Ethics Gone Awry
Is there a morals crisis in America?
In my lifetime, the moral climate in this country has changed vastly, segueing from the puritanical ’50s into the revolutionary ’60s and landing 30 years later in a questionable topsy-turvy state. People often say that the ’60s represented the sexual revolution but from my view of the decade it was more importantly about freedom. For those of you who weren’t there, it is important to remember that there was still an innocence and a lot of new ideas and beliefs that stood upon a pretty solid moral base. The greed, self-obsession and cynicism of the ’80s and ’90s were still far off.
So when did the delineation between right and wrong start to get gray and fuzzy? And how did it happen? Several social contributors to the current malaise have reared their ugly heads in the past 50 years. Some of these include television and the mass media, the transition into a lawyer/lawsuit-dominated society, miss-guided “education reform,” and the human condition where survival is no longer based upon getting your next meal or defending yourself against some very devastating diseases or natural forces. In other words, we’ve reached a complacency where surviving from day to day has gotten easier, allowing idle hands to get into trouble. Perhaps this is why the climate has been so right for religious fanaticism, including cults and the emergence of the in-your-face dominance of the Christian right. The perfect example of religion gone awry is the bent belief that it is somehow righteous to kill doctors who perform abortions. How can any moral, intelligent, thoughtful mind justify such an action? I find it hard to believe that these nuts really have a strong sense of right and wrong, yet they hide behind their respective religions, making it the perfect crime.
The true danger of religions in general is the fact that any whacko can claim that he or she receives the true word of God and can then force the followers to do reprehensible acts as dictated by these fictitious conversations (e.g., Joseph Smith). There is no logic in this. No intelligence either, and no attributing responsibility to the religious subjects who carry out the ridiculous tasks. Some excellent examples of religions with questionable ethics within their doctrine include the Mormon religion, just about any modern day cult, and even Catholicism to a certain extent. The blind following of the Pope always baffles me. Where is the logic and intelligence in this? If these assholes go to Mars and discover life, will they force the Martians to convert to their beliefs? This is commonly the mission of the missionary, is it not?
Part of the problem is a result of the educational frenzy of the past twenty or so years, whereby curriculums based upon “dead white poets and philosophers” have been thrown out to be made politically correct and “ethnically diverse.” As usual with education in this country, politicians and “well meaning” activists (often feminists) impulsively suggest reform without testing it or studying it. If it looks good on paper, it must be right. What a shame, since the absence of philosophy and logic in current curriculums is directly responsible for a general lack of the discussion of ethics and morals in the modern classroom.
The word “philosophy” evolved among its originators, the ancient Greeks, to mean “love of wisdom”. In his philosophical work “Ethics Without God,” Dr. Howard Wilcox writes “modern studies show that most people now understand one’s ‘philosophy’ as being one’s views in response to two questions: (i) What is the nature of reality, including the totality of the human scene? [and] (ii) What are the best mental attitudes — optimistic or pessimistic, faithful or skeptical, altruistic or selfish — that people can and should adopt toward all the various aspects of that reality?” In most cases, there probably isn’t anything wrong with serious religious introspection when asking oneself such questions, but why not couple it with a study of moral philosophy when searching for the real truths in life? After some bloody debate over the years about forcing the omission of prayer and religion in schools, many children with lackluster, deadbeat parents find a real deficiency of answers to life’s most important questions. But the issue of the deadbeat, irresponsible parent never comes up, since vote-hungry politicians would never suggest that many parents themselves come up short in this area. Furthermore, the epidemic of divorce makes many children dwell in a single-parent home, cutting in half the chances of receiving any moral guidance at all.
Even the study of metaphysics (the search for and investigation of “reality”) is meaningful, as it gives the pupil good mental fuel and allows more objective and selfless ideas and thoughts to emerge. Just what the doctor ordered after the “me decade,” aka the 1980’s, which served to be the formative years for the current troubled generation.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of our society is the sweeping tide of socialist intrusion by the current government. Listless and lazy slackers don’t care if small freedoms are chipped away, as they may see it as the government providing an easier route. The perfect example is the current wave in California to put into law that spanking one’s child be made illegal. Or the disturbing hoops one is made to go through if caught drinking and driving (you’re forced to quit both drinking and driving!). These touchy/feelie laws are win-win for liberal Democrats who see themselves as do-gooders and are pretentious enough to feel that by God, they know what’s right and good for the masses. Pacifist mothers will uproar that anyone against the spanking law must be a child beater! And who but an alcoholic could support the rights of the individual to drink?! But this sort of self-righteous thinking isn’t the issue at all. The real issue is: do you want the government making these decisions for you? Are we that deadbeat as a society and so lacking in moral character? What would our forefathers think? Have we gotten worse than communist Russia? If the government stays out of the home and allows the freedom to make these personal decisions, it would encourage the acquiring of a backbone of moral responsibility of ones own actions. The way it’s set up now, it’s a catch-22: young individuals have no backbone, so let government make moral decisions, which encourages youngsters to have no backbone.
Another good example is the tobacco company lawsuits, which indirectly says to our society: you don’t have the spine to make logical and intelligent decisions for yourself so we the government must make them for you. This is sick and wrong and ultimately strips us of our character and individuality and encourages spinelessness. Some of us thought about it long ago and decided that smoking a pack or two a month was both a reward and risk worth taking. But we are penalized along with everyone else. The funny thing is that it’s backfiring, because all the publicity just makes the youth want to smoke even more. Duh.
On the side of the politicians is the apathetic and the slackers within the populace: the watchers (not doers) who probably got that way from numerous marathons in front of the TV as children. These individuals go to great lengths to find the path of least resistance in day to day decision making with the general avoidance of work being the common goal. I encountered such an example with a colleague of mine at the university that I teach at the other day. While discussing a painfully disabled student of mine who has trouble speaking and writing, I mentioned that I was trying to provide extra help to the guy, but I just didn’t feel comfortable giving him “special treatment” that would amount to giving him a test to take home, while the rest of the class had to take the same test in class. I stressed that since it’s an important, required graduate level computer science class, it just wasn’t fair, and I felt that fairness among students has to be the basis of a successful class. My colleague replied, “Yes, I’ve thought about it and when [John Doe] is my student, I probably will give him the test to take home, just to make it easier on me.” Although I have a lot of respect for this colleague usually, I was disappointed to hear this admission. It’s OK to sacrifice what is truly right and fair to make my life easier.
Luckily, political correctness has subsided somewhat. Stressing discipline and fairness in schools and daycares and de-emphasizing social engineering has to be the answer. But if the responsibility of the individual is to be restored, then some serious upheaval is going to have to happen within the current political system. Some answers that might work include the decentralization of government, the elimination of the lobby, and the elimination of the lawsuit as a means of solving problems and stripping away personal responsibility that currently prevails. Education reform must happen by listening to the right people instead of politicians (a good example is social scientist Thomas Sowell). At the moment, it looks unlikely that any of these libertarian ideas might happen anytime soon, but in the meantime, we as individuals can improve ourselves by studying those poor slobs (the dead white males) who got chased out of the current education system, perhaps erroneously.