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Jewish World Review August 17, 1999 /5 Elul, 5759

Thomas Sowell

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Moral anarchy and its consequences -- NOW THAT THERE HAS BEEN yet another vicious shooting spree, the familiar cry of "gun control" is ringing out from people in politics and the media, along with the equally familiar question: How could anyone do such a thing?

It may seem almost utopian to expect rational thinking in the wake of tragic and appalling events. But we can try. In fact, we have a duty to try, if we want to do what we can to understand what has happened and reduce the chances of its continuing to happen.

First of all, these are not "senseless" shootings. They are expressions of hatred that disregard morality and common decency, but they are very rationally planned and executed.

It is we who are being irrational when we ask such naive questions as: How could anyone do such a thing? People have been killing people as long as there have been people. Why is it so incomprehensible that they are killing each other today?

When we refuse to face the fact of deliberate evil -- in a century that has seen mass murders of the innocent by the millions -- our squeamishness does not protect anybody. It only leaves more people exposed to more dangers. Declaring murderers crazy, sick or some other cop-out will only get these killers sheltered from the law in psychiatric facilities -- and then turned loose to walk the streets again.

Neither logic nor history supports the kinds of things that are now being proposed in response to mass shootings. Why were such shootings much less common half a century ago? Was it because there were stronger gun control laws then? On the contrary, we have added literally thousands of new gun control laws over the years. Yet some people persist in believing that adding more gun control laws will do the trick.

Was it because there were "hate crimes" laws then? Actually, the very concept of hate crimes didn't exist then. Think about it: Would it have been any better if the children shot in Los Angeles had been Irish Catholics or WASPS instead of Jews?

What will "hate crimes" laws do, except clutter up the courts with more things for lawyers to wrangle over, instead of having laws that punish the crime that was committed, rather than the thoughts that may or may not have been in somebody's head?

We can argue forever about what would happen if this or that policy were followed. But there is no arguing against the hard fact that violence in general and murders in particular were far less common 50 years ago than they are today.

Was this because society back then had solved the so-called "root causes" of crime? Because there was less racism? Because there was less poverty? Of course not.

The desire of people to lash out at other people has always been there. Babies are born into the world today with all the savage instincts that they had back in the days of the cave man.

If most civilized people are unlikely to kill anybody, it is because of all the efforts put forth during our childhood to give us some sense of morality. But some children don't get as much moral training as others, or as good moral training as others -- or it just doesn't take for some reason.

That is why there have always been evil and dangerous individuals. The big question is: What have we been doing over the past two generations that has led to there being so many more of them?

Since the 1960s especially, we have systematically undermined personal responsibility. It has seemed as if everything that went wrong in our lives was the fault of somebody else, if only "society." Morality has been seen as just a bunch of arbitrary hassles imposed on us by the "power structure."

Most people have no idea what an all-out war against morality has been conducted in our public schools from coast to coast over the past generation. "Values clarification" programs under a variety of names encourage children to create their own personal rules of conduct, independent of the traditional morality taught to them by their families, churches and other social institutions. That is what the young murderers at Columbine High School did. That is what was done by the Unabomber and by those who bombed the government building in Oklahoma City and those who are now shooting up all sorts of people they don't like.

The high price of moral anarchy has yet to be recognized by those giddy with these dangerous experiments with children's minds and with the future of American society.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate