all in my mind? The moral world has been turned upside down.
Pandora’s Box has been opened and the ramifications are many and growing. These zones of action are purposely vague and undefined penumbras. And they must, of necessity, be left that way; to do otherwise would defeat the exaltation of “my rights” and impose something objective, which of course we can no longer do. Thus, socially and politically, we are left only with the vagaries and amorality of political correctness and hashtag movements as our guides. In truth, we are left to our own devices.
Pride: a perverted love of self and a lack of trust in God. A 12-year-old boy who may never know the thrill of throwing a baseball or any form of exercising his true God-given masculinity. One million abortions each year. Legal infanticide in New York State and elsewhere. Politicians and citizens screaming incoherently at each other. Self magazine.
This can be reversed with humility and meekness. Humility—by placing ourselves at the full disposal of Our Father and Creator,as opposed to penumbras of rights. Meekness (from the Greek word praus meaning “strength under control”)—by exercising our God-given rights in obedience to His will. It starts with each one of us and, after that, what we demand of others, be they politicians, co-workers, family or friends and what we hope they will demand from themselves. Let’s turn the world right side up!