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Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2001 / 3 Adar 5761

Don Feder

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Society has perfected the averted gaze

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AMERICANS have perfected the art of the averted gaze. Victorians would discreetly look away from public spectacles on the theory that what wasn't acknowledged did not exist.

Today, Americans collectively are closing their eyes to trends too painful to contemplate. We are adept at avoiding issues that would destroy our bovine tranquility.

I was listening to a radio talk show when a woman called to complain about a discussion of the Marc Rich pardon. "I'm sick of hearing about this," she whined. Then came the mantra of Clinton apologists: "It's time to move on."

Ah yes, so sorry to have disturbed you with revelations of how the then-president sold his office like a streetwalker bartering her favors, an act that typified the most corrupt administration in history.

This flight from unpleasant reality reached its zenith during the impeachment. The public preferred not to dwell on the implications of allowing the president to lie under oath, thus deliberately undermining the legal system he had sworn to uphold.

How much easier to rail at House Republicans for being obsessive about Clinton's adultery (as if that was the issue) and blame them for dragging out the sordid details.

But the moral sewer of the Clinton years is one of many disquieting matters we prefer to ignore.

Heads discreetly turn away from the impact of sex and violence in the entertainment media. Earlier this month, a study by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation found sexual content is now present in fully 75 percent of prime-time television programs. Cinemax regularly shows soft-core porn (full nudity and simulated intercourse) in the late-night hours.

"Hannibal" is eating up the box office. Just when it seems cinematic and televised violence has crested, the tide surges higher. Grisly juvenile crimes (like the murder of two Dartmouth College professors) are also on the rise. Only Jack Valenti, mechanical wind-up spokesman for the motion picture industry, thinks there's no connection.

But the public generally would rather wrap itself in a warm blanket of free-speech platitudes than think about where this is leading us -- an orgy catered by Jeffrey Dahmer.

We've spent the past 28 years perfecting the art of non-thinking about abortion. Now we are applying the techniques learned to euthanasia, bioethics and cloning.

In preparation for a perceived pro-life onslaught from the Bush administration, in January Planned Parenthood ran TV spots touting "choice" as Americans' pre-eminent right.

Choose what, and what consequences will choosing have for the objects of choice? A "woman's right to choose" is a soothing euphemism that conceals the substance of this erroneous right -- the ability to end a life.

In 1997, Oregon became the first state to pass a doctor-assisted suicide law. Former Attorney General Janet Reno refused to act against physicians who use federally controlled substances to kill their patients. Now, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden begs the Bush administration to allow his state to continue its grim experiment.

In his new book, "Culture of Death," Wesley J. Smith notes that, with or without official sanction, every day doctors are performing triage -- deciding who is unfit to live due to a diminished "quality of life."

Some fertility specialists have announced that they're less than 18 months away from successfully cloning a human being. In Europe, patents have been issued for embryos containing DNA from humans and animals.

Smith quotes medical ethicist Leon Kass, "Human cloning would represent a giant step toward turning begetting into making, procreation into manufacturing." Yet, in 46 states and at the federal level, there are no laws against human cloning and no moves to rectify the omission. We are so mesmerized by the potential benefits of this Frankenstein process (the elimination of genetic disease and growing organs for transplantation) that we're oblivious to fact that we are hurtling toward a Brave New World at warp speed in a vehicle without brakes.

Implications, ramifications, final destinations -- none of it concerns us. In some societies -- Sodom and Gomorrah, Spain during the Inquisition, Nazi Germany -- the majority consciously chose to embrace evil. Choosing evil by default, we lack even that virtue.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate