Rod Dreher

Yes, says Christopher Caldwell, it was a school administration that didn’t take its responsibility to stop bullying seriously enough. If that were the gist of it, we could pass laws and make administrative remedies for the problem. But:

Because the Prince case is not an administrative problem. It is the symptom of a larger cultural shift. The Boston Globe has urged the South Hadley superintendent to look into “what signals were missed and why”. But there were no signals missed. In a gossipy, vindictive culture that uses “snarky” as a term of praise, it was Prince who was supposed to adjust. One of the reasons anti-bullying must be taught as a set of skills is that we have a wider culture that, in many contexts, holds bullying in high esteem.
The outrage in Massachusetts is genuine and explosive. It is significant that the Prince family has called on the community to “refrain from vigilantism”, according to the prosecutor. The public wants the people who made Prince’s last weeks a living hell to suffer serious consequences, and they want the tormentors’ names to be associated with the shame of this episode in some indelible way. This impulse is understandable and correct. But it is work that used to be done – and is done better – by ambient public morality, not the law.
Americans are trying to legislate and sue their way out of the “liberation” they imposed on young people starting in the 1960s. This is a familiar pattern: The upshot of the “freedoms” we have won is a web of laws against things that no one ever thought to ban, and draconian penalties for activities that were once considered minor infractions.

Insofar as Caldwell is suggesting that bullying did not really occur prior to the 1960s, he’s plainly wrong. But I don’t think that’s what he’s getting at. What he’s saying, I think, is that the culture of bullying, especially sexually-focused bullying, in the Prince case is best explainable as what happens when the internalized cultural restraints that would have stopped or at least slowed that sort of thing down in the past are cast aside as oppressive relics. True liberty must be ordered liberty. If we do not impose control on ourselves from within, it will have to be imposed by the state from without. Or else we live in the jungle, governed by the Lord of the Flies.
(H/T: Ross)
UPDATE: But what are we to make of the “Generation Scold” idea that millenials are harshly remoralizing sexuality? Excerpt:

The prevailing cultural assumption has been that women are judged more harshly for overly sexual behavior than men are–women who sleep around are “sluts,” while men who get around are “studs.” But this perception has been shifting for at least a decade among women. According to a 1999 study of Canadian female grad students published in the Journal of Sex Research, “Contrary to the double standard, the vast majority of women listed only negative words to describe either a man or woman who has had many partners.” They often labeled experienced men as “manipulative” and “exploitative,” and said they would warn their girlfriends not to date a man who had slept with 10 or more partners. This was years before Web sites like made this kind of warning viral.
A new study confirms these findings. Sociologists Rachel Allison and Barbara Risman of the University of Illinois at Chicago surveyed over 17,000 college students through the Online College Social Life Survey and found that both men and women lost respect for members of the opposite sex who hooked up with a lot of people, according to a new report from the Council on Contemporary Families.* “In fact, slightly, but significantly more students [of both genders] say they would lose respect for a man who had hooked up and had sex with a lot than would lose respect for a similarly-engaged woman,” Allison and Risman observed. This wrinkle–that men are also now judging fellow men for promiscuity–is a new twist.
One reason for the shift, they hypothesize, is the increasing power of young women to determine the sexual mores. They’re definitely rejecting the double standard against women. But rather than embrace a more relaxed standard for all, as the Church Mailer generation did, they are using this new “leverage to overwhelmingly disapprove of college men who hook up with a lot of partners.” And some men are echoing that disapproval. If things continue to change in this direction, say Allison and Risman, “this change will move society toward a more restrictive standard for all, rather than toward increasing freedom to sexual pleasure wherever one may find and desire it.”

Well, good! Polymorphous perversity for pleasure’s sake does not serve us well. But can you have the remoralization of society by reimposing taboos on promiscuity without having Heathers tormenting people like Phoebe Prince to death? This is the problem: what you permit, you encourage, and taboos are necessary for any society to function well; but if you judge too harshly, you are merciless and destructive of human dignity and human lives.

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