Concepts of decency are culturally relative. That is not to say that the right concept of decency is relative, merely that existing ones are. Capitalist coercion of value distorts every concept relevant to our political lives. Many of my socialist allies erroneously rely on the tactic of challenging the most abstract values of the society.
What we should focus on is the immediate, concrete values of our society, such as our concept of common decency. Our abstract, foundational political values permeate our immediate values anyway, and we need to challenge them in the most direct, accessible way, not some ethereal, distant, overly academic way. We want to actually change people, not make them puke at our self-righteous intellectualism.
Some things we rightly regard as indecent — when someone slams a door in our face instead of holding it open for us, when someone demeans or degrades a public facility, when someone drives only a few feet behind us on the freeway, etc.
People regard the actions listed above with great contempt, as they should. Our culture’s concept of common decency designates people who do such things as repugnant, as idiots. Most importantly, calls for their denunciation are mutually recognized public knowledge.
So, to finally state my thesis: our concept of decency is failing to include many actions and cultural elements that we should consider indecent. If we were to actually be consistent (which we should), we would regard every action that exhibits such disregard for the common good as grounds for denunciation.
Let us apply our reasoning universally and see what results we get. We condemn tailgating and destroyers of public property because they undermine our values. So, we should be applying that same standard to everything.
The central destroyer of our values and central cause of suffering in our society is the institutional framework that imposes power over all of us, representing the interests of only the institutions themselves. “The system” that runs our society, that decides who gets what and how, is responsible for extreme misery.
So we should regard as paramount cases of indecency those actions and attitudes that uphold the system. That should certainly be the central focus of our concept of indecency. Small indecencies, such as the three examples listed earlier, are tiny infractions compared to lifestyles of submission to power.
What are some real, concrete examples of such indecency? This is the really fun part. We can only make loose accusations here, for lack of the massive research required to pin down a set of cultural memes. But some things are just plain obvious.
Wearing the clothing advertised by the largest firms, listening to the music that permeates mass media — this is a form of adopting the ideology of elite institutions. They craft the message, and some dupes buy it. It’s easy to buy their message, too. It is extremely pervasive in our media, and it has a brilliant message built into it — this is what everyone likes, so it must be good (even when it’s new and no one likes it yet).
The people who adopt these ways of life become embodiments of submission to these unjust and evil institutions. We do not regard them as violating our minimum for common decency. We should. They are the paramount cases for indecent lifestyles.
The fact that they have been duped so hard is not only grounds for contempt because it is so dumb, but because the consequences are so awful — the perpetuation of anti-democratic, anti-human institutions.
On the other hand, just because someone is not partaking in the most obvious cultural elements, we cannot conclude that they are not themselves living lives in submission to the elite. That is to say, hipsters are not off the hook. They are just buying into alternate versions of imposed ideology. That’s why they’re called “hipsters” and are worthy of such great contempt; their rebellion is fake.
The dupes, the suckers who own all the right products and use all the pop culture slogans, they are the ones who we should regard as contemptuous idiots, worthy of public shaming. Their lack of critical analysis and frantic desire to fit in to what they are told is the right way of life is the primary reason that we don’t live in an amazing utopia of only happiness.
In my final column here, in my final quarter, I would like to thank everyone insofar as they were critical. I would also like to raise two middle fingers to the shockingly passive and uncritical people who will continue to buy into “the hype” and play into systems of power despite four years at a university. What an epic waste of money your education was.
BRIAN MOEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. xxx