One of the books I reread every few years is C.S. Lewis' 'The Screwtape Letters.' I enjoy the device, the humor, and the sharp insight into human nature. For anyone unfamiliar with the book, it's a short compilation of letters--half of a correspondence between Screwtape, a senior devil, and his nephew and protege, Wormwood.
Wormwood's task is to secure the damnation of a particular young man, and we discern his progress, or lack of it, by reading the letters of advice from his uncle. As many times as I've read it, something always jumps out at me, and this time, it was Screwtape's musings about how much progress they and 'their father below' have made by encouraging a desire in humans for continued novelty, with one advantage being that they are never satisfied.
Screwtape goes on to say that the thirst for novelty 'is indispensable if we are to produce Fashions or Vogues' of thought, and explains that the 'use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.'
This got me thinking, as it might anyone, including those who do not attribute the course of history to a spiritual struggle between good and evil. I wondered, quite apart from cause, if this were a true observation--that the popular outcry is against dangers which are not really dangerous, and the acclaimed virtue is a step away from a corresponding vice. If so, what would they be?
The second half of the problem, in our time, seems obvious to me. The most loudly acclaimed virtue of the day is 'tolerance.' And who would disagree that it is a virtue? But while any objective measure shows that tolerance has greatly increased, we seem only to hear about when it is perceived to be absent or imperfect. The actual fruit of the movement to promote (enforce?) tolerance is _intolerance_ of anyone who does not say the correct thing, or has any opinion that can be characterized as intolerance and thereby discredited.
Examples abound--the hate (some of it quite visceral and ugly) directed at Dan Cathy by the supporters of tolerance because they refused to...tolerate...him having an opinion about the subject of gay marriage that they didn't like. No matter that no evidence existed of his ever having actually discriminated against anyone; it was his beliefs which were such an affront to them that he couldn't be allowed to have them in peace.
Another example is the ongoing effort, most recently at the current UN session, to criminalize any expression deemed offensive to Muhammed or Islam. Quite apart from the rather thorny problem of who makes that determination, the practical result is 'promoting tolerance' by being...intolerant.
So perhaps Lewis was on to something. I am curious if anyone has other ideas about this? Other vices or virtues, now or in times past, that support the idea that 'each generation direct[s] the fashionable outcry...against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix[es] its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice [it masks].' I would think examples could be found in education (perhaps the self-esteem movement that has increased self-esteem but not accomplishment?), certainly in politics, in art?