Can America Find the High Ground in Cultural War?

By George Will Copyright Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 16, 1993 | Go to article overview

Can America Find the High Ground in Cultural War?


George Will Copyright Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery - then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved. -Jesse Jackson

This was the year that America looked in the mirror and blanched. This year the political system moved gingerly toward confronting the question of how public policy can nurture, or injure, character. The "person of the year," emblematic of the dominating public concern, might be a young black male dressed in the regalia of the gang and rap music cultures. And the intellectual event of the year was the publication of James Q. Wilson's "The Moral Sense."

It has become the conventional wisdom that there is no knowledge, only opinion, about morality, and that human beings have no nature other than their capacity to acquire culture. Wilson's warning is: We must be careful of what we think we are, lest we become that. By "scavenging" (his word) in various sciences, particularly evolutionary biology and cultural anthropology, he concludes that cultural diversity, although vast, is not the whole story.

Human nature is not infinitely plastic; we cannot be socialized to accept anything. We do not recoil from Auschwitz only because our culture has so disposed us. And the fact that so much about America nowadays, from random savagery to scabrous entertainment, is shocking is evidence for, not against, the moral sense, which is what is shocked.

The development of conscience has been much studied - Jean Piaget's many hours watching Swiss children playing marbles; studies of altruism in the Holocaust; studies of twins, including those separated at infancy. The studies have produced powerful empirical evidence of a moral sense that is a component of a universal human nature.

A moral sense is the most plausible explanation of much of our behavior. Statecraft always is soulcraft, for better or worse, so the political challenge is to encourage the flourishing of a culture that nurtures rather than weakens the promptings of the moral sense.

Inside every person there is (in Konrad Lorenz's phrase) a "parliament of instincts." The moral sense, says Wilson, is among the calmer passions; it needs help against its wilder rivals. We have selfish interests, but also the capacity - and inclination - to judge disinterestedly, even of our own actions.

Wilson asks, Could mankind survive if parents had to have the skill, perseverance and good luck sufficient to teach every rule of right conduct the same way they teach multiplication tables? Right conduct is so important that the tendency to it must be rapidly acquired, which suggests that children are biologically disposed to imitate behavior and learn the underlying rules by observation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Can America Find the High Ground in Cultural War?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.