Lobsterless Lobster Salad & the Riotous Looting in the UK

I love the cartoon showing a hapless customer in a books store facing three shelves of books. One is labeled FICTION, the next NON-FICTION and the third, NOT SURE.

It gets at the impact of relativism in daily life.

For a humorous example that has as a side benefit the simultaneous deflation of New Yorker’s smug superiority complex, read this story about the Lobsterless Lobster Salad at Zabars. (Zabars web site website slogan is NY is Zabars. Zabars is NY!)

Turns out for 15 years, Zabars, New York’s famous fine food purveyor has been selling a lobster salad that contains no Lobster and has been getting $16.95 per pound for it!

As reporter James Barron reports, Saul Zabar, the 83-year-old president and co-owner of Zabar’s is mounting a spirited defense, “selling lobsterless lobster salad, he insisted, is not dishonest.” In  a conversation with Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Council, Mr. Zabar said, “‘New Yorkers would not understand what crawfish was, but that it was in the ‘lobster family.’ To Mr. Somers, that was like saying trout and minnows were in the fish family.”

On a more serious note Chuck Colson calls the recent outbreak of violence in the UK an “attack of feral children.” Colson argues that the riots are the evidence of a generation bereft of absolute truth and marinated in a culture of freedom without responsibility.

He quotes British historian and journalist Max Hastings, who in a bleak assessment concludes, “the people who wrecked swathes of property, burned vehicles and terrorized communities have no moral compass to make them susceptible to guilt or shame…They know no family role models, for most live in homes in which the father is unemployed, or from which he has decamped. They are illiterate and innumerate, beyond maybe some dexterity with computer games and BlackBerries.”

Colson and Hastings may be reductionist in explaining the riots, but it is hard to disagree that we are witnessing a widespread deterioration of common moral decency, and that it flows, in part, from a zeitgeist of self-interest and radical individualism in a western world that has abandoned absolute truth.

Prime Minister David Cameron took a more balanced approach, attributing the recent riots and looting to a moral failure of the powerful, for not addressing the issues of the powerless, and of the rioters, for not protesting within the bounds of the law and basic human decency.

“Britain must confront a culture of laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness,” Cameron said.  This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face… Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.”

Today we have lost our common moral ground and are sometimes looking a tad bit barbaric.

It would be good to remember that ancient civilizations viewed the pursuit of commonly held virtues as a path out of barbarism.

The Hebrews aimed for the righteous life and defined it as being “right with God and right with your fellow humans.” Jesus said this is the summary of the entire law. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” A common ancient rule is, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The Greeks saw a virtuous citizenry as the bedrock of a democratic republic.  Philosopher Heraclitus warned, “the soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.  Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice.  Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become.”

George Washington, our founding President, organized his life around 110 rules he wrote up in a little book called Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They were based on lists made by French Jesuits in 1595.

The Apostle Paul, following the Greek maxim that you are what you think, advised 1st century Christians, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Our society is unraveling partly because we have abandoned the virtues that produce noble lives. This is true of the rich who lack concern for the poor, and the powerless when they take the law into their own hands.

When a society abandons the common good for radical self-ism, the result is the decline of that civilization.



Posted in Staublog in August 15, 2011 by | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to Lobsterless Lobster Salad & the Riotous Looting in the UK

  1. 081511 | Dick Staub on August 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

    […] Our society is unraveling, in part, because we have abandoned the virtues leading to noble lives and exchanged them for absolute individualism. When a society moves from a concern for the common good and accountability to the creator, to radical self-ism the result is the deterioration of the civilization. Read More. […]

  2. Tarry on August 15, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    When Watts and Detroit were burned and looted in the 60’s, and when LA riots commenced after the Rodney King verdict, middle class white people were often on the “see, these people have no moral compass” bandwagon.

    But more thoughtful people looked at what was happening and saw young people who had no hope, no opportunities and quite simply, exploded in rage. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t commendable, but it made a certain kind of sense.

    I’ll take the judgment of “individualism” as long as we are willing to look at the kind of indivdividualism that has left so many, even in first world nations, without hope of a job or a future. While meanwhile, millionaires become billionaires, by the bucketful.

    Perhaps the major sin is not out where we can see it — but buried in the polite boardrooms and government meetings where school funding and unemployment benefits are cut, where jobs are shipped overseas to those willing to work for almost nothing while their natural environments are destroyed, and where the big agricultural producers are underwritten in such a way as to make “subsistance farming” –living off the fruit of one’s labor– an impossibility.

    Where is the real violence and lawlessness?

  3. Dick Staub on August 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    This is a valid point. The question still stands, at what point does hopelessness justify breaking universal moral codes like not murdering, stealing, lying, committing adultery?

    IN a truly virtuous society the rich would be concerned about injustice against the poor. That is why just last week I posted to Tolstoy quote: “There is something wrong with the order of this world when the rich live off the labors of the poor. They are fed by them, live in the houses they build, and are served by them—and if that isn’t enough, they establish charities for them and think themselves benefactors.”

  4. Tarry on August 16, 2011 at 5:28 am

    It does not excuse, but I am concerned to read Prime Minister Cameron, of the Conservative Party, say someting close to what you have written:

    “Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face. Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged, sometimes even incentivized, by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralized.”

    Adding, in response to efforts on the part of the Liberal party to examine root causes, “to explain is to excuse.”

    And so it is that his party will resist all attempts to understand and to apportion blame more widely– preferring to fix its attention on the rioters, and to propose punishment as the solution.

    In other words, if Cameron has his way, there will be no addressing of the conditions under which some behaviors emerge. And the ultimate irony is, the poor behavior that is “incentivized”–to use his word, is not what we saw in the streets last week. But it is a good description of Wall Street and its British counterparts.

    5 people died in the rioting last week. How many more will die as a result of national and international economic conditions created by polite, quiet people in boardrooms.

    I once heard someone judge Martin Luther’s advocacy for the brutal putdown of the Peasant’s uprisings attributed to “his inordinate fear of chaos.” We latter day Christians would be wise to study that time and that attitude. Instinctively we recoil from violence in the streets– but what about the violence that proceeds it?

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