I should be clearer about what I mean when I say that we could all do with a great deal more scandal. It’s not actually the supply that is lacking. Potentially the stock is more or less unlimited. Nor is it quite a demand problem, because it’s not something anyone can really desire. What we no longer seem to possess and what we need desperately, I think, is the ability to recognize that it exists at all, that our actions have consequences beyond those immediately affected by them, for good or ill. When a person who matters somehow in your life does something wrong, you are affected by it, whether you are the immediate object of it or not. When we give scandal to others what we are really doing is committing an offense against their dignity as persons. The crimes that give rise to scandal might be against bodies or bank accounts or buildings — but the scandal that follows from them is an attack upon the soul.
We no longer recognize scandal, I think, probably because very few of us have any idea what it would be like not to be scandalized. American politics, virtually the entire entertainment industry, vast swathes of the internet, ordinary unremarkable conduct that most of us under the age of 50 or so grew up thinking was normal in courtship or family life or office or educational culture: All of these have been an uninterrupted source of scandal our entire lives. We are immured in scandal, nurtured and habituated in it, so broken that we cannot remember wholeness, like W. H. Auden’s innocents “Lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good.”