If you watch a movie from the 1970’s or maybe look at old family photos from the period, you’ll notice that people dressed funny. The men wore tacky looking polyester suits in odd colors, like lime green and powder blue. Women were also in polyester. They liked high-waisted pants with a bell-like shape to the trouser leg. Both men and women would wear denim or suede jackets on purpose. From the perspective of our age, the fashion of the 1970’s is quite hideous, but the people in that age thought they looked great.
Fashion is a form of public morality. We don’t think of it that way, but public morality is just a set of rules and customs that everyone assumes to be true. Some parts of public morality are informed by religion. In America, rules governing when and where it is acceptable to drink alcohol have their roots in Christian ethics of the 19th century. In the case of other rules, no one knows the source of authority. Like fashion trends, they just seem to be the set of rules everyone accepts at the moment.
If someone turns up in your office, dressed in a denim leisure suit, you’re going to assume they are crazy or maybe going to a costume party after work. It’s not that wearing a denim leisure suit is against the law or causing anyone harm. It’s that is so far outside of present sensibilities, about how people are supposed to dress, that you would assume there is some motivation other than taste. If it was just a bizarre sense of fashion, or lack of fashion in this case, the wearer would exile himself by doing it.
Fashion changes quickly and for no obvious reason. Why did people suddenly decide that velour jogging suits looked great and then suddenly decide they looked silly? Most likely, some famous person was talked into wearing a velour track suit on television and all of a sudden everyone had to have one. Maybe some clothing maker just took a shot and all of a sudden it was a trendy thing. A big part of the fashion business is simply trying to figure out how to create a new trend, so people will rush out and buy new clothes.
Just as fashion can change on a dime, other parts of public morality can change quickly for no obvious reason. It used to be that homosexuality was known, but best kept out of public view. It was perfectly acceptable to mock homosexuals. Today, of course, lack of reverence for homosexuals is on the list of unforgivable sins. Mark Steyn was purged by National Review, because he repeated an old Dean Martin joke about homosexuals. His crime was not being properly offended by a decades old gag.
In this area of public morality, it is popular to assign nefarious motives to the people pushing these changes in public morality. Some of it is true, for sure. Just as famous people wear strange costumes in an effort to signal their trendiness, people pushing trendy social fads are hoping to signal their virtue to good whites. Some of it though, is just the weird way in which trends change. Hollywood has been littered with homosexuals since the start, but it was OK to mock them, then all of a sudden it wasn’t.
Of course, even though something like wearing a denim leisure suit was fashionable in the 1970’s, you can still get mocked for it after the fact. John Derbyshire thought he looked great when he was taking on Bruce Lee, but there’s no doubt his kids still tease him for the hair and clothes. A stock part of family life is the parents showing their kids old pictures and the kids making sport of their parents for their weird costumes. The hideousness of the 1970’s is a nightmare from which the people of that era will never awake.
Would the people in the 1970’s have been more discriminating if they knew their future selves would so ashamed of those outfits? Most likely. If you know that in twenty years, heretics will be made to dress like you dress now, and be treated as pariahs, will you change things up? Most people would certainly like to avoid that sort of humiliation. They would absolutely want to avoid being associated with people being ostracized from future society. That knowledge would certainly change present behavior.
The same applies to other areas of public morality. The Left now goes through the social media time lines of newly famous people looking for blasphemy. Every once in a while an athlete has to issue an apology for something he said in high school or college. The whole “me too” movement was about traveling back in time to find things that were in violation of present morality. Thirty years ago, the casting couch was a fixture of Hollywood. Today it is a crime against humanity, at least it was until it stopped trending on Twitter.
Today, the fickleness of public morality regarding a wide range of issues has created a culture of fear. It’s not just that people are afraid of saying something blasphemous by today standards. They fear holding an opinion that will be blasphemous by tomorrow’s standards. The assumption is that the current trends with regards to human nature, human organization and politics will keep going in the same direction forever. Today it is immoral to laugh at a man in a dress. Tomorrow it will be immoral to not be a man in a dress.
As we saw with the fashions of the 1970’s, public morality can head down a cul-de-sac and then reverse course. Into the mid-60’s, fashion trends were fairly consistent, then all of a sudden they went off course. By the late 1970’s, people were dressing like clowns and goofballs. Then all of a sudden, the trend reversed and people quickly abandoned those goofy styles and got back to dressing like sane people. The fever broke and public morality regarding sartorial sensibilities returned to normal.
Something like that can happen with other areas of public morality. The residue of the cultural revolution is still with us, but the bellowing and shouting we see today could very well be a rear guard action to hold off the inevitable retreat. Antifa enforcers patrolling social media could very well be the velour track suit of this period. The people sporting those ideas today, will be mocked mercilessly in the future. Amy Harmon will be the William Jennings Bryan of this age, a symbol of primitive obscurantism.
It is impossible to know, of course, which is why our old picture albums are full of men in hats and women wearing weird outfits. Public morality, like fashion, does change and in unpredictable directions, because we are not good at seeing the future. With regards to public morality, covering things like science, reality is the ultimate check on these spasms of fashionable lunacy. The same is true of human organization. Multiculturalism is the decorative cod piece of this age. It has no utility and will eventually fall out of style.