Our new moral framework (part 2 of 3)

Our new moral framework (part 2 of 3) September 22, 2015

Are you surprised that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders currently lead the 2016 U.S. presidential race? Trump is not particularly conservative, yet he is the darling of the right wing. And Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist, who sits farther to the left than any presidential nominee since Adlai Stevenson.

I don’t believe Sanders or Trump will win the presidency. These men are avatars – representing the two great philosophies that are competing for the hearts of Americans. Trump is the high priest of paternalism, while Sanders is the very embodiment of maternalism.

As I wrote in my previous post, the great clash in today’s society is no longer between conservatism and liberalism, but between paternalism and maternalism. Clearly, maternalism is becoming our new moral framework. Simply put, society expects us to mother one another. And we expect our institutions to mother us.

AngrySheBearThis maternal ethos is steamrolling both conservative and liberal ideals. It’s creating a hypersensitive world in which the slightest affront or unkindness is greeted with gales of public indignation. Like a she-bear protecting her cubs, society mauls anyone who does or says anything that’s perceived as insensitive or unnurturing. Meanwhile, various victim groups jockey for the title of Most Oppressed, knowing that media attention and government funding will follow.

Donald Trump is among the last of a dying breed – the “tell it like it is” politician. His unscripted, bombastic, at times unkind speech represents the old paternal way of thinking. Seal the borders. Send the illegals packing. Enforce the law. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Trump has found a home in the Republican Party, which is home to many paternal thinkers. It’s not so much Trump’s policy positions but his paternal ways that conservatives find attractive. Unlike most professional pols, the Donald doesn’t couch his opinions in velvety language. After three decades of toothless “compassionate conservatism” and “a kinder, gentler nation”, many Republicans are ready for a fighter. The rest of the Republican field is racing to match Trump’s bravado – but can’t go too far for fear of offending the maternal majority.

The current darling of the maternal left is Bernie Sanders. His policies expand the reach of the so-called nanny (mothering) state, while punishing the powerful and wealthy. Free, universal healthcare. Free college. Expand welfare and Social Security. Women’s rights. And tax the wealthy to pay for it all. Sanders’ agenda would have seemed radical 25 years ago, but as society maternalizes, his ideas appeal to more and more voters.

Maternal policies (and politicians) are rising all over the West. In Canada the Liberals chose Justin Trudeau as their standard bearer, a man who’s been dismissed as something between “flower power and new age.” Britain’s Labour Party just selected old-style socialist Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. Corbyn wants to impose price controls, sharply downsize the military, and nationalize many of Britain’s industries. Astonishingly, about two-thirds of Britons agree with him.

Meanwhile, paternal regimes continue to sprout on the other side of the globe. ISIS represents the brutal fringe of paternalism – beheading, raping, and destroying priceless artifacts in an effort to subjugate every aspect of culture under Islamic law.

Here’s a chart to help you understand the continuum from paternalism to maternalism:


Now, lest you think I’m anti-maternal — I’m not. Maternalism has brought with it tremendous benefits. Chief among these is the massive decline in war. We currently live in the most peaceful period in human history. Global poverty has declined by half in the past 30 years. Racism has diminished markedly in the past century. Education is more widely available than ever before. Democracy and freedom are on the rise worldwide.

I attribute all these advances to the maternal ethos that’s taken hold in the West. Never has global wealth been so widely shared. NGOs, charities, churches and governments work tirelessly to alleviate suffering all over the planet. We’ve gone 70 years without a worldwide war.

But just like paternalism, maternalism produces its excesses. And nowhere are these more obvious than on our college campuses.

A century ago, Universities were the epicenter of paternal thinking. Professors ruled with an iron hand. Curriculum was demanding. Students were treated as adults. Those who failed to measure up – failed. Faculty saw it as their mandate to stretch and mold young minds. Free expression of ideas was paramount.

College isn’t like this any more. A new maternal ethos has taken hold – to the horror of liberals and conservatives alike. Controversial ideas are censored. We disinvite commencement speakers whose ideas we oppose. Students complain of “microagressions” – small actions or word choices that bear no ill intent but are being treated as a form of violence. Texts that have the potential to frighten or traumatize are being eliminated from syllabi, or are being given “trigger warnings.” Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes:

Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated. Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.

The campus sexual bacchanal that started in the 1960s is grinding to a halt as hook-up culture morphs into rape culture. Universities, at the behest of feminist groups and the Obama administration, are under enormous pressure to provide a cocoon of protection for young women — even if means throwing young men and their due process rights under the bus. Why? The bra-burning feminists of the 1970s are now grandmothers. Their attitudes toward casual sex have changed – and society has meekly followed.

The NSA snoops on our phone calls — and nobody cares. Prison populations swell and we hold suspected terrorists without trial for decades. Why? Because grandmothers value safety above all. Liberal politicians – not preachers – rush to stop young women from appearing topless in Times Square. Why? Because grandmothers don’t like nudity, and Democratic pols are utterly dependent on middle-age female voters.

When society was paternal we let our kids play outdoors alone. We spanked them. We let children fail and suffer the consequences. In a more paternal era parents understood that children learned from adversity and pain. But today, we’ve spun a tight cocoon around our precious children. Parents who allow their kids to walk to a park unsupervised are arrested. Spanking is illegal in several European countries. We no longer flunk students – it’s considered barbaric. And we suspend 6-year-old boys from school for making gun gestures with their hands. Our growing obsession with child safety and nurture reflects our maternalizing values.

Even the most casual remark can cause great outrage, as society rushes to defend and soothe the victim. Daytime TV show “The View” lost two major sponsors when one of its hosts made a comment that offended some nurses. Well known comedians have stopped performing on college campuses because students freak out if you satirize a minority group.

And then we have Bruce Jenner.

Had an Olympic gold medalist declared in 1915, “I am a woman,” a group of men would have taken him behind the building, pulled down his pants and pointed out his error. To reinforce the lesson, they would have administered a nasty beating.

Today, our maternal society lauds Jenner for “her” decision to change genders. The compliant media changes its pronouns. Vanity Fair places Jenner on its cover. ESPN gives the former medalist its courage award. In a maternalized society biological fact is trumped by affirmation and self-expression.

But the magnum opus of maternalism was this summer’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Five justices ruled that states may not limit marriage to opposite sex couples. Their reason basically came down to this: any law that makes a particular group feel undignified or excluded is unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court nullified the votes of millions of Americans and overturned dozens of state statutes based solely on their emotional impact. This is maternalism in its purest form: laws that hurt people’s feelings cannot be tolerated.

We often associate maternalism and political correctness with the left – but conservatives are capable of maternal thinking as well. For example, in the abortion debate, many pro-lifers refuse to consider the economic cost of caring for severely disabled children. Sarah Palin coined the term “death panels” to short circuit a national discussion on the costs of end-of-life care (28% of all health care funds are spent during the final six months of life.) Placing an economic value on a human life seems barbaric to many conservatives who think maternally.

The goal of maternalism may be a kinder, gentler society – but advocates are not afraid to maul the unnurturing. A tech CEO who donated to a pro-traditional marriage campaign was hounded out of his job. A woman who complained of an anatomically male person in her locker room lost her gym membership – for being judgmental of transgenders. A college fraternity that unfurled sexually suggestive banners from its house has been suspended and is under investigation. Chick-Fil-A may be denied permission to operate in the Denver Airport because its CEO once said that gay marriage was wrong. And the Washington Redskins football team may lose its trademark because it hurts the feelings of a small group of native American rights activists.

All these incidents – and dozens more – emerge from the new understanding of morality. First Amendment protections of free speech, religion, and association must yield to the greater good of protecting the weak from anything that might frighten or discomfort them. How else do you explain a $135,000 fine for a bakery that politely declined to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding? That’s a very nice payout for the sting of feeling rejected – and the inconvenience of having to call another bakery.

The effects of maternalism are everywhere. Human rights for animals. Everyone gets a trophy. Hatred for high-stakes testing. No-fault divorce. Multiculturalism. The whole eco-friendly, sustainable, harmony-with-the-earth shtick. And don’t get me started on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our obsession with protecting ever-smaller victim groups reflects our collective need to mother. Fewer than .005 percent of Americans identify as transgender, yet we are in the process of re-engineering our society to make them feel more comfortable. Why? If we don’t offer transgenders total acceptance they might commit suicide – which would be our fault. This is political co-dependence, courtesy of our maternalizing society.

The end point of maternalism was captured in the popular book and movie The Giver. The film is set in a colorless world in which all disharmony has been eliminated. This utopia is governed by a heartless woman who monitors her citizens’ every move and aggressively suppresses all dissent. It’s a parable about communism – maternalism’s ultimate expression.

So what about the church? Maternalism flourishes in Christian institutions – and eventually destroys them from the inside. That’s the subject of my next post.

In Part Three we’ll talk about maternalism in the church – and how it rots a congregation from within.

David MurrowDavid Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site, www.churchformen.com, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/churchformen. Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog). 

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