Helen Rittelmeyer gets her teeth stuck in

In the last culture war, relativism’s influence was evident in the stock arguments that kept appearing in magazines and op-ed pages: Breaking taboos is valuable for its own sake; people have a right to make their own choices and not be judged for it; what you call a social evil is really just a cultural difference; et cetera.But those articles are no longer seen so often. Now, the most annoyingly ubiquitous genre in journalism is the social-scientific analysis, as if a person can’t speak with authority without citing economics or sociology. This is bad enough in political conversation, but it has begun to affect people’s ethical thinking. Under the new cultural rules, moral condemnation is a legitimate thing to express, but only if you can demonstrate that the sin you want to condemn makes someone twice as likely to take antidepressants or 40 percent less likely to be promoted at work. Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics guys have more moral authority than the archbishop of New York. Great artists are producing movies, TV shows, and songs about tough moral dilemmas, but although liberals buy the tickets and the albums, they don’t take the art they consume very seriously. When moral questions arise, they forget The Wire and The Hold Steady and ask what the studies show.


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