Decency

All of nature has rules. Although unwritten and unspoken, in a primitive and savage way, right and wrong still exist there. The alpha wolf decides what is right in the pack because it possesses the physical power to exert its will. A tree may dictate what is right by exuding allelopathic chemicals into the soil out to its root perimeter in order to extinguish competing plants. A lion takes prey from a hyena and a hyena takes it from a leopard because that is the order of things and therefore the right thing. Instinct and physical attributes decree this form of morality in nature.

Humans also require rules. Society, the in-your-face conglomeration of masses of people possessing tools and weapons that can inflict damage far beyond that of mere fang and claw, requires lots of rules and lots of alpha enforcement. Otherwise the population would regress to a might-makes-right brutal anarchy.

Aside from maintaining basic order and security, it is a necessary function of government to set rules of decency. Decency lies in that more abstract middle ground between overt violence and criminality on the one hand, and peace and security on the other.

Because definitions are not crisp, debate will always rage over what is or is not decent. This is also thought of as a soft arena of behavior since it is hard to identify actual damage caused by such things as vulgarity, lewdness, debauchery, indiscretion, nakedness, sex and language. Those fearing the decay of society will hold to more inclusive definitions and more strict standards. Others object to any controls over nonviolent behavior, feeling they are unnecessarily intrusive and invade personal rights and freedoms. Who’s right?

Don’t get me wrong with what follows. I’m no prude. Terrible things emerge from my lips at times without my mind even engaging. I can’t help but laugh at some off-color jokes. But aren’t there lines we all sense that should not be erased. These lines may in fact create the emotional release from swearing and the humor of a dirty joke. So standards of decency may even psychologically benefit us by giving us forbidden zones to light heartedly poke at. (Seems like rather twisted logic to explain why swearing and dirty jokes work, but what other explanation do you have?)

When I was young, Elvis’s gyrating hips drove religious leaders and many parents crazy. It was the end of decency. Sodom and Gomorrah had returned. I scoffed. The old fogies just didn’t get it. In my opinion, rock-n-roll was way too cool and certainly no more than innocent fun. I saw no danger because I had not lived enough life nor gained sufficient knowledge to understand that civilization survives only because of standards and order. Society was sensing a threat and that is why they reacted to rock-n-roll as they did.

Maybe that’s the way kids see the filthy language in rap, hip-hop and sexually explicit entertainment today. So I am trying hard to see the parallel and make every effort to be tolerant, not wanting to be like the adult mossbacks of my youth. But everything is a matter of degree.

When is ‘with-it’ too far? Or is there no limit? Should the entertainment industry keep pushing the envelope until pornography is rated G and the evening news gives an update from live video cams mounted in bathrooms? Must children be exposed to what goes on under the covers of S&Mers, transvestites, man-boy couples, necrophiliacs, homosexuals and straight-sexers?

When that gets boring do we go to live videos of rape, murder and torture? There are currently movies of this sort and they are justified as ‘artful free expression.’ Really. Is watching murder and torture what we should be doing with our minds and leisure? Is it valuable in any conceivable way? Might it not be numbing and create insensitivity, particularly in our impressionable children? Since children know that adults – moms and dads – create such entertainment, might they not feel that such behavior is validated?

Should we bring back the Roman Coliseum to get some extra flavor of real, live performance? If we can afford the special front row seats, we could even enjoy the thrill of hearing bones break, getting sprayed with some real blood or having a lopped-off appendage land in our lap as a souvenir. The Romans worked hard to prevent boredom among the citizens. For over 400 years the cruelty and gore for man and beast in the arena took on every imaginable grotesque creative form in order to maintain the interest of audiences. Shall we go that route again?

Why not? Why draw lines? Let’s not lose audience attention or record, ticket or advertising dollars.

Clear standards seem to be vanishing fast. There is now bare-fisted, no-holds-barred bloody competitive fighting on television. There is full-contact teen dancing that looks exactly like the sexual act. Gay and straight TV shows where free for all sex is the theme, glut programming. We’re also treated to bare breast exposure, bumping and grinding, ignited horse flatulence, erection commercials and beastiality jokes during the family formatted Super Bowl. The wave of reality shows seem to have no limit in their reach for stupidity, shock and horror.

It most certainly appears that the race is on to remove all standards and that conscience takes a back seat if dollars are to be made. In the mayhem of shock, titillation and entertainment fanfare, we seem to have lost our moral compass. Violence is now applauded in a perverted, blood-thirsty fiendishness. If in doubt, pan the audiences at professional boxing, ultimate fighting and wrestling, and when fighting mayhem breaks out during the more tame sporting events. Sex, an act meant for committed adults capable of shouldering the responsibilities of family, is presented as mere thrill-ride recreation for people of all ages.

Freedom of expression is important, but as with anything else in life, potential consequences must be measured. Vulgarity, sex and other victimless acts do not in themselves harm. So it is easy to reason that there should be no barriers to their free expression. But it is the naive, idealistic and shortsighted thinking of children that only immediately apparent consequences need be of concern and that everyone can be trusted. Removing a souvenir grain of sand from the mortar at the base of a dam seems innocent and harmless enough. Does everyone then get to do it until the very integrity of the structure is in peril? Do we only then start thinking about rules? Should we wait to invoke rules when calamity is faced or should we think long-range prevention?

Social order requires forebrain thinking, not excitation of hindbrain base instincts that will teeter us on the brink of disaster. That’s why pushing the envelope can be so terrifying to anyone who has the sense to see beyond freedom of expression.

The media, pandering to the cheap-thrill seeking masses, engages in a never-ending cycle (more like a downward spiral) of profiteering one-upmanship. Each new provocative display raises the ante and challenges the competition to push the envelope even further. Media greed is a dangerous thing, particularly when it can impact the world via airways that know no barriers.

A large and profitable part of the audience is children. They need education, rules and time to develop conscience, not titillating entertainment. They are the society of the future and should be protected and nurtured accordingly. Instead they are being brainwashed with confusing smut, vulgarity and every form of base biological, violent and criminal urge. Without sufficient life context, they are easily led to believe that that is what life is about, how it is celebrated and what they should aspire to.

Schools are tightly controlled because they shape the emerging buds of future society. In the larger classroom of the world, the media is emerging as the school. As leisure time increases, people feed more and more on entertainment. What a wonderful opportunity through the visual and auditory impact of story to raise the public’s sense of right, dignity, conscience, reason and ethic.

The old time, so-called corny movies were a clear attempt to do just that by promoting and advocating morality and standards. The good guys always won and everyone was decent except the bad guys. How far (down) we have come. Entertainers should see their unique powers of influence as something other than a profit opportunity to promote depravity and to pander to those who evidently love to be dumbed-down. But for too many, as George Bernard Shaw observed, “Virtue is insufficient temptation.”

So there should be laws that prohibit media from airing programs that do not have socially redeeming value. Yes, this smacks of censorship, and it is. We, as consumers, should also censor with our purchasing dollars. Entertainment follows the money and the money is coming from ordinary people.

How do we judge what is not socially redeemable? Use the extrapolation tool described in an earlier chapter. Ask whether society would be advanced or degraded if a particular action were universally practiced. Will open and free sex without regard for age, gender (or whatever) create a better society? Will the celebration of crime, filthy language, fighting, disrespect for parents and authority, sexism, racism, ageism and the like create a better society?

The answer is not difficult.

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