America’s Moral Decay

So, cheating is something to make light of now?

by James A. Bacon

I’m normally not one for sermonizing. Hellfire-and-damnation preachers have been lamenting the moral decline of America for the past, oh, 300  years, and yet we survive. But sometimes I wonder. Could our country be experiencing a moral decline? It certainly feels so.

Let me make one point really clear. I don’t equate “moral” decline with a decline in god-fearing religion. I am, after all, an atheistic-leaning agnostic. But one can be an atheist-agnostic and still lament the disparagement of the old bourgeois virtues as enshrined in the University of Virginia’s honor code — you shall not lie, cheat or steal — and find despair in the normalization of depraved behavior. Let me offer four data points from the headlines of today and yesterday that inspired this jeremiad.

Teachers in Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Houston stand accused of boosting standardized test scores by such means as correcting student papers and even helping students cheat themselves. As scary as the cheating itself is the excuse-making that followed. Said one Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, as quoted in the Washington Times: “The teachers and principals who changed test scores did something unethical and probably illegal, [but they were] caught between a rock and a hard place. We’ve created a climate that corrupted the educational process. The sole goal of education … became boosting scores by any mean necessary.”

That’s right — the cheaters are really victims of society’s unreasonable expectations. It comes as little surprise, then, that the American Association of School Administrators decided not to retract the “Superintendent of the Year” award given to Atlanta school superintendent, Beverly Hall, in 2009. “No charges have been brought,” said an AASA official. “There’s no conclusive evidence that she’s been found guilty of any kind of unethical behavior.”

A related phenomenon is the spread of plagiarism, which happens to be the topic of an essay by Thomas Bertonneau, a professor of comparative literature:

Plagiarism is one more index of the long- heralded Decline of the West. More and more students go to college; fewer and fewer of them are actually capable of rising to the higher learning. Colleges and universities, operating by the enrollment economy, actively seek students and bend or ignore admissions criteria to recruit them in numbers. Aggressively cynical and uncivilized, the popular culture promotes crass self-interest and narcissism.

The sitting vice president of the U.S.A. once, when a senator, plagiarized a campaign speech from his British member-of-Parliament counterpart, but he is the sitting vice president of the U.S.A. … Rampant plagiarism is an alarming moral problem. The destruction of shame makes theft and fraud thinkable options for an increasing number of students.

Ah, the destruction of shame. I think Bertonneau is on to something. The trait of being “non-judgmental” is widely deemed a prime virtue today. But when no one judges another’s behavior, shame disappears. When shame disappears, society loses its main sanction against all manner of vice.

Now, let’s move on to the normalization of depravity. The Huffington Post‘s “weird news” carries a story about the arrest of three brothers in a small Minnesota community for allegedly murdering their mother. States the account: “Jacob Cobb, 17, allegedly strangled mom Tamara Lee Mason on the living room floor when she suggested that her sons play the board game [Yahtzee] … last Christmas.” The boys hid their mother’s remains in a garbage can in a shed until the frozen ground softened enough to bury her in the backyard.

“It is very strange,” said Stevens County Sheriff Randy Willis. “She wanted to play Yahtzee and they didn’t. That seemed to be, in their minds, what expedited her sudden demise.”

Weird? Strange? It strikes me that we have raised a generation of sociopaths. These weren’t urban youth raised in a single-family household with a crack whore for a mother, whose despicable behavior would inspire all manner of excuse-making and cries for forgiveness. They were (to all appearances) small-town, middle class kids.

One final story, this one also from the HuffPo: A  Southern California woman was arrested for cutting off the penis of her estranged husband. Catherine Kieu Becker allegedly prepared dinner for her husband and drugged him to make him drowsy. While he slept, she tied him to the bed. When he awakened, she cut his penis off with a knife — and here’s the piece de resistance — “threw it into the garbage disposal, turning it on as she did so.”

It has been nearly 20 years since the infamous Lorena Bobbitt chopped off her husband’s penis in a fit of  spontaneous rage. A jury found her not guilty due to insanity arising from sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Her husband, Wayne Bobbitt, had his penis surgically reattached and proceeded to take a feature role in two porn movies. His brief porn career lead to a stint on World Wrestling Federation’s Monday Night Raw television program in the company of another porn star who had almost had his penis dismembered.

The Bobbitts gave us a two-fer — (1) a jury could not hold Lorena responsible for her action on the grounds of temporary insanity, and (2) the absence of shame in our culture enabled her violent, philandering husband to trade on his notoriety. After two decades of therapeutic blame avoidance, Ms. Becker’s case has not inspired anywhere near the shock and controversy that the Bobbitts’ did. Indeed, where Lorena threw her husband’s penis out the car window, she at least felt remorseful enough to later retrieve it. By contrast, Ms. Becker, tossed the offending organ in the garbage disposal, flipped the switch and then, when the police arrived, told them that her husband “deserved it.”

In mining the rich vein of dishonesty and corruption, I would be remiss not to mention Wall Street, a moral cesspool if ever there was one. The new ethic in America’s financial sector today: “If it’s not illegal, it’s OK.” Even if it is illegal, serve your time in jail, give a portion of your ill-gotten gains to charity and hire a publicist to get you on television. We are, after all, a country without shame. We will eagerly rehabilitate anyone’s reputation (unless the offender is a politician of the opposing party, in which case the old rules still apply).

What, then, becomes of a country in which educators set the most reprehensible example for our youth, in which the most successful know no bounds in their quest for the accumulation of wealth? What becomes of a society in which no one can be trusted and, therefore, no one trusts one another? What becomes of a country that has not only defined deviance down, but has all but abandoned the idea that deviance even exists? Is there any hope for us?

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14 responses to “America’s Moral Decay”

  1. larryg Avatar

    it’s unfortunately true. When the education community starts cheating on test scores – you know it.

    It’s become rampant throughout our culture these days. Cheating is only bad if you get caught – and high marks are given for cheaters who are skilled enough to not get caught.

    It’s become endemic in our entitlements also.

    I met a guy with a 50 foot motorhome.. who walked just fine while dragging on a cigarette and said that he was hoping to be declared disabled by social security so he could then get an additional thousand bucks a month.

    he was bragging that he had a good chance because he had “solid” documentation to “prove” he was disabled….

    this is one of the reasons the Social Security Disability Insurance component will run out of money next year.

    I usually don’t go along with the moralizing either except when it starts to affect our finances like social security and our institutions like education.

    Oh.. and by the way… if you think private charter schools won’t fudge the numbers either unless held to strict account, you’d also be dreaming.

    Part of America’s problem these days is that we have lost our MoJo. We now think we deserve whatever we can beg, borrow or steal…. witness the mortgage meltdown – not only the guys on Wall Street but the people signing up for mortgages they knew they could not pay and were banking on selling the house for a profit.

  2. Some love is fire and some love is ice.
    The common love is vice.
    Some love is fire and some love is rust,
    But the cleanest finest purest love is lust.

  3. At least with the cigs, he wont get it for long.

    But this kind of sstory drives me . People need to understand that one can walk and still be disabled.

    I suffer from arthritis. Some days I’m fine and some days I’m bedridden. Sometimes I’m fine, and forty minutes later I can’t stand to be in the same room with myself, curled up in an agonizing ball.

    If you met me on a good day, I Could be that Guy. So far I can cope, although the drugs will eventually kill me. The first time it hit me I was bedridden for over nine months, and that could happen again tomorrow. Or, it could be intermittent, but frequent enough I cannot work.

    Point is, you can’t tell from looking.

    But what I don’t get is this, if he is already retired, how does he get more for being disabled? If he is disabled from work, fine. But once he reaches retirement age, he should be stored from disability

  4. He should be retired from disability at retirement age.

  5. Don’t care much what people do, as long as they don’t do it to me.

    Don’t much care what people think about what I do if they only let me be.

  6. larryg Avatar

    A man that can afford a motorhome is not in need of charity for his disability.

    except in this country under social security DI. DI was designed to help people who could no longer work and needed that job to support themselves and family.

  7. My point exactly in that he should no longer get disability after retirement age. However, it is not charity if we consider social security as insurance.

    What he owns should not be part of the equation. The whole point is to protect assets, to replace income you would have earned absent the disability.

    I was disabled for three years, and collected as disability and private disability. I had insurance against disability and I collected on it. That has nothing whatever to do with what I owned before I was disabled or what I bought wth the money I received.

    If the pre-requisite for collecting is that you must first be destitute, what have you insured?
    For all we know, he already had to sell his home, and the motor coach is all he has. I admit it looks and sounds atrocious, as presented. But if he had a legitimate disability claim ( crippling personality disorder manifested as extreme boorishness?) , then my experience and my observation is that his life may not be the bed of taxpayer funded roses that you depict. I know that in my case I was requieed to go to a doctor not of my choosing to have my disability status independently verified. I also know that as I got well, I was allowed to work, with no reduction in my disability payment, until I earned at least half of my previous salary. That meant, that for a period of time i could have earned 110% of my previous income.

    The point of disability is to keep you from falling into the financial abyss, and to help get you back on your feet again, so you can be a productive member of society once again. We should not want to force people to divest everything because they are disabled, because if they get well, they then have to start all over, trying to multiply by zero to save enough for their eventual real
    retirement. It is hard enough to get well and restart, without disrupting everything, and restarting from zero.

  8. larryg Avatar

    well the point is that the social security disability insurance FICA tax was set up based on a perceived pay-out and if the pay-out exceeds what FICA brings in – then the program will fail, which is what is going on right now.

    Now some folks in the political realm say that this is proof the program does not work and should be done away with all together and let people make their own arrangements for private insurance rather than have a failed govt program.

    so the program is not near so much as what you are ENTITLED to as it is – what it can afford to pay you – without going broke.

  9. Ok, but none of that has anything to do with what you own. This Guy sounds as if his is trying to defraud the system, but not if he has the evidence he claims. Incidently, the system always routinely denies everyone, then you hire a lawyer to write a letter. That part is a scam: full employment act for lawyers, but it makes the agency look diligent.

  10. Good day! It’s a pleasure to read, I mean about morality. Indeed, crime is not punished and I can give you one more example, from a canadian university. Please, see this:
    And see also how universities in Canada got rid not only of any notion of shame, but also of any control and accountability:
    In this page above you will be able also to see how many people cooperated with the criminals in Canada.
    How can you explain this?

  11. larryg Avatar

    but the bigger, more relevant point is IMHO that for ANY insurance – SS or private – they cannot be paying out more in benefits than they take in.

    SS DI is now paying out more than they take in and something has to give.

    Either they have to increase the FICA tax or they have to trim benefits and the guy in the motorhome ought to be a target.

  12. Larry, nice comments over at carpe diem. That place makes this one lookcivilized. Rabid right wingers there.

  13. GOP protests Obama White House campaign video.

    OMG, the president is guilty of reckless spending because he filmed an ad campaign where he lives and works?

  14. American Rogue Avatar
    American Rogue

    It is not surprising to me that so many women find Ms. Becker’s actions towards her future ex-husband funny (cutting off his penis and placing it in the garbage disposal)! I have recently observed groups of women hi-fiving each other and drinking shots toasting her act. Would this be funny if a man drugged a woman, tied her to the bed and then severed one or both breasts? I am appalled by this double standard. My freshman year at Georgetown, the nursing school students – future health professionals – hosted the testicular cancer awareness program and advertised it by posting signs all over campus with messages like “Guys do you have both of yours? Attend this lecture to find out how to keep them.” Again these are future health professionals! What if breast cancer awareness were promoted in that same manner!?!?! There would have been candle-light vigils and demands for apologies and maybe even the demand for whomever was their academic sponsor for that program to resign!!

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