In Praise of Finger-Wagging
Does Tiger Woods matter? Robert Wright, who is no social conservative, has a piece at the New York Times suggesting why the Tiger Woods story matters, and why moral rebukes of Woods (like this one from Augusta National Golf Club chairman Bill Payne) are a good thing:
Monogamous marriage matters especially in parts of society where it is weakest. In many low-income neighborhoods, a large majority of children are reared in one-parent households. That increases the chances that they’ll remain low-income. Contributing to the weakness of monogamous marriage in many of these neighborhoods is an ethos of treating women as sex objects. Tiger’s particular form of infidelity — apparently featuring a disproportionate number of topless dancers and porn stars — isn’t exactly a declaration of war on that ethos. (We’re not talking Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles here.)
Too often we act as if the only sin that matters is the hypocrisy of the defenders of family values who gleefully disregard those values in their personal lives. What’s remarkable about Wright’s piece is that, for once, the story is not about how all moralists are finger-wagging hypocrites who we’d be better off without. Wright’s point is that we need the finger-waggers.
I don’t think it’s accidental that Wright’s point is more liberal than libertarian. Like Jason, I think there’s something a little creepy about forms of new parternalism that seek to subtly manipulate people while maintaining moral neutrality. That’s in part because moral neutrality is an illusion. Inequality is no indifferent matter. Neither is the state and strength of American marriage. I’d like to preserve people’s choices, but I’d also like to make sure that bad choices have consequences.
The notion that country-club chairmen and New York Times writers have a social duty to defend monogamy seems old-fashioned. But the decline of marriage and monogamy, and the related rise of inequality, suggests that we need to use private associations and public institutions as mild means of encouraging virtue. This is especially true, I think, if you oppose more stringent forms of morality legislation. Here’s hoping that we get used to exercising our index fingers once again.
Photo by myophoto