Where Have All of Our Morals Gone?

By Brian Sahd

In his latest musing on the current state of our culture Harry DeRienzo laments the loss of yet another human (American) characteristic. This time it is our moral compass.  And again he is not alone. Just the other day, at his mass on the beaches of Copacabana, Pope Francis challenged the 3 million in attendance as well as the billions watching across the globe:

… to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility.

I completely agree with DeRienzo’s latest pronouncement.  We are facing a big problem: Americans (and people around the world) have lost their moral compass and have become incapable of taking personal responsibility.  However, I come to this conclusion from a slightly different perspective.  Simply blaming our elected leaders for leading us down the path of immorality is ignoring our individual culpability.  Every one of us is to blame for the present state of affairs.

Focusing on our political leaders and in particular George W. Bush is missing this deeper perspective.  As usual, DeRienzo, is selective in his criticism of the Bush administration. Indeed, the current president demonstrates a greater offensive lack of moral judgment than any other president in modern history (and yes even Richard Nixon).   That being said, Presidents of the United States do not get to claim title to the keeper of American consciousness.  We, as individuals, should be the keepers.

Sadly, we have abdicated our individual responsibility by giving carte blanche to our elites to abandon a moral conscience.   Let me cite a just few examples of our collective culpability in the loss of a moral compass (there are countless others):

  • Actor Alec Baldwin is recorded ranting and raving, using horrible anti-gay slurs.
  • The leaders in the African American community sent out a call to arms when the verdict was reached in the George Zimmerman case. Their call for “justice” was heard across the country. This call seems a bit self serving. It is easy to be morally outraged against Zimmerman, but where is the sense of moral outrage at the fact that over 75% of all shooting suspects are African American as is almost 75% of shooting victims? Where is the “justice” in the fact that most killings and shootings of our young black men are at the hands of other young black men?
  • Comedian Louis CK abandoned any sense of having a conscience when he “joked,” on the Opie and Anthony radio show a few years ago, about Sarah Palin coming to the Republican convention “holding a baby that just came out of her f-ing, disgusting [C-word], her f-ing retard-making [C-word]. I hate her more than anybody.”

Do we hear any real outrage from the media, women’s groups, minority groups, corporations who employ these folks? Hardly.  Baldwin still does Capital One commercials and is well employed as an A-list actor.  The current leaders in the African American community seem to be more interested in burnishing their credentials and less concerned with creating safer neighborhoods.  Louis CK is as much in demand as ever.

Forgive me if I feel as though DeRienzo reacts a bit like Claude Rains did: as being ‘shocked, shocked’ that gambling was happening at Rick’s American Café.  No one should be shocked at not finding morals or a conscience at the top of our society (that is our political leaders or media elites or corporate leaders).  Having a moral compass and a conscience needs to begin with the individual. In this way we can begin to have an affect on the larger society.

James Q. Wilson provided us with a road map with his broken window theory: paying attention to the smallest of details has a positive impact on the bigger picture.  If we want the leaders in our society to have morals we as individuals need to demonstrate a sense of morality. Pope Francis’ challenge is appropriate: we need to take personal and individual responsibility.

How did we get to this point?  For that answer we need to revisit the 1960s. For all the good that came out of this decade (and there was much to be thankful for) one of the overarching cultural shifts that occurred can be summed up in a few words: “If it makes you feel good, do it”.  By the end of the 1960s we Americans felt entitled to doing whatever we wanted and acting however we wanted as long as it made us feels good.   Personal responsibility did not matter anymore. It was a decade of losing self control.

It is without a doubt that, today, we as individuals are more self-absorbed and self-centered.  No longer is working hard good enough, we feel entitled to what everyone else has regardless of our abilities or work ethics.  No longer do we have a balanced and honest view of ourselves; we lost our self-awareness.

If the average American does not feel the need to be self aware and has lost her or his moral conscience, why should we expect to find it in our elites?

What to do?  Let’s revisit Wilson’s broken window.  As a society we need to pay close attention to the basic issues in order to prevent the larger issues from becoming problems.  If one of us is targeted out of ignorance or jealousy it affects all of us and we need to make a collective stand.  So if Alec Baldwin calls a male reporter a “toxic little queen” among other slurs, we need to raise our collective voices against such hateful speech and put pressure on those who hire him. If Louis CK calls a woman the c-word, no matter who he is referring to, we need to express our collective outrage and stop watching his shows.  And if our youth are trapped in violent neighborhoods we need to do more to create safer places for them to live.

Morality should not be expected for someone else, it should be expected from all of us.

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