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Fifty Shades of Green
The elite's affair with lonely virtues
“The modern world . . . is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. They have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.”
- G.K. Chesterton
We’ve all known friends who one day decided they needed to “start fresh.” So they grew their hair out and started offering didgeridoo workshops in their garage; they bought a farm and started raising Guinea Fowl; they abandoned their Honda at the edge of a wilderness in the hopes of finding their true selves lurking behind a bush somewhere.
Years later and you bump into them at a flea market. In the painful process of catching up you start to realize the awful truth; they desperately want you to believe their existential voyage has returned them to land whole and healthy. They’ve grown. They’ve changed. They’ve seen some things, man — they’ve done some stuff. So sure are they of their rebirth, we don’t have the heart to ask about their green yoga pants, neck beard, or why they’re missing an ear.
Wandering alone isn’t good for anyone. That includes virtues.
Stark Raving Virtues
If you want to know what a virtue gone mad looks like, look no further than one of the million “isms” staggering around with foam dripping from their mouths.
Environmentalism, for example. Ostensibly, NetZero fanciers want us to believe they’re the last line of defence against an imminent carbon apocalypse. According to the UN, we’re already “at least one degree Celsius above preindustrial levels and close to what scientists warn would be ‘an unacceptable risk.’”
Now, there’s already just enough vagueness in that statement for me to never want to leave it alone with someone I care about. But don’t you find “unacceptable risk” to be a fascinating choice of words? It almost feels like I’ve heard that exact phrase used in a different context, but that also involved experts and suffering. Questions arise from the shadowy recesses of memory and start chattering frantically at me: What criteria renders a risk unacceptable? What worldview do the individuals assessing risks hold to? What will the human cost be of responding to risks deemed to be unacceptable?
To be clear, my problem isn’t conscientiousness. My problem is the state attempting to legislate conscientiousness. This is a problem because:
A secular state is only concerned with expanding its power
Without God, all the aims, operations, and policies of the state trend towards this singular end (Psalm 2:2).1 It is decidedly not cool with Jesus Christ having dominion from sea to shining sea. It doesn’t care about righteousness, justice, affordable housing, or the preservation of arctic foxes. The state’s only concern is how the endorsement or repudiation of certain issues will impact its ability to do whatever it wants.
When conscientiousness is co-opted by politicians in a bid to win public favor, suffering increases
The reason average people can’t be trusted to make decisions, we’re told, is that their priorities are hopelessly short-sighted: groceries, heating, housing, etc. The fact that temperatures might rise three degrees by the year 2100 doesn’t seem to weigh on them with the force that it should. What they need is help putting things in perspective. Why they need is to stop planning for imminent threats, and start planning for hypothetical future threats that may or may not be preventable.
And so people already struggling with basic expenses are told their fuel will now be taxed. Oh, and they’ll need to eat less meat. Oh, and their soft drinks will now taste like used restaurant napkins. Oh, and they’ll have to limit travel. Oh, and they’ll need to drive around like Kim Kardashian’s luggage handler in case they have to pick up some groceries. It’s death by a thousand cuts.
Or perhaps burial by a thousand cloth bags (more on this in a second).
The Western state doesn’t have a conscientious bone in its entire skeleton
In case we’ve forgotten, our government endorses the mutilation and murder of children; it funds and assists the suicide of the elderly, infirm, and poor; it freely supplies addicts with their drug of choice. The state lecturing its citizen on conscience is like Monsanto lecturing farmers on good soil health.
Its “solutions” often end up worse than the problems2
Take plastic bags. Banning plastic bags was a big win for the Liberals, whose life force is sustained in constantly reminding everyone of their cutting-edge moral insights.
The reality, however, is that the resources required to manufacture reusable bags actually result in a much higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. “No problem,” they say, “the great thing about reusable bags is that they can be reused.” But according to at least one estimate, cotton reusable bags need to be reused a total of 7100 times in order to actually make them environmentally friendly.
I don’t know about you, but three grocery trips later and my reusable bags look like they’ve endured several cycles through a Russian military transport engine. I seriously question whether any two atoms would still be intact by trip 7100. It also seems to me like most people are using their cloth bags like they used to use plastic bags; that is to say, disposably. This is human nature. And if there’s anything the government understands less than its own function, it’s the human condition.
All of this only reinforces the insanity of letting the government regulate conscience. Sadly, we have become such an immoral people, we can only expect even more tortuous bureaucracy in the coming days.
I’ve brought this up several times but it’s worth repeating. You can’t have good policies and a bad worldview. You can’t hate God and still do good to your fellow man. When you tear virtue away from its proper environment (God’s character and revelation), you aren’t left with the same virtue you started with. You have a monster that bears almost no resemblance to its former shape or purpose.
Alone and unattached, it can easily be kidnapped, weaponized, and set loose by the next ne'er-do-well in yoga pants.
“Humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.” Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto
“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” Thomas Sowell, The Thomas Sowell Reader