April 12th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Red Star over Canberra

EDITORIAL: Behind the bid for UN Security Council seat

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's ideas summit looms

BIOFUELS: Ethanol doesn't have to compete with food

QUARANTINE: AQIS blamed for equine influenza outbreak

FINANCE: Right and wrong way to tackle financial crisis

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The American elections / Rudd's honesty / Conservative blues / NATO's fastidious peace-keeping

TAIWAN: KMT victory paves way for improved China ties

EUROPE: The Dutch disease - how low can you go?

BIOETHICS: Man - a vanishing species?

OPINION: Twilight of the British Raj

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Beijing's one-child policy a demographic powder-keg / A nation of dunces? / Fragility of the affluent society

High cost of foregoing trade deal (letter)

Finlandisation? (letter)

News Weekly's stand on global-warming (letter)

Earth Hour a silly idea (letter)

BOOKS: THE LITERACY WARS: teaching children to read and write in Australia by Ilana Snyder

BOOKS: ORIGINS: An Atlas of Human Migration edited by Russell King

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The Dutch disease - how low can you go?

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, April 12, 2008
Holland has been in such a moral freefall over the past few decades that many people ask whether it can sink any further into the abyss, writes Bill Muehlenberg.

Holland is part of what is known as the Low Countries (because of being near or under sea level).

But Holland is not just low geographically. It is very low morally as well. Indeed, it has been in such a moral freefall over the past few decades that one wonders whether it can sink any further into the abyss.

Indeed, you have to hand it to the Dutch. When it comes to moral decadence, political correctness and sheer madness, they have to be a world leader. Holland is already famous - or infamous - for its legal euthanasia, same-sex marriage, red-light districts, marijuana cafés, and so on.


It is arguably one of the most "progressive" - that is, regressive - nations on earth. Bear in mind, however, that much of this decadence and debauchery takes place in the cities - Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, etc. - and most rural Hollanders are also appalled at their urban cousins.

But it seems that, every year, some new outrage is pulled in urban Holland. Consider the latest case of insanity. Authorities in Amsterdam have decided that public sex - both hetero and homo - is quite all right in one of the city's major parks. People in Vondelpark - which has 10 million visitors a year - can now openly and unashamedly have sex in the public park. But one new restriction has been implemented: dogs must be kept on leashes.

There you have it, folks. Human passion can run amok, but canines must be restricted. Now am I missing something here? Or am I just a bit slow on the uptake? Animal passions must be curtailed, but humans, engaging in animal passions, can run wild.

Just what is wrong with those Dutchies anyhow? Have they lost the plot altogether? Part of the reason I am concerned is I used to ride my bike through Vondelpark when I lived in Amsterdam. It used to be a nice family-friendly area. But now the Amsterdam elites have decided to turn it into a big public red-light district, much like the rest of the city.

At least in the past, families could steer clear of the well-known red-light districts. But now they can't even go to the park. And if city authorities have their way, all public parks will soon be turned into open sewers. The pornification of Amsterdam will then be about complete, and families may be forced to leave the city altogether to experience some sanity, and safe parklands.

Of course, Holland has long been known as a place of tolerance. Now that can be a good thing, and it helped Jews who sought shelter there from the Nazis. But it can also be a bad thing, when we somehow think that anything and everything must be tolerated.

Dorothy Sayers once warned, "In the world it is called Tolerance, but in Hell it is called Despair... the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."

Or, as G.K. Chesterton remarked, "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions."

The truth is, a lot of open minds need to be closed for repairs. Running to excess in most things is usually an indication that our moral braking system has worn down to nothing and is in urgent need of replacement.

The celebrated American conservative William F. Buckley, who passed away last week, once said that "civilisation is about curbing appetites". Quite right. But in much of the Western world today we are on about indulging appetites, without limit. Self-indulgence, narcissism and a total lack of self-control are now the defining hallmarks of most modern Western societies.

Another thing Buckley is noted for saying (about his magazine National Review) was that it "stands athwart history yelling Stop". The Low Countries have just got lower, but the rest of the West is not far behind. Now is a very good time indeed to be yelling Stop, before it is simply too late.

No society can last long if it seeks to only celebrate unrestrained passion and lust. Without some boundaries, some self-control and some acknowledgement of limits, we are simply headed for anarchy and nihilism.

Harmful behaviours

There are plenty of passions that are running out of control today. We eat way too much. We consume way too much. We indulge in addictive and harmful behaviours way too much. And we of course have overdosed on all things sexual.

As Will and Ariel Durant said in The Lessons of History, "The sex drive in the young is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group." That is exactly what we see happening all around us today. And Holland seems to be leading the way.

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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