- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

John Kenneth Galbraith’s fretting over an affluent society was misconceived. The greatest danger to the United States is an effete society. Indulgence, excess, hedonism, aimlessness, and whining are pervasive. Ambition, responsibility, perseverance and moderation are disparaged or renounced.

But a great nation cannot endure with a culture that celebrates decadence and softness over loftiness and toughness. A national creed that acclaims the hero over the anti-hero must be inculcated to escape the fate of Rome.

The reinstatement of an obesity lawsuit against McDonald’s by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals exemplifies the effete society. In Pelman vs. McDonald’s Corp. (Jan. 25), two gluttonous youths, through their respective parents, sued the Golden Arches bemoaning their girths, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol intake and related cancers. The obese plaintiffs insinuated McDonald’s signature high-caloric menu would have been resisted in favor of a more nutritional diet if they had known regularly consuming Big Macs, fries and a large Coke with no exercise would yield suboptimal health. According to a unanimous three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit, that insinuation was sufficient to state a claim of deception under section 349 of the New York General Business Law.

In a noneffete society, the Pelman suit would have been unthinkable. The parents would have lectured their children on moderation in all things, not played spectator to self-destruction. They would have taught that the remedy for gluttony and indolence is self-restraint and strenuous exercise, not litigation in search of a scapegoat.

In the absence of such tutelage, the parents would have been sanctioned for child neglect. The three-judge panel would have summarily dismissed the obesity claim by taking judicial notice of the fact a McDonald’s menu no more causes overweight than a Peter Paul Rueben’s nude causes rape. To paraphrase from Cassius in Julius Caesar, the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves, that we are not masters of our weight.

The Pelman effeteness finds expression in all walks of life. As reported in The Washington Post Jan. 30, California’s Karuk Indians blame a spiraling of tribal diabetes and heart disease on a plunge in wild salmon catches, as if they were helpless to control their appetites or food choices. The black power elite blame antebellum slavery for the underachievement and crime of black youths who have known nothing but equal opportunity or preferences. Parents throughout the nation protest arduous homework and exacting standards of learning because their children crave extracurricular frolics and leisure.

Absurd lengths are taken to ensure every child in every activity — sports, debate, art or otherwise — is crowned with a mark of distinction to avoid deflating inflated egos. Inspiring heroes that punctuate Plutarch’s Lives and Homer’s Illiad are exchanged for jejune antiheroes more to be disdained than marveled at. An effete society, like that emerging in the United States, cherishes an equality of mediocrity, and would even prefer an equal baseness to the inequalities of a meritocracy.

To defeat effeteness in favor of strength and valor, the following complement, inspired by the Funeral Oration of Pericles, should be regularly recited after the Pledge of Allegiance: “Fix your eyes on the greatness of the United States, as it comes before you day after day. And remember that this greatness was born of brave men and women eager to sacrifice so that the living and those yet to be born could flourish in the joys of liberty. They swore eternal devotion to freedom of thought and inquiry, and eternal hostility to every form of bigotry or subjugation. They endeavored to live in fame, setting a standard to which the wise and honest might repair. It remains for us to honor what they have done, and to strive with such stainless character and unstinting industry that if the nation flourishes for 1,000 years, the world will still stand in awe and say that this was mankind’s finest hour.”

Between ashes to ashes and dust to dust, is there any morality to self-pity, laxness or indulgence?

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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