Recent Roads To Ruin?

by John Holbo on January 9, 2012

Several years ago I read – and posted about – a book I quite enjoyed: Roads To Ruin, The Shocking History of Social Reform (1950), by E.S. Turner. (Reasonably inexpensive used copies available from all likely sources.)

It’s basically a survey of forgotten British moral panics of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Predictions of the death of decency and/or fall of Western Civilization meet social reform proposals that sound (to us today) right and proper, or at least reasonable, or at least unlikely to bring about apocalypse.

Daylight savings. Should the ban on marrying your dead wife’s sister be lifted? Should spring guns be banned? Should children be forbidden to buy gin (for their parents, not themselves) in pubs? (You might think that the panic was over a proposal to let children buy gin. But no.)

It’s in the minor nature of these cases that, 30 years on – let alone 150 years – we forget these were hot-button culture war issues. Suppose we were to rewrite Turner’s book today. What cases can you come up with? Now-forgotten moral panics in the face of social reforms enacted in, say, the last 75 years?

No-fault divorce and legalized birth control are good examples. Same-sex marriage is going to grow up to be an example, I’m reasonably sure. But the genius of Turner’s book is that his cases are so minor. Birth-control and easy divorce were big deals, socially. Opponents were right about that much. Letting men marry their dead wive’s sisters, by contrast, was never going to make a big difference. What recent examples can you think of that are more like the latter? I’m looking for cases in which politicians and pundits and and so forth really got into the game. It’s a big hand-wringing public End Is Nigh botheration. And, in retrospect, it’s not just wrong-headed but fantastically silly.

It’s more common, I suppose, to get these sorts of moral panics about some new thing the kids are up to. Dungeons and Dragons is turning children into satanists. (Ah, those were the days.) Let’s try to restrict ourselves to cases in which social reformers, not the kids, are the targets. What have you got for me?

{ 182 comments }

1

John Holbo 01.09.12 at 8:29 am

Come to think of it, the use of ‘social’ in connection with ‘reform’ in these cases is humorously vague. Thinking about the Turner book, they aren’t always social reforms, but they are reforms that make people socially anxious in some ways. Spring guns, for example. Setting a man-trap against poachers. Why is that a ‘social’ issue. (The issue is really the right NOT to bear the arms you are firing.) It was a proposal that triggered off all sorts of class anxieties, apparently.

2

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.09.12 at 8:39 am

Does the NHS count, John? Serfdom would be the first step on the road to Ruin.

3

John Holbo 01.09.12 at 8:48 am

I should probably have made my larger hypothesis more explicit. We are used to encountering these sorts of arguments in Road To Serfdom-type cases. We are told that the welfare state will lead to the end of liberty. I’m curious whether we can come up with examples of the same argument-form being rather hysterically deployed in more minor cases. To what extent is it true that every road looks like the road to serfdom, if the person just happens not to like the look of that road – and we are talking social reform?

4

Aulus Gellius 01.09.12 at 8:51 am

You could probably find some good freak-outs related to unisex college dorms. In general, people love to see rules for college students as microcosms of vast social issues, don’t they?

5

John Holbo 01.09.12 at 9:00 am

Yes, that’s probably a good example. Clothes and sex and housing are all likely loci of anxiety. And we need to be even-handed about it. There are probably good examples of rather minor privatization proposals, by conservatives, that were met with predictions of total social breakdown. Conservatives should feel free to play the game.

6

Curious 01.09.12 at 9:17 am

Water fluoridation.

7

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.09.12 at 9:42 am

I think this more what you’re looking for: poisoned candy myths. I never know trick or treating could be so dangerous!

8

heckblazer 01.09.12 at 9:52 am

What springs to my mind is Abbie Hoffman going to jail for wearing an American flag shirt, and the animus against men with long hair. If nothing else, it’s interesting how a guy with shoulder length hair wearing a flag shirt is now most likely to be a solid good ol’ boy and not an evil hippie.

9

realdelia 01.09.12 at 9:52 am

Hair: too long, too short.

Also, women in trousers

10

ajay 01.09.12 at 9:56 am

Banning fox hunting?

11

Michael Harris 01.09.12 at 10:15 am

I don’t know if banning smoking in night clubs counts.

Unisex bathrooms in (a few) nightclubs?

Safe injecting rooms, or any kind of lessening of the severity of drug policy?

The bikini?

12

Alex 01.09.12 at 10:31 am

Foxhunting – I remember feeling strongly about this, but I no longer know why.

I also suspect one way to discover such issues is to look at which issues other nations find inexplicably fascinating now – from the synchronic to the diachronic.

13

Tony Sidaway 01.09.12 at 10:31 am

In the UK, possibly the reform of the law forbidding shops to open on Sunday. Then there’s a whole slew of stuff related to homosexuality: permitting gay people to adopt, permitting teachers to mention homosexuality in sex education, and so on. Avoiding the death penalty, making abortion legal, and many others .

14

Tony Sidaway 01.09.12 at 10:34 am

Sorry, that should read “abolishing” not “avoiding”the death penalty.

15

Dave 01.09.12 at 10:46 am

Almost any Melanie Phillips column would come in handy. Of course she often puts a ‘we’ve reached ruin and I’ve been telling you for years that we would’ twist on things.

16

Michael Harris 01.09.12 at 10:52 am

In the case of shop hours in Australia, it was as much the retail union (where once, long ago, I was a member) as anyone else that was objecting with shopping hour deregulation.

As mentioned above, gay parenting in general is a good one, with case studies demonstrating outcomes.

As per the pill, and the entrance of large numbers of women into the education system and the workforce.

17

Alex 01.09.12 at 10:52 am

Yes, Sunday trading was bizarrely important, until it wasn’t.

18

Chris Williams 01.09.12 at 11:03 am

UK’s interwar Prayer Book Debate?
On the other hand, because I’m a social historian, I tend to look at this sort of thing and try and find ways in which it was actually important, even though we’ve kind of forgotten why. For example, that time when Brian Rix got punched by a policeman in the 1950s, and helped (along with the case of the Thurso Boy) to kick off the 1960 Royal Commission on Policing. Me, I think that these were symptoms of a changing attitude to the liberty of the subject and to the limits of acceptable violence.

19

bjk 01.09.12 at 11:19 am

Thank goodness we can shop on Sunday. And now we can shop on Thanksgiving too. Pretty soon we’ll be shopping on Christmas. Soon every single day on the calendar will yield to the victory of shopping, and Progress will triumph. What’s remarkable is not how little is lost, but how much is gained.

20

MR Bill 01.09.12 at 11:23 am

Perhaps the whole “sexting” issue, with threats of criminalization of sending a naughty pic (possibly of one’s own person) via cellphone/mobile device..It snared US Congressman Anthony Weiner. And a recent survey showed this to be pretty much a tempest in a teapot… see http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/12/05/oukin-uk-sexting-idUKTRE7B41JB20111205

And my own state of Georgia finally approved the Sunday sales of alcohol (beer, wine, spirits), after years of suggestions that it would make us less godly and cause big increases in drunken driving. It didn’t. In fact, counties that didn’t permit alcohol sales that have now allowed it (the recent Recession has made even the Baptists look at revenue..) discovered no real impact, and often fewer drunk drivers.
see http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/mar/18/georgia-state-senators/lawmakers-claim-sunday-alcohol-sales-proves-flawed/

21

Tim Wilkinson 01.09.12 at 11:34 am

You’re all so corrupted you can’t even see what’s happened to us.

22

Reinder Dijkhuis 01.09.12 at 11:44 am

The burkha.

23

Nababov 01.09.12 at 11:51 am

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. bears the inscription:

“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

24

Belle Waring 01.09.12 at 11:59 am

Satanic Ritual Abuse panic? Prosecuting people for crimes that were impossible and for which there was no evidence? I guess that would have been serious if it were true.

25

Matt 01.09.12 at 12:03 pm

Allowing trans-sexual or transgender people to use the bathroom that they want to- in several states there have been huge freak-outs over this, with people claiming it will lead to wide-spread bathroom rapes of both men and women (rape in a public bathroom is really rare, though, it seems), peeping toms, corruption of children, etc. Patricia Williams had a nice article touching on this sort of thing, reprinted in _The Alchemy of Race and Rights_, several years ago, and Tobias Wolff (Penn Law Professor and son of philosopher Robert Paul Wolff) has a very interesting article on this (and also the doom feared by allowing mixing of gender and race on trains- another older example) forthcoming in the Harvard Law and Policy Review.

26

e 01.09.12 at 12:16 pm

I’ve recently seen these minor policies being mentionened as potential civilization enders:
1. switching from the word ‘christmas’ to the word ‘x-mas’
2. not serving children any meat for lunch in school on mondays

27

SusanC 01.09.12 at 12:23 pm

How about the loss of privacy? See: Facebook; websites using cookies to track users; illegal wiretapping by Phorm; etc. You might even include the fuss over newpapers hacking into celebrities’ voicemail, though that scandal has a police corruption aspect to it as well)

28

rm 01.09.12 at 12:40 pm

The “whole language” approach to reading instruction in schools. A sort of “reform” (away from rote memorization) which, we were told, was Satan’s attack against the righteous use of purely phonics-based approaches. (Every good teacher, of course, knows you have to use some of both approaches.)

29

Main Street Muse 01.09.12 at 1:04 pm

Seat belt laws (not sure why laws needed to be created to make us wear seat belts).

Still don’t understand the opposition to gay marriage – why two people who love each other cannot be joined together in a civil union. Outside of the Bible, where are the restrictions for this? If restrictions are only in the Bible, why is that dictating civil law?

Mandated closures of car dealers on Sundays to accommodate religious practices.

The current debate over prayer in public school in a nation supposedly founded on the principle of “separation of church and state” – AKA Obama’s “war on religion.” [See Rick Perry’s Brokeback Mountain video for more on this… http://bit.ly/ymomPk

The debate over whether “under God” belongs in the Pledge of Allegiance. The original insertion of “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s as a protection against godless communism….

30

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 1:28 pm

The incredible health dangers of people sleeping in groups in public parks.

31

krippendorf 01.09.12 at 1:38 pm

legalizing marijuana

32

Jacob T. Levy 01.09.12 at 1:53 pm

I guess the hard part is “Now-forgotten moral panics *in the face of social reforms enacted* in, say, the last 75 years?” As I understand the phrase “moral panic,” the default style of moral panic in the U.S. during my lifetime hasn’t been in response to some enacted policy. It’s been in response to some cultural event (D&D! Violent video games! Rock & roll music with naughty words! Rap music with *really* naughty words! A whole generation killed by lawn darts! Bart Simpson is disrepsectful! Nekkid boy-butts on NYPD Blue! Sexting with *exceptionally* naughty words! Internet porn! Internet gambling! Cartoon characters in cigarette ads! Alcoholic drinks that taste like candy! those gross little candy strips that somehow people believed might be LSD!) that then often prompt a demand for a policy response.

33

Main Street Muse 01.09.12 at 1:59 pm

To Rich @30 – it’s called pepper spray….

34

Dave 01.09.12 at 1:59 pm

Wearing your pants too low.

35

Davis X. Machina 01.09.12 at 2:05 pm

And my own state of Georgia finally approved the Sunday sales of alcohol (beer, wine, spirits), after years of suggestions that it would make us less godly and cause big increases in drunken driving.

That’s odd. I saw my first drive-through window at a liquor store in suburban Atlanta.

36

Matt McIrvin 01.09.12 at 2:05 pm

“Happy Holidays”. The menace of Political Correctness Gone Mad in general. Further in that vein, the business-destroying tyranny of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On a more local scale, most NIMBY zoning freakouts and fights over neighborhood covenants. An objection to anything whatsoever can be couched in terms of the danger to property values.

37

Matt McIrvin 01.09.12 at 2:11 pm

If I recall correctly, the menace of unisex bathrooms was cited as a potential horrific consequence of the Equal Rights Amendment.

38

Matt McIrvin 01.09.12 at 2:18 pm

I think what most of the seemingly ridiculous modern cases have in common is that some people in the society see their values as generally losing ground, and they pick a particular development that, for them, crosses some kind of last-straw threshold as the place to make a stand. One more nail in the coffin, but this time we’ll fight back.

Is that what was also happening in the older examples? I know people regularly freaked out about anything that seemed to indicate men’s loss of control over women, no matter how minor, but on the face of it it can be hard to identify what the larger trend was in some of these examples.

39

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.09.12 at 2:22 pm

Anything Muslim.

40

Phil 01.09.12 at 2:24 pm

the animus against men with long hair

“And we wave to the people who frown
At our hair as we ride into town”
- Bonzo Dog Band, “The bride stripped bare by Batchelors”

I first heard that a few years ago, and had a definite pang of nostalgia. It was so easy to look “alternative” back then! And normal people actually cared! Admittedly, in Britain normal people rarely cared enough to beat you up (a la Alice’s Restaurant*), which would be harder to get warm and fuzzy over.

Chris – what bothers me is the process whereby we lost the rhino whips but ended up with FIT, ANPR, post-charge questioning etc: less violence, more control. (Better than more of both, admittedly.)

*The film

41

Phil 01.09.12 at 2:28 pm

Matt – ban man-traps and the next thing you know, the police will be invading our houses to make sure they can be burgled safely. Stop children buying gin for their parents and… give me a moment…

and, er, responsible parents will no longer be able to bring up their children to act responsibly!

I suspect they’re all about threats to customary authority at some level.

42

Jonathan 01.09.12 at 2:30 pm

You mean that this isn’t reflective of broader trends? I find such a notion disappointing.

43

Jeffrey Kramer 01.09.12 at 2:33 pm

@22, 38; yes, but when you get down to stuff like “halal soup will lead to your daughter being put in a burkha” it’s maybe not such a good example, because the people freaking out over it are obviously already freaks to start with.

44

Jeffrey Kramer 01.09.12 at 2:34 pm

Giving the vote to 18-year-olds?

45

Bruce Baugh 01.09.12 at 2:38 pm

The frenzy over ACORN in particular and related community organizing and get-out-the-vote activity in general comes to mind, though probably that should be treated as one front in the general Republican war against democracy.

Test tube babies! I remember when Afton Blake was reputed to be the forward scout for a horde that would destroy family bonds as we know them.

46

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.12 at 2:39 pm

Doesn’t Muslim stuff fail as a source of fleeting moral panic just because it’s been such a historically long-standing source of moral panic? When GWB said that we needed to have a crusade, it wasn’t like he made up the word.

47

garymar 01.09.12 at 2:59 pm

@ Nababov 01.09.12 at 11:51 am

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C.

Wait a minute — Assyria, 2800 BCE? Do you mean 800 instead?

We have few tablets dating to 2800 BCE, but your point stands, people were surely saying things like, “You kids get out of my palm orchard!”

48

bianca steele 01.09.12 at 3:04 pm

The Dungeons and Dragons thing seems surprisingly persistent if you think about it. But Rona Jaffe’s novel wasn’t about Satanism. That was some completely different worry.

And Casual Fridays.

49

P O'Neill 01.09.12 at 3:05 pm

Latin Mass?

50

krippendorf 01.09.12 at 3:07 pm

(Married) women working.

What’s striking about this example is its persistence throughout much of the 20th century. (Remember the furor over Murphy Brown?) And it’s arguably still with us today, in debates about child care.

51

Omega Centauri 01.09.12 at 3:12 pm

Using calculators on math tests!

52

bianca steele 01.09.12 at 3:15 pm

The replacement of rotaries (roundabouts) with normal traffic lights.

In certain communities, the teaching of folktales from around the world.

53

SusanC 01.09.12 at 3:17 pm

@Henry:

For example, a planning application to build a mosque near where I live has generated heated opposition from some people. (This is an area with several Christian churches + a substantial number of Muslim residents, and so a mosque is the obvious missing local amenity).

54

Conall-Wales 01.09.12 at 3:31 pm

Crimes of Today: Looking and Reading (at anything to do with children or bomb-making) (even if the same material is freely available in libraries/on-line)

Plenty of sad middle-aged men and deluded Moslem youths in clink for ‘looking’ and ‘reading’.

55

MR Bill 01.09.12 at 3:31 pm

That’s odd. I saw my first drive-through window at a liquor store in suburban Atlanta.

I actually hit the window (with my “Dekalb Co. Mental Health” short bus I drove as a work study job) of the first drive through package store window in Atlanta I attempted to use (the Johnson Road Liquor store, probably the closest one to Emory U.). And they still, as there was no damage to the building, sold me booze.

56

ajay 01.09.12 at 3:51 pm

(Married) women working.

What’s striking about this example is its persistence throughout much of the 20th century.

I don’t think this quite works – married women working may not have destroyed society but it was unarguably a big deal (like birth control, etc).

A few more:
Married women not taking their husbands’ names.
People being legally allowed to convert to Christianity (or atheism) from Islam.
The Salic Law.
Abolition of the right to silence.

57

Jon 01.09.12 at 3:59 pm

The light bulb wars.

The coming rule of Sharia Law in America.

58

SusanC 01.09.12 at 4:01 pm

Tesco supermarkets. The building of a rather small local supermarket caused huge, sustained local protest.

Gypsies/Travellers. (Dale Farm, for example).

59

Jon 01.09.12 at 4:02 pm

Medicare will bring creeping socialist totalitarianism.

60

Meredith 01.09.12 at 4:05 pm

Mothers breast-feeding in public.

61

bianca steele 01.09.12 at 4:07 pm

From the other (politically liberal) side, I was thinking, you could garner a collection of threats to civilization over the decades from, say, Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family novels: camper trailers, people who don’t like T.S. Eliot, multinational corporations.

62

Aulus Gellius 01.09.12 at 4:08 pm

Expanding on bianca @52, all sorts of changes in literature and history curricula to include non-DWMs.

63

bianca steele 01.09.12 at 4:09 pm

(Not camper trailers for living in, people who camp in trailers instead of in tents.)

64

SusanC 01.09.12 at 4:11 pm

Slavoj Žižek.

65

Jon 01.09.12 at 4:14 pm

Actually, the light bulb wars makes a pretty good case study. It’s about a household object that everyone has in their homes, and it’s about alleged creeping, big-gumment, eco-socialist do-gooders trying to control everyone’s lives.

66

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 4:20 pm

Is the Gay Mafia still getting any traction?

67

Main Street Muse 01.09.12 at 4:24 pm

ObamaCare transforms America into a nanny state. Because leaving millions of uninsured Americans to receive subsidized care at the ER (via higher rates for all of us who are insured to cover the costs of caring for the uninsured) is capitalism AND healthcare at its best.

68

AcademicLurker 01.09.12 at 4:31 pm

Expanding on bianca @52, all sorts of changes in literature and history curricula to include non-DWMs.

Definitely. For the shear discrepancy between the amount public hand wringing and pearl clutching vs the actual impact, the Canon Wars are hard to beat.

69

Jon 01.09.12 at 4:44 pm

How about the panic over UN Agenda 21? Mother Jones had a good piece on this a few months ago.

70

Satan Mayo 01.09.12 at 4:46 pm

Then there’s a whole slew of stuff related to homosexuality: permitting gay people to adopt, permitting teachers to mention homosexuality in sex education, and so on.

In the US, I believe the first major homosexuality flashpoint (of the era in which being gay was still stigmatized, but wouldn’t get you thrown in jail or the loony bin) was the notion that school districts shouldn’t instantly fire a teacher upon discovering he/she was homosexual.

71

CJColucci 01.09.12 at 4:50 pm

Aulus gelius @4:
I remember co-ed dorm frealouts well. Did it not occur to those freaked out that working-class men and women of that age often lived in mixed-sex arrangements known as apartment buildings?

72

Don Levit 01.09.12 at 4:50 pm

Being able to borrow from the Social Security trust fund to pay current expenses, and lower the deficits.
Don Levit

73

Sebastian 01.09.12 at 4:52 pm

The endless “can there be crosses” debates in the US [both sides of it really].

An interesting case about deregulation–you should see the comment sections any time Yglesias hints that hairdressers aren’t so strictly regulated in most other countries.

There was also a panic about those nibbly fish they use in some Asian spas.

There are bipartisan busybodies all the time in various iterations of the fat wars. They always make it sound like the country is going to fall apart if we don’t shame fat people a little bit more.

Hand wringing about how video games cause violence/rape is the current iteration of the Dungeons/Dragons worry. Funny how that one migrated from the right to the left. (You know all about that famously violent and rape prone Japan, right). This is one of those examples that I use whenever those on the left like to think they are immune to the anti-factual moral crusades. Nearly all the studies show that video game use is not correlated with violence, and that when correlations can be found they reduce violence. (See also porn/rape connection–the actual evidence suggests that easy access to porn reduces the incidence of rape).

And of course the all time winner has to be “think of the moral collapse if we just let people smoke pot!!!!”

74

SusanC 01.09.12 at 5:26 pm

@72: those nibbly fish are very popular in the UK right now. There’s not so much a moral panic, as speculation as to low long it’ll be before there’s an epidemic of a disease transmitted by nibbbly fish (the practise having a certain similarity to intravenous drug addicts sharing needles…)

75

Substance McGravitas 01.09.12 at 5:30 pm

The institution of the dreaded Death Panels?

76

Barry Freed 01.09.12 at 5:34 pm

We have few tablets dating to 2800 BCE, but your point stands, people were surely saying things like, “You kids get out of my palm orchard!”

We do have tablets that old. One about that old that I once saw on display at the Beinecke rare book and manuscript library at Yale was a Sumerian tablet that was a letter from a father to his son that went like this (paraphrased from memory): I worked my fingers to the bone to send you to school in the city to become a scribe and make something of yourself and yet I hear that all you are doing is hanging out with those no good friends of yours and drinking and gambling and whoring.

77

Barry Freed 01.09.12 at 5:35 pm

O moderator of comments: Please accept the comment that has the correct italic tags in it.

78

MPAVictoria 01.09.12 at 5:46 pm

How about “costume malfunctions”?

79

Brett Bellmore 01.09.12 at 5:46 pm

Opposition to concealed carry reform?

80

Guido Nius 01.09.12 at 6:07 pm

Children not standing up when the teacher enters. Any type of head garment.

81

Matt McIrvin 01.09.12 at 6:11 pm

School uniforms. Lack of school uniforms.

82

Tedra Osell 01.09.12 at 6:14 pm

Over-the-counter birth control is an obvious one: zomg, rapists will buy it for their victims! Women smoking, and cigarette companies marketing to women. The bikini, the miniskirt. Sex education. Planned Parenthood specifically and birth control/abortion generally. Welfare queens and the “undeserving” poor. Marijuana as a “gateway drug.” Anti-drug education in schools (“just say no!”). Childhood obesity and obesity generally. “Death panels.” Purity balls, “secondary virgins” and the like. Definitely single-sex bathrooms. Teh Internets Are Full of Pedophiles. No tolerance rules for things like kid short stories about violence or remarks like “I’m gonna kill you if you do that again” in schools.

83

Sebastian 01.09.12 at 6:17 pm

“those nibbly fish are very popular in the UK right now. There’s not so much a moral panic, as speculation as to low long it’ll be before there’s an epidemic of a disease transmitted by nibbbly fish (the practise having a certain similarity to intravenous drug addicts sharing needles…)”

That’s what I mean. It doesn’t have much similarity. The nibbly fish don’t have teeth, don’t break the skin, and there is no blood. They just suck off the dead skin. I guess it might be like sharing a loofa, only less so. I’m sure it isn’t totally safe, but neither is shaking hands (pesky germs).

84

Guido Nius 01.09.12 at 6:34 pm

Anything that’s only recently put in statistics and therefore lends itself easily to: when we were young there was less of that anything.

85

Reinder Dijkhuis 01.09.12 at 6:38 pm

Jeffrey@43, I know some otherwise smart people who really should know better, who are all “women are being blackbagged by their husbands and fathers, OMG We Should Do Something” based on no evidence at all. It’s not just freaks with that one.

86

Reinder Dijkhuis 01.09.12 at 6:40 pm

No evidence, that is, that this is an urgent social matter that needs remedying. I’m sure it happens, here and there, but to the best of my knowledge, the very small number of women in western countries who wear burkhas overwhelmingly choose to do so for reasons that are similar to the reasons the moral panickers had for wearing a mohawk in 1978: because it upsets the squares.

87

Philip 01.09.12 at 6:45 pm

Re Sunday opening for shops in the UK, I’m with Bjk at 19. Working conditions in retail are shitty and this made it a bit shittier. Also it led to the 24 hour opening of the huge Asda and Tesco stores and their impact on smaller businesses. I can’t remember any the end is nigh stuff about Sunday openings. A better example might be the relaxing of pub licensing laws.

88

SamChevre 01.09.12 at 6:55 pm

Secondhand smoke.

89

Uncle Kvetch 01.09.12 at 6:59 pm

Children not standing up when the teacher enters.

A conservative relative recently shared a Facebook post bemoaning the fact that US schoolchildren are no longer “allowed” to salute the flag in the morning. Complete with a kitschy, Norman Rockwell-esque illustration.

90

Guido Nius 01.09.12 at 7:07 pm

Allowing euthanasia will lead to geronticide.

91

John Quiggin 01.09.12 at 7:21 pm

92

Salient 01.09.12 at 7:24 pm

uninsured Americans receive subsidized care at the ER (via higher rates for all of us who are insured to cover the costs of caring for the uninsured)

Tangentially — in my experience a lot of tea partiers were fumingly angry to learn that people can visit the ER without ever paying for it. It wasn’t that they wanted the person to die in the streets; they wanted the person to have to make a payment plan with the ER and pay up after the fact. Variants of “take it out of their welfare money” were the most common response I experienced.

The entire tea party is one big happy restless nonstop moral panic, though I’m not sure if “I have to suffer / used to have to suffer to get this, so you ought to have to suffer for it just as much” ever goes out of style long enough to be forgotten.

93

Meredith 01.09.12 at 7:34 pm

In the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, it was some of the shabbier entertainment circuits (the Vaudeville circuit was created to be family friendly). For a while thereafter, it was certain clubs and their entertainment (e.g. jazz) and accompanying vices. Hey, what about Prohibition and speak-easies? After WWII, it was Rock ‘n Roll, later punk, and most recently, rap. Hollywood movies have always been available to be held responsible for everything bad (Jean Harlow, the sweater girl) and everything good (John Wayne, Walt Disney) in American society.
It’s not that there can’t be real problems identified in these debates (for instance, the gin mill exploitation of the working classes or, I would argue, the misogyny is some rap music). It’s the apocalyptic rhetoric that’s so striking, as if a problem can only be recognized and addressed if the fate of civilization is felt to hang on the problem’s being thoroughly solved. Such rhetoric drowns out alarms being raised legitimately, for instance, the erosion of habeas corpus and indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

94

Brett Bellmore 01.09.12 at 8:06 pm

“Tangentially—in my experience a lot of tea partiers were fumingly angry to learn that people can visit the ER without ever paying for it.”

Anybody who ends up paying for something without getting it is going to be inclined, all things being equal, to be irritated with the people who are getting it without paying for it. I don’t think this really qualifies as a “moral panic”.

95

G. McThornbody 01.09.12 at 8:14 pm

@73 I like this one.

Back when the Atari came out and in the early 80s, people were saying that games would make kids commit suicide or behave violently. It hasn’t been the case, but many countries like Australia and Germany have stricter rules than does the US. It’s still popular to press for these laws.

This one is worth a satisfying facepalm:
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2007/05/illinois-raids-welfare-to-pay-for-failed-video-game-violence-legislation.ars

Old article: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11521

grismcthorn

96

topher 01.09.12 at 8:26 pm

There was one here a year or two ago in Utah that had to do with high school girls wearing multi-colored plastic bracelets. They supposedly meant how many times she had had sex, or how many drugs she had taken, or (when boys started wearing them) the girls gave them to the boys they slept with, or took drugs with, or both. Anyway, they meant something.

97

G. McThornbody 01.09.12 at 8:39 pm

I’m curious whether we can come up with examples of the same argument-form being rather hysterically deployed in more minor cases.

This caveat makes the search a lot more fun. Most of the “bigger” issues above are widespread and have a decent amount of traction. I’m going to keep looking for smaller issues that are just as ridiculous. Here’s one of my recent favorites. I think the argument would be something like, “we’re going to get what’s coming to us if we don’t stone our misbehaved animals.”

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2010/03/tilikum-killer-whale-orca-seaworld-bible-family/1

The best quote is from the AFA blog http://action.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147492239

“What about the term “killer whale” do SeaWorld officials not understand?”

grismcthorn

98

joel hanes 01.09.12 at 9:20 pm

The V-chip

99

Trail 01.09.12 at 9:41 pm

Mellow Yellow. The electric banana.

100

Herschel 01.09.12 at 9:59 pm

they pick a particular development that, for them, crosses some kind of last-straw threshold as the place to make a stand. One more nail in the coffin, but this time we’ll fight back.

Block that metaphor!

101

G. McThornbody 01.09.12 at 10:14 pm

I got another fun one that’s been around sporadically ever since credit cards got popular: The fear of a cashless society. (The government is going to implant a microchip in your brain and all your money will be on that!) I suppose it seemed scary until people started using direct deposit and paying bills with their smartphones. End times vs. paperwork…

http://www.freemoneyfinance.com/2010/03/the-end-times-and-a-cashless-society.html

http://www.econ.kuleuven.be/ew/academic/intecon/Degrauwe/PDG-papers/Work_in_progress_Presentations/cashless.pdf

102

anonymous grad student 01.09.12 at 10:36 pm

Tattoos and body piercing. When these practices increased in the 90′s it was fairly common to see news reports and articles talking about the problems that people could have if they engaged in these practices (e.g. not getting hired for a job, people thinking they were criminals). Now tattoos and body piercing are mostly mundane. It wouldn’t be too surprising to find a high level corporate lawyer with a completely tattooed arm or who puts in a nose or eyebrow ring when they are no longer at work. If you want to freak people out you have to go for a much more extreme form of body modification.

Side note: One thing that’s interesting about the moral panic about long haired men in the 50′s and 60′s is how ahistorical it was. Before the early 19th century, long hair was very common among men for a long historical period (see for example Ben Franklin and various other founding fathers).

103

ex 01.09.12 at 10:49 pm

Didn’t know ol’ Papa B was reading this blog but apparently:

“VATICAN CITY, Jan 9 (Reuters) – Pope Benedict said on Monday that gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined “the future of humanity itself”.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/pope-benedict-xvi-gay-marriage_n_1194515.html

104

Dave 01.09.12 at 11:00 pm

animal-human hybrids. steroids.

105

PJW 01.09.12 at 11:02 pm

Benjamin Spock.

106

maidhc 01.09.12 at 11:11 pm

Selling beer and wine in supermarkets (currently being discussed in Ontario)
Child actors in plays
Boxing Day sales (once a major kerfuffle in Ontario)
Making people pay for plastic bags in shops
Motorcycle helmets
Fluoridated water
Teaching children cursive handwriting
Whether restaurants have to notify customers they are being served microwaved food
Dollar coins, metric system (US)
Two-dollar bills (US and western Canada)
Decimal currency (UK)
Alcopops
Malt liquor (US–fear of European-type alcohol level beers being marketed to poor people)

107

PJW 01.09.12 at 11:17 pm

New Math.

108

Chris Williams 01.09.12 at 11:29 pm

“Papal Agression” – AKA the move by the RCC to install a hierarchy in Britain in the mid C19th. That was going to bring the world falling down.

Also (insert new media here) is corrupting youth, either because it’s intrisically awful or because it’s so addictive they steal to get it. Penny dreadfuls, the interwar cinema, American comics, video nasties: you name it, it’s eventually been a source of nostalgia for respectable 60somethings.

109

dilbert dogbert 01.09.12 at 11:33 pm

My late father-in-law told me during the long hair and bra burning era about students in his High School being expelled for having “Prussian” short hair and girls for wearing bras.

110

PJW 01.09.12 at 11:43 pm

Comic books and their alleged potential for deleterious impact on the nation’s youth, thus the Comic Code Authority. The horror.

111

Barry Freed 01.09.12 at 11:52 pm

topher at 96 reminds me of rainbow parties.

112

Nabakov 01.10.12 at 12:07 am

The now emerging issue of correctly dating Assyrian clay tablets?

113

Meredith 01.10.12 at 12:21 am

It’s crucial that we date Assyrian clay tablets accurately. The origins of civilization depend on it, and on the origins depend the ends.

114

Happy Heyoka 01.10.12 at 12:36 am

Some of the above strike me as not so much causing moral panic at the time but in retrospect unethical and/or immoral.

An example, not from my gen-x lifetime, is the married women and working thing; one of my favourite women in science (Ruby Payne-Scott) experienced this and we are all diminished for it. But was this some kind of economic policy (eg:jobs for returned veterans) or a moral policy?

With hindsight, some panics like “stranger danger” shone the spotlight in exactly the wrong place.

Some of the panics have staying power – I’m guessing the “long hair” comments were from those who were young adults in the 60s and 70s; I was beaten up for having long hair (ie: gay) in front of my girlfriend in the 80s. I’m sure it still happens.

Some were about things that (again, from my gen-x perspective) largely just got absorbed into everyday living – from what I’ve read about the early days of Television, it was either going to save us or destroy us…

115

Matt McIrvin 01.10.12 at 12:41 am

I got in some trouble here a while back for making too much of a really obscure one: the merits, disadvantages and nefarious agendas behind various world map projections.

116

shah8 01.10.12 at 1:29 am

Girls becoming more successful than boys in schools.

117

Curious 01.10.12 at 1:49 am

Genetically modified food.

118

PJW 01.10.12 at 1:58 am

The mythical Discipline List (hereafter, simply DL), which cited such barbarisms as littering and chewing gum in class as discipline problems faced by schoolteachers in 1940s America. Interestingly, and speaking to Professor Holbo’s point about “anxiety” in his introductory posts, the Yale professor (Barry O’Neill) who in the 1990s got to the bottom of the fraud, used the word “anxiety” to describe an effect or intended effect of the bogus DL, fabricated in the 1980s by a Dallas businessman. Incidentally, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell alludes to the DL in No Country for Old Men as an example of the country going down the tubes (Bell also says things are pretty much toast when folks quit saying “Yes, maam” and “No, maam.”)
Signs and wonders.

More here:
http://www.snopes.com/language/document/school.asp

119

chris 01.10.12 at 2:11 am

The now emerging issue of correctly dating Assyrian clay tablets?

The precise date isn’t exactly the point — a *clay tablet* complaining about how everyone wants to write a *book* has a pretty serious internal consistency problem. (And why do they want to write a book, anyway? In a society with a negligible number of literate people to sell to, and no intellectual property laws to return a profit to the author even if you do? For that matter, in a 90%+ illiterate society, how many people can really aspire to write anything?)

Tattoos and body piercing. When these practices increased in the 90’s it was fairly common to see news reports and articles talking about the problems that people could have if they engaged in these practices (e.g. not getting hired for a job, people thinking they were criminals).

IMO the new wave of this is sexting and other use of high technology for finding and/or communicating with potential sexual partners. The current conventional wisdom is that anyone who provides — gasp! — PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE they have naughty bits will never hold a job in the next 50 years. Unless, of course, they’re lucky enough to be hired by people who are no longer inclined to obsess over the fact that their fellow human beings have naughty bits and are sometimes inclined to use them. That doesn’t seem to ever dawn on the elderly columnists behind the moral panics.

120

tomslee 01.10.12 at 2:32 am

I read one or two items scattered through this list and think “Actually that was a pretty bad change.” Not so much the individual expression ones (tattoos and correctly-dated assyrian tablets are fine) as the ever-creeping infiltration of markets further into our lives. Drip drip drip.

Then there was that time they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

121

PJW 01.10.12 at 2:57 am

The Rev. Falwell’s exegetical excursion into the land of the Teletubbies and coming out on the other side with the fevered claim that Tinky Winky was gay. I don’t recall if an uproar ensued. I think my daughter may have been into Barney at this time.

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/11/us/national-news-briefs-falwell-sees-gay-in-a-teletubby.html

122

Patrick 01.10.12 at 3:03 am

Grade “inflation”.

123

garymar 01.10.12 at 3:38 am

And not only was there no Assyria in 2800 BCE; you write it “Assyria” but pronounce it as “electrical banana“.

I remember the long hair/short hair culture wars in the 1960s in my suburban Detroit high school. During one heated school board meeting a board member got up and started quoting I Corinthians 11:14 at us.

124

Meredith 01.10.12 at 4:32 am

The decline of civilization began when people no longer had to memorize (as my mother had to) “The Assyrian came like a wolf on the fold.” (She liked reciting that line, I have no idea why, and then would laugh and laugh, so I’ve always liked it.) At about this time, Oxford was no longer requiring Latin for admission. I now use that line about the Assyrian wolf when teaching Greek anapests. And my students laugh and laugh, and learn their anapests, so civilization is hanging on by a thin reed. Or a robust one. Laughter.

125

Salient 01.10.12 at 5:02 am

What about, say, mandated nutrition information on food packaging?

That might even stand a chance at winning the “it has become completely incomprehensible how this could have possibly been in any way apocalyptically controversial” game.

The attempt to ban/delegitimate hydrogenated oils and other “trans fat” products. I did a double take at all those “Kan’t Fry Chicken”

126

Salient 01.10.12 at 5:03 am

protest signs. (Apparently shift plus enter equals submit? Sorries for the double-post.)

127

Keith Kisser 01.10.12 at 5:03 am

Rock and Roll.

As recent as the late 80s, people were dead convinced that rock music was a summoning chant for Satan and led to promiscuity, drug use and a disrespect for authority figures. This fear seems to have transferred wholesale to violent video games.

But in retrospect it’s hilarious that people freaked out over kids listening to Ozzy Osborne music only for a decade later, the same song to be used to advertise an SUV in a TV commercial.

128

stubydoo 01.10.12 at 5:05 am

All those people who double-post their blog comments.

129

Substance McGravitas 01.10.12 at 5:06 am

What about, say, mandated nutrition information on food packaging?

Ooh ooh ooh FLOURIDATION.

130

Keith Kisser 01.10.12 at 5:25 am

PJW@121:

Falwal vs. the Teletubies was just a symptom of millennial gay panic. Which itself will be just a footnote referring to the weird old days when people actually believed in static sexual orientation.

131

Meredith 01.10.12 at 5:26 am

Insert “down” after “came.” The hazards of oral transmission. I don’t know if my mother used to omit the “down” or I failed to hear her say it. But I always tend to leave it out…. (Byron pronounces Assyrians funny, I guess, if his anapests are going to work.)

Definitely, Rock ‘n Roll. If you weren’t there in the 50′s, you wouldn’t believe the apocalyptic drama it produced. Not among politicians, though. What’s interesting to me in the examples people provide here is the way, increasingly since Nixon, issues that were part of larger civic/popular discourse but not of political (campaign and such) discourse have become entrenched in both discourses, or rather, that the two discourses have become one.

132

Jim Harrison 01.10.12 at 5:36 am

For some reason, I always remember the line as “the Assyrian came down with a cough and a cold….”

133

G. McThornbody 01.10.12 at 5:52 am

@129 I love it!

Ice cream, Mandrake. Children’s ice cream…

134

shah8 01.10.12 at 6:07 am

Oh man, I forgot the coolest moral panic!

Remember the controversy over eating potatoes way back when? The King had to eat ‘em and say um um um, do I ever luuuuurrrrrvve POTATOES!

135

Meredith 01.10.12 at 6:13 am

Thanks, Jim Harrison! I will use that within a matter of weeks!

136

lurker 01.10.12 at 6:34 am

Steroids in professional sports.

137

Harold 01.10.12 at 6:36 am

Tuscan proverb: Si stava meglio quando si stava peggio (“We were better off when things were worse”)

138

basil 01.10.12 at 6:44 am

Filthy Fifteen, and earlier, miscegenation – still gets some people worked up across the planet or at least overly curious.

Got to say. Some of these seem like too much of a fuss when you’re far removed from them, but the Tesco example or fear and loathing of multinationals seem to me totally valid and worthy of support. These two have very real effects on people’s lives.

Also, wouldn’t most parents not want their children to celebrate and participate in violence and war – even those who do not think that playing violent video games would lead their children into violent crime?

139

Chris Williams 01.10.12 at 9:40 am

Bastardy, and the end of the illegitimacy stigma. I used to teach this by playing Diana Ross’s _Love Child_ to people born about ten years after it was recorded.

Paying a tad of attention to the spirit of the original post, I’d like to flag up the privatisation of the National Coal Board. Given the massive fuss about it (and yes, I know it was tied up with closing down the pits) at the time, you might expect someone to be calling for re-nationalisation, or even talking about it. Unlike the railways and the public utilities, nada. Also, I can’t hear calls for the re-nationalisation of British Telecom.

140

Alex 01.10.12 at 10:05 am

Some of us in the business think BT Openreach (the bit that owns the copper access network and, importantly, the right-of-way and the civil engineering works) ought to be back in the public sector like Network Rail.

Anyway, Crichel Down. There’s a buke called The Collapse of British Democracy from the mid 70s that literally argues that THE END TIMES ARE UPON US because some Labour councillors weren’t surcharged for something or other although the law creating that hadn’t been passed yet.

141

MR Bill 01.10.12 at 2:17 pm

“It’s the End of the World!”
“It’s always the end of somebody’s world…”

142

DaveL 01.10.12 at 2:36 pm

Many of these are just sub-categories of “teenagers having different tastes than their parents and grandparents.” I think it was P. J. O’Rourke who said that if teenagers started a fad of standing around with their hands in their pockets, it would lead to a national panic.

In my high school (in the mid-60s) a girl was expelled for wearing a “granny dress” and you could be disciplined for wearing blue jeans to school. John F. Kennedy was criticized for not wearing a top hat at his inauguration.

Clothing is always good for a cheap moral panic. “Kids these days!”

143

Uncle Kvetch 01.10.12 at 3:05 pm

Clothing is always good for a cheap moral panic. “Kids these days!”

Indeed. How could we have missed this one?

144

Matt McIrvin 01.10.12 at 3:05 pm

I read one or two items scattered through this list and think “Actually that was a pretty bad change. Not so much the individual expression ones (tattoos and correctly-dated assyrian tablets are fine) as the ever-creeping infiltration of markets further into our lives. Drip drip drip.

Me too. But that’s inevitable with this kind of thing, and it doesn’t exclude them from consideration. These are the cases where your values, or mine, are the ones eroding away, and we latch on some particular symptom to moral-panic about.

145

ajay 01.10.12 at 3:11 pm

John F. Kennedy was criticized for not wearing a top hat at his inauguration.

John F Kennedy did wear a top hat at his inauguration. (Eisenhower didn’t.)

http://www.snopes.com/history/american/jfkhat.asp

146

ajay 01.10.12 at 3:14 pm

Young people today, with their mullets and their violent sports…

“First the [Nika] rebels revolutionized the style of wearing their hair. For they had it cut differently from the rest of the Romans…clipping the hair short on the front of the head down to the temples, and letting it hang down in great length and disorder in the back, as the Massageti do. This weird combination they called the Hun haircut.”
– Procopius

147

mrearl 01.10.12 at 3:52 pm

Dirty words on the tube. But that one’s still with us, as of today’s SCOTUS session.

148

Chris Williams 01.10.12 at 4:16 pm

I tried to get Radio 4 to do a “Things We Forgot To Remember” episode on Crichel Down, back when I could call (some of) the shots. They didn’t bite.

149

Jeffrey Davis 01.10.12 at 4:17 pm

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Autism’s links to vaccinations
calculators in math classes
gender sensitive descriptions of God
bi-lingualism
the decline of newspapers

150

Matt McIrvin 01.10.12 at 4:23 pm

The current conventional wisdom is that anyone who provides—gasp!—PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE they have naughty bits will never hold a job in the next 50 years.

I think an underlying worry here is that almost nobody will hold a job, and the few who manage to get them will be a superhuman elite who have run an arduous gantlet of arbitrary rejection. Refuse to hire people who put naughty pictures of themselves on the Internet? Sure, why not; it may make no sense, but it’s another way to cut down the stack of 10,000 resumes. Of course, in the absence of data, it’s like Pascal’s wager; you have no confidence that the crucial dealbreaker won’t be something else, or even the opposite.

151

Barry Freed 01.10.12 at 4:29 pm

And they said, “Negotium in the front, festum in the back”

Just a note that my above at #76 is about tablets in general and Sumerian ones specifically. I had not intended to wade into the bitter controversy surrounding the dating of Assyrian tablets.

152

Barry Freed 01.10.12 at 4:31 pm

And that first bit was re Ajay’s #146, natch.

153

Uncle Kvetch 01.10.12 at 5:11 pm

bi-lingualism

“Press 1 for English” is the Arbeit macht frei of liberal fascism.

154

Niall McAuley 01.10.12 at 5:12 pm

Matt McIrvin @#150: This reminds me of Ricky Gervais in The Office: the hiring manager throwing half of a pile of applications into the bin unread to avoid hiring unlucky people.

155

DaveL 01.10.12 at 9:20 pm

ajay #145: “John F Kennedy did wear a top hat at his inauguration. (Eisenhower didn’t.)”

I remember my parents believing he didn’t, and disapproving. Just goes to show why 1968 happened, I guess: parental untrustworthiness. Of course, my acquaintance the right-wing email list purveyor thinks Snopes is a couple of sneaky, untrustworthy liberals, so who can tell?

156

Phil 01.10.12 at 9:24 pm

I can’t hear calls for the re-nationalisation of British Telecom.

I think it was on the Guardian letters page recently that I saw someone explaining knowledgeably that, while renationalisation of this or that privatised industry might seem like a good idea (indeed, in some ways he, the writer, would support it), unfortunately it just wasn’t a realistic idea. After all, the government couldn’t just go around seizing private property!

So perhaps that’s why nobody’s calling for the renationalisation of British Telecom – people have forgotten that it’s even possible.

157

Philip 01.10.12 at 10:30 pm

Phil, yeah with the nationalisation or part-nationalisation of Network Rail, East Coast Trains, Northern Rock,RBS, and anything else I I can’t think of at the moment, I thought there might have been some wider debate about nationalisation. At the moment the consesus of opinion seems to be it may be necessary to prevent complete failure but if anything is nationalised it should privatised again ASAP.

158

stubydoo 01.10.12 at 11:50 pm

Never mind whether or not Kennedy wore a top hat, who cares about that. Have none of you noticed that the impudent charlatan – horror of horrors – failed to put on a wig?

159

PJW 01.11.12 at 12:59 am

Lowering the national speed limit? Seems to have some kinship with the daylight savings time example.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Maximum_Speed_Law

And as a subset of the rock and roll example mentioned above, how about the fuss raised over alleged backmasking? Oh, the chicanery! Records were destroyed, calls for legislation were made and acted upon, Paul lived. I always wanted to listen to Beatles records backwards but lacked the proper equipment to do so.

160

garymar 01.11.12 at 1:15 am

ku-ku-ka-chu!

161

Miranda 01.11.12 at 3:52 am

Thongs! Low rise jeans! Flip flops as fancy shoes! Rap music! The reaction to that woman who let her kid ride the subway alone that one time! Title IX!

162

Phil 01.11.12 at 8:09 am

Northern Rock hasn’t been nationalised, it’s been taken into public ownership. RBS is different again – I think the most anyone will admit to is that the government owns a majority share of it. The idea that the government might actually say “hey, we own this bank! our bank! Government Bank! National Bank! Say hello to the National Banking Service!”… I’m not sure anyone even suggested that, even under Labour.

163

Chris Williams 01.11.12 at 11:02 am

I don’t think that in the UK today ‘re-nationalisation’ is right off the agenda, even using those very words. But (outside the Millies) it needs to have ‘energy’, ‘water’ or ‘railways’ next to it to have purchase.

164

Tim Wilkinson 01.11.12 at 11:45 am

perhaps that’s why nobody’s calling for the renationalisation of British Telecom – people have forgotten that it’s even possible.

And thus, Orwell-style, the effects of privatisation (and non-nationalisation, e.g. of banks) can’t really be thought catastrophic. My #21 was not entirely in jest. See also http://crookedtimber.org/2012/01/06/land-of-unequal-opportunity/#comment-395509:

For this current generation of young people and for the generations that come after it the idea of social mobility will be a quaint relic of a bygone age

165

Matt McIrvin 01.11.12 at 12:36 pm

@Niall: Maybe he’d read Ringworld.

166

ajay 01.11.12 at 1:06 pm

The idea that the government might actually say “hey, we own this bank! our bank! Government Bank! National Bank! Say hello to the National Banking Service!”… I’m not sure anyone even suggested that, even under Labour.

This is essentially what the Post Office is: a government-owned national banking service that will give you a credit card, lend you a mortgage, give you a current account, savings account, ISA, etc.

167

ajay 01.11.12 at 1:09 pm

I remember my parents believing he didn’t, and disapproving. Just goes to show why 1968 happened, I guess: parental untrustworthiness.

He didn’t wear a top hat while delivering his inaugural address – he took it off and put it on the seat behind him. But then neither did Ike. Or Truman.

168

Nababov 01.11.12 at 1:16 pm

Subliminal advertising. I particularly liked the old skulls in the ice cube in whiskey riff.

Mind you, it’s getting pretty pervasive if not persuasive these days.

Blipverts! How would you capture in fiction these days literally killer advertising concepts?

Also, on the whole Assyrian tablets dating controversy, I bow to the experts here. But I agree with the commentators agreeing with me that it does highlight that the whole “O tempora o mores” boogie has been going on like forever. And yet here we still are.

169

Nababov 01.11.12 at 1:20 pm

However I can see a flamewar now erupting about the exact definition of the exact moment when you remove your topper before taking the Presidential Oath. No doubt the Assyrians had a word for it.

170

Matt McIrvin 01.11.12 at 1:24 pm

The Daylight Saving Time example is an interesting one, in that there’s at least some evidence that DST doesn’t do any good as advertised and in fact does harm, so it may well be a stupid idea, even a deadly one (from car accidents around switchover time).

Yet it is obviously not the downfall of civilization, and many discussions of it don’t even get to the point of understanding of how it is supposed to work, or raise ill-informed objections such as “how can you pass a law to alter a universal constant of nature?” So one gets into the uncomfortable position of having to partially defend it in order to attack it properly.

171

Alison P 01.11.12 at 1:31 pm

‘Privatisation’ is now a dirty word though, and ‘privatised industry’ is a curse, and that’s a big change. I hear plenty people say ‘we should renationalise industry x’. Not Telecom to be fair, because I think that is an area where capitalism seems to work quite well, but everything else.

172

Matt McIrvin 01.11.12 at 1:37 pm

In the US, I don’t think it’s a dirty word, yet. We had people warning of socialist nationalization when the government took over General Motors, even though GM was failing at the time, and the whole point was to get it working again as a private company (which was done with remarkable success).

173

Matt McIrvin 01.11.12 at 1:38 pm

…”Private” in the sense of not being a government institution, of course.

174

Alison P 01.11.12 at 1:50 pm

No, you are right of course, I was referring only to the change of tone in my own country.

175

Tim Wilkinson 01.11.12 at 3:21 pm

Alison P – Not Telecom to be fair, because I think that is an area where capitalism seems to work quite well

is this right? My impression is that BT has control of the market and is a massive rip-off.

ajay – This is essentially what the Post Office is: a government-owned national banking service

I’m pretty sure this isn’t right. I’d say ‘essentially’, there’s a link with, er, postal services. To be less pedantic: I don’t think it offers a current account with cash point access. I’m not too sure it is more than a re-seller of other services either (the basic bank account that uses post office counter service is – I think – actually a third-party product, for example). I stand to be corrected, though.

176

ajay 01.11.12 at 4:02 pm

Yeah, on closer inspection that’s right – it’s a sellthrough from Bank of Ireland (so are the mortgages). I know there were plans for Post Office current accounts a couple of years ago but I am not sure they went through.

177

bigcitylib 01.11.12 at 4:08 pm

In Canada, the imposition of the metric system was sometimes given as a reason for the West to secede from the rest of the nation.

178

Philip 01.11.12 at 4:51 pm

Phil @162, that’s what I was getting at with ‘part-nationalisiation’, ‘quasi-nationalisation’ or being substantially in public ownership would have been better. Chris Williams, okay it gets talked about but not seriously by either of the main parties.

179

Harold 01.11.12 at 6:22 pm

On the other hand, cultural systems are like metropolitan bridge, water, and subway systems, in need of perpetual replacement and repair, so all the doom and gloom is not necessarily unrealistic. These systems do not maintain themselves: there is progress and there is regress (decline).

180

Curmudgeon 01.12.12 at 3:24 am

Using the Internet to listen to music or watch movies without paying for them.

181

Sev 01.12.12 at 10:38 pm

#110 Yes, I remember this still being an issue when I was a kid (early 1960s). Recently reprised here: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/03/31/080331crbo_books_menand

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CJ 01.16.12 at 7:45 am

#177, never mind metric — the bigger issue is Trudeau mandating French on cereal boxes, thus unconsciously brainwashing our children at breakfast. Maudit francais!

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