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Decline in Morality

A few months ago, I exchanged several emails with a man ('born in 1929') claiming secular humanism, with its supposed moral relativism, is now the major influence on our society and is the cause of many things over the past 60 years like: marriage failures and the breakdown of home and family, STD, 40% of babies to unwed mothers, vast government bureaucracies, problems in schools (drugs, rebellion and violence), and corruption in government. He also claimed: "if you research the early days Of America, God's word was honored and taught, thus God did bless our country, perhaps we are starting to see the wrath of God."  I take a different view of the cause for what he called the down fall of America in the past 60 years.

The 1950's might have be seen as 'better' than now, with apparently fewer problems in public schools, perhaps less corruption in various levels of government, and certainly divorce rates have been increasing since the 1930's (less than 20%), although the spike in 1946 (failed marriages of veterans?) was not reached again until the mid 1970's, to the current rate of about 50%.

In 1950 women made up only about 30% of the workforce while in 1998 the number was over 45%. Among the reasons suggested for more women in the workforce are a second income is needed to keep up with the rising cost of living, and reduced workplace discrimination against women. I expect these financial stresses on a family are more important to the divorce rate than secular humanism.

In 1962 there were about 2.5 million federal employees (non-military) and in 2012 the number is up to 2.7 million, so the general size of the bureaucracy actually has changed very little over 50 years.

The 1950's had relatively low levels of unemployment due to the healthy manufacturing segment of the economy (> 25% of US GDP in mid-1950's compared to < 12% in 2010) and less reliance on financial speculation (FIRE had about 10% of the GDP around 1950 vs > 21% in 2010). The 50's decade also had a relatively healthy middle class, due to the high tax rates on the wealthy: 1950 rate of 91% on income over $1.9 million (2013 $). (This compares with 1940 top rate of 79%, or 1960 top rate of 91%, or 1970 top rate of 70%, or 1980 top rate of 70%, or 1990 top rate of 28%, or 2000 top rate of 39.6%, or 2010 top rate of 35%.) With the high tax rates on the wealthy, along with large numbers of union members working with their companies to get a share of company profits, much more money moved through the lower economic classes, contributing to healthy local economies - and to the rapid growth of suburbs through new home construction (and schools, grocers, etc.).

The 1950's was the last decade marked by widespread racial segregation. The huge peaceful civil rights demonstrations in the 1960's managed to bring initial improvements to that aspect of American society.

The American economic policies took a major change in direction in the 1980's. As seen above, tax rates dropped over the decade as the recommended solution to the stagflation of the 1970's - a stimulus by boosting incomes for more money to spend. Also, Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, making anti-union campaigns much easier in the coming years thereby reducing union membership and so also affecting the economy with wages unchanged between 1988 and 2008 for 90% of Americans while the top 1% had their incomes surge by 33% in that time.

In other words, the upper class was unleashed in the 1980s, to wreak havoc on America and on the world.

That increase in wealth resulted in politicians being bought through campaign contributions, so the basis of our democracy, the election of a candidate to represent the interests of his constituency, has been overturned - so the representatives now submit to the wishes of their wealthy donors not the voters. The two main parties are similarly corrupted so candidates (in the main two parties or in other minor parties) more likely to spurn their donors are hindered. Absolute power corrupts absolutely; politicians rarely get voted out of office and top CEO's rarely get fired (though if it happens it is nearly always with a golden parachute), and together they make a formidable combination against those in the lower economic classes.

As has been shown by a number of academic studies, the rich are more likely to lie, cheat, and steal than any other economic class. It is in our human nature to feel empathy toward other human beings, to relate to their feelings. Apparently when one becomes very wealthy and privileged, that empathy can be suppressed by the feeling of superiority and the dominance of greed to where the wealthy feel they are above the laws that apply to the lower classes. Somewhat related, it should not be surprising that as of 2014 more than half of those in Congress are millionaires.

There are so many varied stories now of 'corporate crime' by large companies and banks with the villains unpunished. Predatory lenders lied when convincing many minorities into a refinance with subprime loans - with few prosecuted; top executives received huge bonuses instead.

After being freed of government regulation, the big banks came up with derivatives, a Ponzi scheme, for immediate profits with no real commitment to the funds later. That practice created huge liabilities - with no one punished.

The Bush 43 administration lied about weapons of mass destruction so our military could overthrow Saddam Hussien, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians and also the displacement of a few million  - and no one was punished for these war crimes. Now that the various levels of government are more concerned with the well being of the wealthy few, the rest of the populace suffers. There is rarely reason to believe statements by government representatives. Polls indicate significant distrust in the federal government at 80%. Police abuse also becomes more common, with military occupation tactics seen more often. Rarely is an officer or government agent successfully prosecuted for the murder of a civilian - as we near a true police state.

The 1980's also brought religion into politics to a greater extent. This puts a 'good vs evil' aspect into many political debates, rather than what is important to the people. Several personal controversies in contemporary politics, like gay marriage or abortion, are corrupted by a claim, based on some religious attribution, the behavior is evil for society, when it is really a personal decision. Divisive political debates like these are quite useful when maintaining unrest among the voters, while wealth continues to flow to the top and the rest have a deteriorating way of life. If someone finds gay marriage (or a person of another race) offensive, I cannot successfully argue against that innate prejudice.

I cannot agree that growing numbers of abortions is a reflection of a decline in morality. Having a child is one of the most important decisions its mother will ever make and the average age for a woman to marry in 1950 was about 20 while in 2010 it is about 26. Society's choices appear to be: either let the mother decide whether to carry the fetus to term and deliver a baby, force women to deliver a baby whether she wants it or not (even matters of rape or the mother's health are sometimes ignored by those pushing this alternative), or force women to marry much earlier in life (a teen?) to lessen the likelihood of a baby before marriage. From my perspective, the first (let the mother decide) is the best for the mother and for society (an unwanted baby is probably more likely to have problems if the parents are unable to raise the child) while the others require 'force' - which does not sound like a free or moral society.

I cannot agree that growing violence or drugs in schools is a reflection of a decline in morality. Drugs are an important part of American foreign policy over the past few decades. Drug lords can be useful allies in third world countries. During the 1980's, the CIA was involved with bringing drugs from the Contras to America. The CIA is also much involved in the drugs from Afghanistan. Finding drugs in our schools is a consequence of our foreign policy, not anything to do with our morality.

Nixon initiated the war on drugs, but it really was a war on blacks, and the drug war's fear mongering was expected to help in the 1972 election. Perhaps the civil rights movement was too much of a threat to the status quote. An internal policy paper from 1971 by a Nixon aide revealed the lie:  "Even if all drugs were eradicated, there might not be a dramatic drop in crime statistics on a national level, since much crime is not related to drug abuse."

With the strong influence of the prison industry, there is often a pipeline from school to prison. This policy intended to criminalize more youth is a reflection on how little our current government cares about its citizens, and has nothing to do with morality among most citizens - but it has everything to do with the lack of morality among those involved in the pipeline's execution.

The quality of education has been declining over recent decades, probably because the crowded classroom having a rigid schedule and the same curriculum for students having varying skills is unlikely to elicit enthusiasm among many teens who are maturing from child to adult, an awkward transition. Society must deal with this phase in life, but so far it is mostly ignored or mismanaged.

100 years ago a public school was intended to prepare most children for manual labor so the boring, strict schedule was the conditioning necessary for that destiny. Woodrow Wilson famously said: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

Though educators have struggled over the past century to make public education more effective, unfortunately with No Child Left Behind and now Common Core, the federal government is back to pushing the Wilson model. That this approach to public education is a failure is not an indication of declining morality; it is a sign of incompetent leadership and/or intentional mismanagement.

The definition of morality is the set of beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior.

In our current society, those at the top (in wealth or in government) act as if they are immune from society's rules on behavior. When our leaders show no little evidence of a sense of morality, that leading by example has an effect on the rest of society.

Social justice is understood to mean society will enable people to lead a fulfilling life and be active contributors to their community. The rich and privileged having control over government terminates any hope for social justice.

created - June 2014
last change - 06/23/2014
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