American culture and society are in the process of becoming corrupted and perhaps unalterably undone by a combination of three increasingly pervasive phenomena: (1) untreated mental illness, (2) politics based predominantly on small, medium and egregious lies, and (3) the instantaneous video reality of seeing and hearing what used to be unshown, unheard, and unthinkable.
While some religious zealots might point to heterosexual promiscuity and the acceptance, if not celebration, of homosexuality as prime movers of American decadence, neither is anything new in the history of human behavior, American or otherwise. Sexuality of every variety has permeated human relationships during all, and no doubt even before, recorded history. Certainly most forms of sexual expression were less publically discussed or displayed in the past, but that hardly means they weren’t practiced. (Oral, anal or other forms of sex were actually not invented or discovered by hippies in the 60s.) So in this argument, I dismiss issues of sex as factors in how American society has materially changed over the past few generations.
Instead, I substitute “sicks” by which I mean people in the throes of severe mental illness. Of course, societies replete with psychopaths have existed throughout history as well. But not to the point that seems to be the case in America, where they regularly subject us to horrendous acts of violence.
Decades ago, two Chicago college students named Leopold and Loeb kidnapped and killed a youngster, in a psychotically induced crime that captivated the country, eventually producing Compulsion, a best-selling novel and film, as did the murders of a Kansas family memorialized by In Cold Blood in book and film. Today, these and similarly horrible but by today’s standards small scale crimes would hardly qualify as lead news stories, sublimated by mass slaughters and more heinous crimes in both substance and frequency, committed by an increasing number of people who may or may not be legally insane but who have clearly been driven mad, at least in part, by the circumstances, public and private, of their upbringing and/or adult lives.
Add to that, the susceptibility of immature, disaffected minds to the insanity of Islamic jihadist and other cults, and we face a threat that gives rise to the rants of Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, aided and abetted by a media that only too happily promotes their flights of fascism in a race for advertising dollars dependent on TV ratings.
In my opinion, the only more dangerous examples of abetting the mental illness undermining American democracy are the U.S. Supreme Court’s support of citizens, regardless of race, creed or sanity, owning and operating firearms capable of mass destruction, and the U.S. Congress genuflecting before the National Rifle Association, whose lobbying prevents any law that might stop a homicidal maniac from marching into schools, office buildings, theaters and indeed down Main Street, brandishing weapons designed for the slaughter of men, women and children.
If, as a nation, we do not find ways to identify and treat the mental illness that expresses itself in mass violence, and begin to mitigate the societal issues that promote these growing atrocities, we will only insure CNN’s future while destroying our own.
Which brings me to the lies and liars who are an equal threat to our American heritage and historical culture. Of course, as a political tactic, truth has always played second fiddle to lying. But the “fact checking” organizations of today can barely keep up with the unending stream of exaggerations, distortions and outright lies regurgitated daily by holders of, and candidates for, political office. The mainstream media, to their everlasting disgrace, has no interest in vetting politicians for truth, and only too willingly repeat whatever they say in a bid for the sensationalism that produces higher ratings. Their tactic is simple: the headline promotes the lie, while the lie itself is only questioned, if at all, long after its impact has done its work, raising ratings while ignoring its corrupting influence. It is hard to imagine anything more dangerous to democracy than a press that perpetrates rather than points out a politician’s lie. Repeating a lie because someone said it may technically be called reporting, but it is not defensible as journalism. Our democracy cannot survive an electorate with minds addled by lies brought to us in the name of increased advertising revenue.
Yes, our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. But we have placed limits on that freedom when it threatens our society, e.g., as every school-child (hopefully) knows, you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater just for the fun of creating a human stampede. I believe the incessant and increasingly flagrant lies we are subjected to today, amplified in their effect by new technologies, are the “fire” in the crowded theater of unbridled communications, and they are stampeding us toward the ignorance that precedes democracy’s undoing.
Finally, the technology of filming videos with a cell phone has led to yet another crisis — the undeniable evidence of police brutality, the height of which has culminated in outright murders, stimulated, in large measure I believe, by racist rage. How else can we explain a white police officer firing eight shots at the back of an unarmed and fleeing black suspect? Or another white officer shooting a black teenager in no way threatening him, and continuing to fire bullet after bullet into his unmoving body lying on the ground? These killings, captured in their entirety by cell phone videos, are surely representative of many more such murders that have gone unreported and unpunished long after we finally stopped tolerating the lynchings that were their societal forerunners.
To be fair, African American political and community leaders have claimed racially motivated assaults by police when in fact they used justifiable force to arrest and detain suspects. But there should be no denying that racism still permeates America, and dangerously so within a significant number of police departments that ostensibly protect our society. When overt acts of racism are against the law, and racism is part of the culture among those who enforce the law, and when that racism explodes into the uncontrolled rage that results in law enforcement officers committing murder, we have a legitimate crisis in the maintenance of law and order in our society.
So, are there solutions to the “sicks,” the lies and what we’re seeing on videotape exposés? I think there are, but to say the least, they involve complex and interdependent changes in education, legislation, and our judicial system, particularly in the case of preventing mass murder committed by minds twisted into madness. Yet none of it can happen without a new commitment to moral leadership, the lack of which has resulted in these corruptions pervading our daily lives. None of these are issues of social, political or economic ideology. They are not matters of interpretation or compromise. They are questions of right and wrong. This is where our problems start . . . and the only place we can begin to end them.
At the risk of being simplistic, I suggest that until we reorient ourselves to the true north of The Golden Rule, a precept of virtually every religion including Islam (and Scientology, for that matter), we will continue to follow a broken moral compass, pointing only toward chaos.