Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Morally bankrupt?

CNN’s Jack Cafferty is exercised about a poll that shows that Americans think our level of moral rectitude is lousy and getting worse:

The U.S. isn't only headed for bankruptcy when it comes to our finances... it looks like we could be going morally bankrupt too.
A new Gallup poll paints a depressing picture of the state of our moral values in the U.S.
45 percent of those surveyed describe morality in this country as "poor"... only 15 percent -- fewer than one in five -- say "excellent or good."
These numbers rank among the worst in this poll over the last decade.
The survey also shows 76 percent of Americans say moral values in the U.S. are getting worse... only 14 percent say they're getting better.
So what's wrong with us?

Read full story here.

Oh, come on. In the first place, this is a poll that measures what people think about morality; it doesn’t actually query behaviors. And every generation thinks that the younger generation is going to hell in a hand basket. Why, in MY day...

I’m with commentator Sarah, who reminds us “that 150 years ago we kept human beings as slaves, 100 years ago American workers worked in terrible conditions for low wages with no safety net, and 50 years ago African Americans were still being lynched. I think we've come a long way and I'd much rather live into today's society than the world of the past.”

As a passionate lover of history, there are lots of historical periods I’d love to visit, but it’s really foolish to believe that things were better in the good ol’ days.

It’s only recently that Western Civilization has accorded women equal status with men. I know that some people see that as an element of moral decay, but I don’t think you’d convince many women, even the most conservative ones, that they would be better off if it was still okay for their husband to rape them and no problem at all if they have few if any independent legal rights.

I think a lot of people confuse manners with morality. You can make a pretty good case that our manners have declined — people in general are much less polite to each other than they used to be and the celebrity media culture that is now so ubiquitous rewards atrocious behavior. And people’s communication on the Internet can be really ugly.

It is now common to hear F-bombs in public, but people frown on smoking cigarettes. Sixty years ago, even 20 years ago or less, that equation was reversed.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are less “moral.”

Some think that you can traces the “decline in morality” to the loss of “sir and “ma’am” in the language. But plenty of good boys grew up saying sir and ma’am and still visited Madame Flossie’s whorehouse.

I don’t believe for a minute that more people cheat on their wives now than at any other time in history. It’s all just that much more public. Was John F. Kennedy’s White House a greater moral beacon than Barak Obama’s?

It’s tempting to think that people were better back in the old days, but the historical record just doesn’t show it. Political corruption was much more rife in the century spanning 1870s-1970s than it is now. (Not saying it’s disappeared by any means).

Another factor is that what some people see as “immorality” others see as greater freedom and justice. Some might see the acceptance of homosexuality as a sign of moral decay; others might see it as increased tolerance and thus a virtue.

There’s plenty of room for improvement in the nature of humankind — and all gains in virtue are fragile and easily lost in the face of war, economic strain resource scarcity. As Aldo Leopold once observed, “ethics start after breakfast.”

But self-flagellation over our supposed moral decline is just a fretful waste of energy. It’s probably a sign of a decadent civilization.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Wow ... Jim you sound like an apologist and or a Press Secretary (either side, you choose). Nice "simple talk", its wonderful for the ignorant.

  2. I think you are confusing social justice with individual morality. Indeed there is greater social justice today where all groups of people operate in a world of greater equality.

    But it is possible that individual morality has declined in other areas:e.g. the huge expansion of the amount and availability pornography, particularly nasty forms of pornography that exploit children, teens and women. It is the individual's consumption of this material that is driving its expansion. And that is a clear sign of declining morality. It has bled over into the popular media where almost everything is now sexualized. from advertizing to entertainment to our casual conversations.

    Violence in our popular culture is another place we can look as well: is it possible that the pervasiveness of violent images on television and movies has lead to our confrontational culture where yelling and swearing are seen as a legitimate ways to exchange ideas.

    I don't think it is a bad question to ask.. and there is certainly issues that are new to us and worse for us than they were for our ancestors.

  3. I think you are right on here, Jim. Those that hearken back to the good ol' days (usually the 50's) usually ignore much of what was going on then. Sexual depravity was just as rampant. Violence was just as prevalent. The only difference is that we are now so much more aware of it because of the exponential growth of the media.

  4. Media and morality are linked. If media is spreading moral depravity in ways that have never been done in the past, then you cannot say that morality is the same as in the past.

    Wide spread USE of depraved material must be much much greater than ever possible in the past. USE by children for sure is much much greater than in the past.

    Media IS the moral difference between now and the past.

  5. Sadly this is just another measure of how deeply divided our country is. How is that? Everybody thinks we are suffering from a decline in morality. But I bet you if you ask the follow up question: whose morality is declining, you will find that Liberals think the morality of conservatives has too much influence and that conservatives think the morality of liberals has too much influence. What everyone is agreeing on is that the other guy is immoral. Not surprising and not very good.

    More evidence that culture wars are ripping us apart.

  6. Jim is right in that through out history it is a common theme to think that the younger generation is "going to hell" so to speak.

    But Anonymous #4 also hit the nail right on the head with the influence of media! We have so much access to immorality and can take what we want. We're also given an incorrect illusion of what the world is like because we can see a plethora of corruption!

    I'm going to venture to say we've all got the same morality over the ages, that is to say the same inclination to be morally decrepit or good, but its what we gain from our elders and those around us which will influence us.

    Whether we're worse or better than history has written down from a select few people's perspectives, who's to tell? I do know that I see filth as well as goodness all around me. Keep fighting your individual fight!

  7. Jim, you hit the nail on the head. America has become horribly decadent and morally we are a joke, both to ourselves and to those who have to deal with us across all forums and fronts. Our general Media sucks; our leadership from the local to the highest levels of political power and influence sucks; and our "It's all about ME" individual culture of self-satisfaction and distraction sucks. This country and our society, with all its shortcomings and faults (which all cultures, societies, and nations can boast of) used to be great. We are no longer great...unless you regard being great gluttons, great debtors, great apologists, great whiners, great indulgence seekers, great spenders (see "debtors"), and great fools as being GREAT. Where to live, to love, to enjoy Life as it might still be enjoyed? As T.E. Lawrence offered, "I wonder if you can find this place: - it's out in the desert between Deraat and Amman -- and if you do find it you will think it a most improbable place to live at." Let me assure you the majority of those who would read the last have no idea the hidden yearning and Truth behind those words. I grieve for our once great nation.