According to a jury of its peers, 2 Live Crew meets the community standards of Broward County, Fla. After listening to "He'll tear the {expletive for vagina} open 'cause it's satisfaction" and "Grabbed one by the hair, threw her on the floor/opened up her thighs and guess what I saw," jury foreman David Garsow, of the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church choir, was unfazed. "Representing a cross section of the community as we do," he declared, "we did not feel it was obscene."

Broward County has thus confirmed what most of us know. Community standards, having adjusted to fit the culture, have reached a new low. Standards in publishing, for example, have hit so low that at Simon & Schuster, reports Time,the publication of "American Psycho," Bret Easton Ellis's new novel, has left some editorial staff outraged. It is filled with such degrading violence and torture, particularly of women, that Ellis's past cover artist has refused to design this one. "I felt disgusted with myself for reading it," he said. Simon & Schuster, unfazed, plans to "market it aggressively."

Of course, that American popular culture is drenched in sex and violence, and a degrading combination of the two is a truism. But it is then hard to understand the surprise that greets the resulting degradation and depravity of real life: a quadrupling of rapes in 30 years, random shootings of children(four in one eight-day period in New York), a doubling of the number of youths shot to death in the last six years alone.

What happened to innocence? The number of 14-to-17-year-olds arrested today is 30 times what it was in 1950. Every year, one in 10 teenage girls gets pregnant. Teen suicides, now the second leading cause of death among adolescents, are double what they were 20 years ago.

These signs of decay produce a general puzzlement. How did we get to such a pass? How? Well, life imitates art. Culture has consequences. Is it so hard to make a connection between culture and society? Most people, and in particular 2 Live Crew's intellectual defenders, fervently believe in the connection between good art and the good society. If they did not think that good art is elevating, artists would not make it and the people would not support it. And yet the corollary -- if good art can elevate then bad art can degrade -- is a proposition they refuse to grasp.

Kids see 10,000 killings on TV by age 18. Is it any wonder that a growing number might like to commit just one? Sexual aggression and misogyny are celebrated in rap. Is it any wonder that kids arrested for rape and murder are utterly conscienceless and uncomprehending? MTV is a nonstop masturbation fantasy. Is it any wonder that a generation of teens raised on it produces a million pregnancies every year?

In order to deny the obvious, however, the social pathologies of American life are ascribed not to culture but to government:to cuts in spending, lack of health care, insufficient sex education. As Bill Bennett said recently of a report cataloging the growing agony of American adolescents, "The Code Blue report says the problem is behavior, not health. ... Yet its major recommendations are health-service related (guaranteed access to health services and health instruction for teenage students, for example). In other words, Code Blue identifies a crisis of the spirit, a sickness in the soul, and it recommends (in effect) aspirin, Band-Aids, and a hall pass to see the nurse."

As a psychiatrist, I used to see psychotic patients who, urged on by voices inside their heads, did crazy and terrible things, like immolating themselves. Now we have legions of kids walking around with the technological equivalent: 2 Live Crew wired by Walkman directly into their brains, proposing to "bust your {same expletive again}then break your backbone. ... I wanna see you bleed." Surprised that a whole generation is busting and breaking and bleeding? Culture has consequences.

But hasn't mass culture always settled on the lowest common denominator? Yes, but the lowest common denominator is not what it used to be. It has been sinking rapidly. There is no comparing the brutality and cynicism of today's pop culture to that of 40 years ago. From "High Noon" to "Robocop" is a long descent.

And it is not just that we have never had a denominator so low. We have never had a culture so mass. In the past, a libertarianism that permitted everything to be said and done could at worst corrupt the intellectuals, a rather dispensable class. Today no child escapes the assault of an omnivorous, omnipresent culture.

Until now, no society had combined total liberty with mass culture, let alone with technology that hard wires the stuff into the brain. History is therefore no guide as to what happens next. The mayhem in the streets, however, tells the story.