By Robert S. Becker
Like true religion that spawns compassion and charity, civic taboos essential to civilization are getting a bad rap. Let us praise “good taboos,” not just displace bad ones – all those forbidden, unwritten prohibitions about sex, drugs, manners, dress, and speech. What ninny, after all, spreads the family humiliation that Uncle George philanders, likes porn or exotic drugs, or drinks too much -- even practices yesteryear’s horror, prefers men and/or socialism. Only reactionaries think the shift from uptight Victorian prudery isn’t healthy, liberating natural inclinations and/or chemical addictions, even mental illness, from illegal status or revelatory of weak moral character, even wickedness.
Good taboos lubricate civilization but rational selection matters. For the west, snakes evoke “evil” because one “serpent” in one yarn talked trash to Eve. Really, a talking snake? The incest taboo is universal; and across the USA (not elsewhere anymore) not marrying your first cousin. For two centuries this nation separated church from state and corporations from personhood – legalized taboos worth preserving. Unlike Europe, much of the U.S. doesn't have taboos against capital punishment, though mercifully not by stoning, hanging, firing squads, or the guillotine. Yet. Before W., this beacon on the hill forswore torture, contract hits on untried citizens, and pre-emptive strikes against non-aggressors, especially innocent women, children and old folks. Obviously, when laws wither, taboos must rule.
Of course, I defend keeping traumatic reality from toddlers, the senile, and the know-nothing Tea Party. “A little knowledge,” as they say. But we’ve overdone it, squandering the blessings of solid, all-important taboos -- like not patently lying or dumping scurrilous propaganda that defy history, science, and the consensus once called truth. And the worst part is that rightwing prevarication pays off: “death panels” mortally injured health legislation, and the vicious wrong against President Obama’s birth right exploded, despite not one shred of evidence.
When Lies Outpoint Truth
Only scientific illiterates or oil lobbyist deny climate change but subterfuge has successfully delayed global solutions by decades. Ditto: Saddam’s WMDs and links to 9/11, lies that will cost us one trillion dollars and which boosted our worst president. I recall historic taboos against House nitwits calling for impeachment only to impugn a president’s legitimacy or efficacy. If lying didn’t work, politicians across the board, CEOs, and FOX TV would seek alternatives to force bad policies down our throats.
Once upon a time, winning politicians did everything to appear reliable. Yet Sen. Kyl, having openly maligned Planned Parenthood, dodged after violating the commandment against bearing false witness. His fictions, his office admitted, "were not intended as factual." This lying is doubly insulting – deception worsened by crudeness. Blame Rove and Cheney.
To this day, Bush’s neocon-stonewalling extends a media taboo that won’t tell the whole truth: Iraq is our worst foreign policy blunder. Note Obama’s current indirection – the U.S. declaring the (civil) war over, despite thousands of mercenaries staying put. Plus, the implicit taboo against coming clean continues, blocking reconciliation necessary to repair calamitous, lethal fiascos. Across the boards, Obama’s self-imposed prohibitions against confirming past violations affront history by denying common knowledge.
Remember taboos about threatening public officials with violent revenge? “If this guy [Bernanke] prints more money between now and the election,” Rick Perry spouted, “I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas." Great moral model for school playgrounds: "violence wins." Perry makes America “ugly” by reinforcing uncivilized force, spiked by his tin ear after an ugly legacy of southern lynchings.
Likewise, recall the sharp taboos against getting caught red-handed in someone else's till. Now, only Bernie Madoff-level crimes invite scrutiny, let alone penalty. Right, computers monitor our every tax error but can’t unearth devastating thefts in the multiple billions. When criminals aren’t caught, even indicted, the result imprisons law, justice and fair play behind bars.
Taboos That Civilize
Still on top, self-anointed prayer warriors violate the worst taboo – reading the mind of God –claiming divine justification for whatever ambitions cross their pea brains. Why does this chatty “God” only message goofy fundamentalists, insisting they run for top office? Why won’t the Lord anoint me with absolute certainty about everything. Wait a minute, I feel otherworldly vibrations. Look what appeared, magically on my screen -- and whose stentorian voice is that?
Let it be known, I am the tech-savvy computer angel, speaking for the Almighty. It’s high time to update the Ten Commandments so consider this Version 2.0, God’s Five New Dictates. Add them to the originals and obey them.
First Taboo: Never invoke the name of the Lord to promote one’s career, candidacy, or ideology. God simmers when reduced to a campaign manager, headhunter, or career-maker. If you can’t win office without Heaven, don’t run. If you can’t defend positions using reason alone, abandon them. God does not do politics, nor play favorites, nor orders plagues and storms to punish opponents – a blasphemy that can get you and yours sent down in a hellish minute. Nor does God think gut feelings should trump reason when deciding social, scientific and educational policies.
Second Taboo: Stop giving Heaven a bad name by worshiping stupidity or believing palpably false predictions from false prophets. The God of pure reason elevates reason, so stop shredding the Bible to distort its meaning. The only way measly human souls get to the Heaven your culture imagines is by evolving from a brutish jungle animal to a compassionate, peace-loving people driven not by appetites. Thus, celebrate evolution as your greatest blessing for otherwise mankind would be called wormkind.
Third Taboo: Thou shall not politicize every policy or program decision, glorifying not goodness but only victory in the next election. Abandon that mania for wedge politics and confess your public foolishness, namely: arguing tax breaks for millionaires spur jobs, all deficit spending kills growth, and progress is about enriching the 1% at the expense of the 99%. Who connected that brilliant idea with any downloaded religious beliefs?
Fourth Taboo: Thou shall not demonize opponents by comparing them with the worst, racist murderers in history, like Hitler. And never compare mere human beings to Satan or the anti-Christ. Have you no shame – let alone awareness of your own religious teachings?
Fifth Taboo: Thou shall stop denying God's reality, and thus fabricating your own, throwing tantrums about debt limits, or regulations that kill jobs, or that deficit spending is fine for wars but not education, health, or alleviating suffering. This is not Christian, nor is your presumptuous bellowing about American exceptionalism. No Chosen People spends more on murderous arms than the next dozen countries, nor embraces indiscriminate predatory drones. Who are you upstarts kidding? Cultivate humility and seek forgiveness.For God’s sake, honor the spirit, not just the letter of your own holy texts. For additional insight, refer to “God doesn’t need politicians” and “moneytheism” from Stephen Colbert