October 21, 2019

The Spoiling of Western Civilization

One needn’t be a curmudgeon to perceive that more and more adults are behaving like spoiled children these days. Wanting their own way and demanding that others give it to them. Expecting courtesy from others but refusing to extend it to those around them. Obsessing about their rights but ignoring their responsibilities. Refusing to acknowledge their offenses and, worse, blaming them on others.

Such behavior is found not only in family and personal relationships but in every other social arena, as well. In business, for example, it is seen in dishonest practices that take advantage of customers by misrepresenting the quality of products. In politics and government by slandering, demonizing, and scapegoating those who hold opposing views. And even worse, by refusing to engage in constructive dialogue and thus making it impossible to conduct governmental affairs for the good of citizens.

The phenomenon itself is not new. Neither is the idea that it resembles the behavior of a spoiled child. Richard Weaver coined the term “spoiled child psychology” in his famous 1948 book, Ideas have Consequences.

“For four centuries,” Weaver wrote, “every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.”

This change in perspective about human nature, he argued, was based on the denial of objective truth, the devaluing of thinking, and the belief that feelings are a reliable guide to behavior. The problem, as he saw it, is that “if we attach more significance to feeling than to thinking, we shall soon, by a simple extension, attach more to wanting than to deserving.” [Emphasis added.]

The more that people focus on wanting rather than deserving, he noted, the less willing they are to work for what they get. “A society spoiled in this manner may be compared to a drunkard; the more he imbibes the less he is able to work and acquire the means necessary to indulge his habit.” This, he suggested, explains why many adults remain convinced they “can get something without submitting to the discipline of work . . . .”

Weaver concluded that “it will eventually appear that the greatest disservice done to our age—and it has been done by sentimental humanitarianism—was this denial of necessary connection between effort and reward.”

Weaver’s insights would be notable enough if they were expressed today. But the amazing fact is that they were written 68 years ago. Moreover, they were written years before the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers urged people to trust their feelings implicitly, even to the point of creating their own reality, and his contemporary Abraham Maslow posited that self-esteem is required before any achievement is possible. Also, fully fifteen years before Lyndon Johnson initiated his counter-productive Great Society program.

In other words, Weaver warned about the dangers of self-indulgence before humanistic psychologists made it a sacrament and self-control a sin and decades before this moment, when the spoiled child syndrome has metastasized to the point where it is threatening our very civilization.

We’ve ignored Weaver’s wisdom for several generations. I hope and pray it is not too late to embrace it.

Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
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