Everything's Relative

Students don't learn about right and wrong in college, according to a poll commissioned by the National Association of Scholars.

Three quarters of all college seniors report being taught that right and wrong depend "on differences in individual values and cultural diversity." Only about a quarter reported their professors as adhering to the traditional view that "there are clear and uniform standards of right and wrong by which every one should be judged."

Perhaps the most depressing result: 56 percent of college seniors believed the only difference between Enron executives and those at most other big companies is that Enron execs "got caught." Business and accounting majors were just as cynical as their classmates. 

Adults are cynical too. 

College students claim to believe in nothing. 

Unfaithfully Correct 

Now there's an etiquette guide for cheaters: 

"The reality is affairs are wrong and immoral, but if nearly half of all married people end up having an affair, shouldn't someone be out there telling them how to do it right?" asks Judith Brandt, who has written "The 50-Mile Rule: Your Guide to Infidelity and Extramarital Etiquette" (Ten Speed Press)...

Judicious journalism requires us to point out that adultery has been a no-no since Moses came down the mount with those rules carved in stone. But beyond the biblical imperatives and the fact that adultery is illegal in 27 states, extramarital affairs break hearts, wreck homes, cost a bundle (not just in hotels and restaurants, but later in legal fees and alimony), and leave you vulnerable to disease and blackmail. That said, we can responsibly move on...

Chief among her rules: Lovers should live and work at least 50 miles apart, and preferably a state or two away. "People are so lazy," she says. "They go for proximity and don't think about what happens when you dump this person then have to see them at work every day. What happens when your former squeeze sees your wife at the company picnic?"

In a way, etiquette is coming full circle. The word "courtesy" derives from the elaborate etiquette of courtly love in medieval days. And courtly love was about single knights playing love games with married women. I don't think the rules allowed, um, physical intimacy. They were designed to give the parties a thrill without making married men uncertain of the paternity of their heirs. 

But Americans don¹t really think that anything goes. This horrible story gives sophisticates a chance to rediscover right and wrong. Specifically, wrong. 


A tribal jury in Pakistan ordered the gang-rape of an 18-year-old girl because her 11-year-old brother walked unchaperoned with a girl from a higher-status tribe. The victim was told that if she didn't submit, all the women in the family would be raped. Four men, including one of the jurors, carried out the sentence. 

Here's the victim's story

This is the sort of thing that gives cultural imperialism a good name. 

Independence Day 

On July 3, I heard the San Jose Symphony play at Stanford. It's one of the symphony's final concerts; they're bankrupt. But conductor Leonid Grin, a Russian émigré, was in good heart and in good humor. 

The symphony performed Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. A firefighter who led a local team to New York City to work on the rescue effort read the narration. Copland took the words, selected from Lincoln's speeches, in 1942. I thought the audience pulsed with recognition in a few places:

Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history...The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We — even we here — hold the power and bear the responsibility...It is the eternal struggle between two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world.

Right and wrong. Honest Abe always was a bit simplistic. 

Great fireworks at the end, too. 

Instinctive Patriotism

India-born Dinesh D'Souza says immigrants come to America to make their own destiny. 

Russian-born Eugene Volokh honors his parents' courage in leaving the Soviet Union for an unknown future in America. A UCLA law professor, Volokh's speciality is First Amendment law. 

In the Washington Post, an Allentown, Pa., principal says immigrants are more "civic-minded" than native-born students because they appreciate America. 

Overall, students are bone ignorant about civics, but there's some hope.

"The level of instinctive patriotism in the United States is very high," said William Galston, director of the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy. "[But] this instinctive patriotism is not well supported by what may be called knowledgeable patriotism."

Actually, I think instinctive patriotism doesn¹t need much support. It can survive ignorance about the mechanics of government. It can survive college sophistries.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at ReadJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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