May 25, 2018

IT'S A PURITAN NATION:

The Scarlet Letter Is Back. It Never Really Went Away. (DAN MCLAUGHLIN, May 23, 2018, National Review)

When Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter is read by modern Americans, it tends to provoke snickers, sneering, and judgmental tut-tutting at those awful Puritan prudes who would force an adulterous woman to wear an outward sign of the shame of her sin for her entire life and endure communal shunning over her violation of a social norm that we, in our own era, would not even regard as a crime. We would never do something like that today, would we? But actually we do, and -- in appropriate cases -- we should. And it's high time we stopped pretending otherwise.

That thought came back as I read the story of Aaron Schlossberg, a Manhattan lawyer who committed a sin last week -- letting fly a racially incendiary tirade at Spanish-speaking workers in a crowded Madison Avenue restaurant -- and had the misfortune of having it filmed and widely disseminated. For this, at least for the moment, he has been shunned as surely as Hester Prynne was, complete with government officials bidding to permanently end his livelihood:

Schlossberg was then kicked out of his office building, while lawmakers petitioned the New York state court system to review his behavior and potentially revoke his law license.

And on Friday, dozens of protesters rallied outside his building while a mariachi band played.

The 42-year-old also lost at least one client over his tirade...

This is very much the same impulse that motivated the Puritans. Bigotry is more a sin than a crime, but a sin that we subject to harsh moral judgment, and that we rightly see today as corrosive of society and a contributor to worse problems, like sudden explosions of violence. In other words, we see it in exactly the same terms that the Puritans saw adultery...

What folks always underestimate is the degree to which democratic society depends on such social conformity to rein in our nature.  

Posted by at May 25, 2018 6:04 AM

  

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