• Joseph T Major

    It’s been my observation that gaming — particularly of this sort — is a field in which people reveal their personalities. Since it “doesn’t matter”, they can be the way they feel like deep inside but can’t express because of real-world restraints, social, legal, and so on.

    I formed this observation after running a play-by-(snail)mail game (shows how old I am) where the chaotic guy acted more chaotic, the sneaky guy acted sneakier, the opportunistic guy acted more opportunistic, and so on. When one had to describe a country that had everyone in the world at war with it because the ruler had acted like Kaiser Wilhelm II devoid of the few limits he had on public expression, it made for a fun psychological analysis but a less fun game.

  • cco

    I attribute the beginning of the change in our society to Dr Spock. The generation that lived through the depression and then WWII raised their families through tough times. Their children, often with memories of growing up with few material possessions, wanted, as all parents do — a better life for their children. So, many read Dr Spock and believed him. They showered their children with “things” — but forgot the structure, discipline and parental time that young minds need. Children began to equate things, rather than time, with love. As those children grew up, they witnessed the moral morass of Vietnam every night on television. Then, the press began to equate ratings with news, and the world became ever more sensational in front of our eyes. Eventually, those children that grew up so self-focused and with so many things, procreated. And, despite being self-centered, they were now parents — and wanted a better life for their children. So, both parents worked at jobs to satisfy their self-centered needs, which provided the resources to buy their children even more things, because they thought “things” were the path to a better life. Is this too simplistic? Of course — but it is not, I believe, incorrect.
    So, what can we do? I believe that parents have to change; parents must spend time with their children, provide them emotional shelter, structure, discipline. Lord knows the schools won’t do it, the interest groups won’t do it, the internet won’t do it, the press won’t do it…no one will do the parents job, no one CAN do the parents job, except the parents.

  • bb

    A recent (2006) South Park episode featured the World of Warcraft game in which the TV show characters interacted as if they were online playing the game. The plot involved an online player who was so powerful that he just mindlessly walked around killing all the other players. I think this show may have had the unintended consequence of making selfish game play acceptable.

  • highlander

    Good comments Joseph T and cco. I agree with your points. I also agree that there is a general decline in decency and civility in our country, but I think it may not be quite as bad as it might appear.

    I retired five years ago. My wife and I sold our home in the SF Bay Area, bought a motorcoach, and toured North America for 18 months. We discovered that ours is a very big, very beautiful country with an awful lot of very nice people in it — kind, courteous and generous.

    We were aware, of course, that the impression one gets of America from watching television is distorted, but we hadn’t realized how badly. What we see on tv is not the tip of the iceberg — it’s a dirty little snowball sitting on one side with a bunch of tv cameras zoomed in on it.

    Whenever I feel down about what’s happening in America, I remind myself that the iceberg is still there. Yes, there are some bad people in our country and we need to be careful of them, but it is still a very big, very beautiful country with a whole lot of very nice people in it. And the nice ones outnumber the bad ones by an enormous margin.

    That does not mean, however, that I don’t think we have a problem. Decency and civility unquestionably are on the wane, not just in America, but in western society generally. No doubt there are several reasons as Joseph T and cco have ably pointed out.

    I think another reason involves the proliferation of technologies which allow people NOT to interact with one another face to face on a personal level. Think about television, cell phones and the internet. Think about drive-thru restaurants where you pay an anonymous cashier, pick up your meal through a window, and eat it in your car. It has become possible to go for days without actually “touching” another person on a human level outside of one’s immediate family. And tragically that is true even in some families as well.

    If we do not frequently interact with one another as human beings, several bad things begin to happen. For one thing, we begin to lose our interpersonal skills. But more importantly, “anonymity” begins to set in — we begin to see other people, not as human beings, but as impersonal things. And when we begin to see people as things, we begin to feel free to treat them as things. And decency goes out the window.

    Since I am not a liberal, I do not look to government for the solution. I think, rather, that the solution lies with each of us as individuals. Each one of us can “pay it forward” as the movie suggests. And never underestimate the ripple effect of even small kindnesses. For a good example, see Wendy McElroy’s current post on FOXNews.com “Recalling a Long Ago Act of Kindness” http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,238960,00.html

    Well this got longer than I planned — I hope not indecently long.

  • jg

    cco and highlander, thank you for enlightening points.

    highlander makes this conclusion (true): “it is still a very big, very beautiful country with a whole lot of very nice people in it. And the nice ones outnumber the bad ones by an enormous margin.”

    Rebuttal: but the control of so much of our national life is with the bad people. My cynicism.

    highlander’s thoughts about de-personalization offer a rarely acknowledged insight about our daily lives. I hope there can be more discussion of his salient point.

  • Marguerite

    There are the laws of the jungle that govern the animal kingdom and there are the moral laws that God has given us that raise us up from that level. The more we abolish them from public life the more our lives and inter-personal relationships resemble the swamp. I agree with cco#2 – it takes parents to raise children who grow up to be other-aware. Real, close-up and personal parents – not a distant federal program. It is simple, but not simplistic.

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl

    I never understand the anti-govenment-help idea that runs rampant through Republican thought. Reasonable Democrats think poor parents can do a better job raising their children and instilling in them better moral values if they have the resources to do so: that is, if they have enough money for food, shelter, and clothing so that they have the time to spend with their children, rather than at a crappy, low-wage job trying to provide the basics. The hated social programs should allow just that. Monies from the general coffers ought to help poor people be better parents. No one actually believes the goverment is better at child rearing than parents. In this way, “it [sometimes] takes a village to raise a child.” The govenment does not know best; loving parents do.

  • Marguerite

    Helen – Maybe liberals are aptly named because they generally like programs that are generous with other people’s money – but the bureaucracy-heavy programs they favor usually encourage the bad behavior they seek to ‘help’.

    History has shown that there are better and worse ways to help people in need. For example, in my area, the city fathers are making the bums and winos more comfortable by increasing the number of benches and inside accommodations, thus encouraging the behavior that has more and more people avoiding our downtown business district in favor of safer, more pleasant (no urine smell in the parking garages, no pan-handeling) suburban shopping and theatre-going.

    I favor private-based solutions – a good example is a downtown church that is adding on a huge wing to, among other things, help street people. Why wouldn’t leaders favor programs that, over time, have proven again and again more effective at long-term success? Because they usually are offended at the religious underpinning of the programs and think that if they just tossed a little more (of other people’s) money at the problem, it would be solved – and them that gives the bennies get to make the rules – but that’s another angle I won’t get into here.

  • highlander

    Hello helenl — good to hear from you.

    It’s not government help, however, that we’re opposed to. Help is great. All of us can use some help at one time or another, and I have no objection to receiving help from the government. Further, I don’t mind if someone else takes the first step, as in “Could you use some help?” or “Did you know there’s an agency over there that can help you?”

    What I do think wrong, however, is putting responsibility for solving my problems on the government. Responsibility for solving my problems — and asking for help if I need it — must remain with me. If I habitually shift that responsibility to someone or something else, then over time I must inevitably become weak and dependent on that someone or something else. And I believe that a nation heavily populated by weak and dependent people is ripe for tyranny.

  • Marguerite

    Highlander – YES – I love what you said and how you said it. Your last sentence is what I was getting to in my last sentence.

  • Don Quixote

    Hi Helen,

    Republicans (this one, anyway) are not generally opposed to helping people become better parents. What Republicans oppose is a system that actually discourages parents from becoming better parents. For example, we have a system in which the mother and child benefit more if the father is absent from the home than if he is present. The absence of the father produces more government help, but obviously makes it difficult for the father to be a very good parent. Similarly, a woman who has more children receives more assistance, but obviously has a harder time giving each child the love and attention that child needs.

    Your “crappy low-wage job” comment lost me completely. People who have jobs so crappy and low wage that they can’t afford kids shouldn’t have kids. Children are a responsibility, not a right. Only people who can handle that responsibility should take it on.

    My wife and I waited until we were nearly 30 and had improved our financial position to the point where we could afford kids before having our two. My youngest son is now 24 and has a crappy low-wage job. He is also living at home and going to school in order to better himself, to get a better job before even thinking about having kids. He also plans to be able to afford kids before he has them.

    “Crappy low-wage jobs” are not an immutable given. They are an incentive to improve oneself and get a better job. When government provides “food, shelter and clothing” to people without the people having to work for them, they discourage such improvement. Indeed, they promote sloth generally. Parents in such circumstances are more likely to teach their children that it is pointless to work, because the government will meet your needs for free, than they are to teach values of honesty and hard-work. Government programs should enable people to succeed, not enable them to produce nothing while still receiving “food, shelter and clothing.” This is why we have families with generations of perfectly able-bodied people all of whom are on welfare.

    I grant you that many people who cannot afford to raise children have them anyway. It is one of the great challenges of our time to figure out how to keep these innocent children from suffering from their parents’ mistake. But rewarding such irresponsible parents with government money neither discourages them from having children (quite the reverse) nor, in the long run, helps the children. I don’t have the solution, but I do know that government money, at least as it is doled out in the current system, is part of the problem and no solution at all.

    One last point — You also make the unwarranted assumption that these “loving parents” you want to help share your and my values. Why would a parent who saw nothing wrong with ripping off other people teach children to do anything else? (Note this applies to rich and poor; the rich may even rip people off more than the poor do, but in different ways.) To take a totally different type of example, why would a Muslim father who does not respect women, teach his children to respect women? Why would a thief teach his son not to steal? At best, the current level of immorality (which I think is depressingly high) perpetuates itself.

    Helen, I love your heart-felt good intentions and your willingness to put your, and my, and everybody else’s, money where your beliefs are, but I don’t believe that the lack of money causes immorality. Our people are richer than they have ever been. It is a common comment of immigrants that America is the only place in the world where the poor are fat. For many generations, honest, hard-working parents came to America with nothing but the shirts on their backs and managed to raise honest, hard-working children with very little government help. The problem is that far too many of today’s “poor” are not, themselves, honest and hard-working to begin with. And, frankly, I think throwing government money at the poor has made that problem worse, not better. It has sapped their strength and corrupted their character. Perhaps we can structure programs that, as you suggest, allow poor people to be better parents. But we haven’t yet come up with such a program yet and I’m skeptical we will.

  • T.S.

    This is probably a wee bit off topic, but people have always been concerned about decency – and have been perpetually worried about ways “modern ideas” corrupted America’s youth.

    Example: While the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” was recently named the most inspirational movie of all time, when it was first released, the FBI considered it communist propaganda.


  • Marguerite

    DQ – Well put. I must absent myself from this discussion for a while, but wanted to ask you a question. At Thanksgiving you identified yourself as an athiest. (How did that knee surgery go, BTW?!) As a Republican athiest, do faith-based programs bother you if they get govt. $$$? The reason I ask is that if one does not believe in God, then it seems he would be neutral about them, or at least think favorably about the help they bring to needy people. But I notice that the non-religious, in general, are dismissive or negative towards FBP getting govt. funds but in favor of govt. funding of every type of assistance in general.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    I agree with highlander’s conclusions at the end. Personal strength is not something easily won, but it is easily given away.

    Also there is a difference between rewards and punishment. The internet removes the level and possibility of punishment, or at least decreases it. Only indirectly does this “encourage” people. Indirectly, as opposed to directly. Rewards directly promote behavior. Punishments directly promote behavior. It is not that the internet provides criminals and thugs greater rewards, but it does decrease the amount and level of punishment. Without a balance, there comes the imbalance, always.

    This psychological dichotomy is also present in guerrila warfare. Except in guerrila warfare there can be as many as 10 to 25 rewards, with its concurrent counterpart in the punishment department. For each person, that is. Not total in theater. For each person there are 10 to 25 separate rewards for one single behavior. Politicians have a gift for being able to convince people, through charisma, by reducing the number of variables. Not directly through bribes, but simply through indirect comments, politeness, and so forth. It is gentle persuasion, and thus, it is not very complex or dangerous. Chris Matthews wrote in his book about this “retail” politicking. With Bush having the one on one relationship down, but his one on many in crowds and in front of cameras, not so good. Wholesale not as good compared to retail selling.

    In war, guerrila and psychological wars, the number of possible variations and variables increase disproportionate to what you would expect.

    In the last week, I

  • Eli

    As a social worker in the inner city (Boston, D.C.), I was constantly struck by the fact that most people I encountered there, had running water, food, electricity, a refridgerator, a stove, a toilet, furniture, access to free education, and almost always TV bigger and fancier than any I could afford- not to mention the usual pile of Dunkin Donut boxes in the corner. Those would be riches in many third world countries.

    What is interesting is that the Asian immigrant families in the same areas, take the list above as a blessing, especially the education, and find creative ways to move forward, while others with the same list see themselves as victims and stagnate? How do we change that?

    I had thought in the beginning of welfare that some need a helping hand, but now 30+ years into the program with nothing to show for itself, that governmental giving is far more destructive than I ever imagined. As a social worker, the hardest part was to work with policies written by those who didn’t have the slightest idea of what would really help! Help from the local groups who know who really needs help, (and who doesn’t!) works better than any government program written by distant strangers with agendas.

  • highlander

    Well said, Eli! I’d like to hear more of your experiences in Boston and what you concluded from them. In the meantime, here’s some more fodder for the “Where has decency gone?” mill:

    Population density has got to be another factor. Most of us have heard of the experiments with overcrowding rats in small cages. But what I have in mind is much more mundane.

    I was raised in upstate New York to be a gentleman: hold the door open for ladies, let them go first, etc., etc. But when I started work in Manhattan, I found it difficult to remain faithful to my training.

    There are so many ladies in New York! Especially little old ladies with umbrellas with sharp ponts on them! I found that if I held the door open for them at restaurants, it would be a long time before I could enter and the odds were good that by that time all the tables would be full. Or if I stood aside to let them get on the bus first, the bus would fill up and leave me standing there. I went hungry and did a lot of walking until I realized that I needed to readjust my level of chivalry downward somewhat.

    That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but you catch my drift. It’s not that I have anything against little old ladies — or big young ones either — it was just that there were so MANY. It’s really hard to behave like a gentleman — and survive — when there are so many people to be gentlemanly toward.

  • Marguerite

    Regarding helping those in need, there is a detailed statistical study that has been released in book form by a Syracuse University professor named Arthur C. Brooks, who is a behavioral economist by training. His book is “Who Really Cares:The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism”. I wish he would have eliminated the needless ‘compassionate’, but he cites voluminous data analysis to demonstrate that values advocated by conservatives – from church attendance and two-parent families to the Protestant work ethic and a distaste for government-funded social services – make conservatives more generous than liberals across every state and every catagory, including giving their own blood. His book is carefully documented to to withstand scrutiny from other academics.

    His main finding is that the people who talk the most about caring actually fork over the least. He stresses that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the gov’t. should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans by any measure, irrespective of income.

    And he found that even when the charitable causes that are favored by secular liberals do not receive enough money, they are reluctant to write checks from their own bank accounts to support them.

    An additional finding was that people who drink alcohol moderately are more charitable than those who eschew alcohol. Who knew?

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com/ Don Quixote

    Hi Marguerite,

    Sorry you must absent yourself. Please hurry back. The knee is a little better each day. We won’t really know if the surgery was worthwhile until it’s fully healed, but the surgeon says it went well, anyway.

    To answer you question about faith based programs, it depends on what they do and how they do it. As to what they do, if they help people to help themselves I tend to favor them, just as I would any such program. As to how they do it, there is an old saying that with government money comes government strings. I think that’s usually true. And I suspect that with faith based money comes faith based strings more often than not. It would be the unusual program, I fear, that would funnel government money through a faith based organization and not have too many strings from one or the other.

    On the other hand, I have done pro bono work (as a mediator and as an attorney) for two Catholic Charities program (probably privately funded, but I never asked) and there were no religious strings at all, so I know such programs can work in ways I approve of.

    The findings you talk about in your last comment are probably simply a reflection of human nature — more a matter of personal responsibility than generosity. Those who think charity is the government’s job are less likely to see it as their job personally. For example, I used to give regularly to the local public television station. I stopped the day they started accepting public financing and haven’t felt the urge to give a penny since then.

    Take care and I look forward to your return.

  • JJ

    “Youth today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work. Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter the room. They contradict their parents, talk too much, guzzle their food, and tyrannize their teachers. What will become of them? What sort of adults will they make? This world is truly coming to an end.”

    Sound like your grandmother, DQ?

    It was Socrates, 2,100 years ago. It’s been a problem for a long time.

    “You do not help someone by doing for him what he should do for himself. You only make him incapable.”

    That’s Lincoln, and government “help” has been a problem for a long time too. What it does best is create what’s referred to as the “entitlement mentality.”

    Eli’s right, by the measure of the rest of the world, there is no poverty in this country. None. If someone who is poor by American standards – with a car, roof over his head, food, electricity, a tube to watch, clean running water, etc. – ever ventured to the slums in the hills above Rio, or the slums of Bangkok, or Ethiopia, and told them about how “poor” he is, he would get – and deserve – only derision.

    Group after group has come to this country (Italian, Irish, Polish, Chinese, etc., etc.) with nothing, and been grateful for the opportunity. The first generation works their tails off at whatever job there is to be done, and by the second generation they have surpassed those who rely on “assistance” from the government for generation after generation. They are in no time middle class, while those who are consumers of the government “assistance” remain there.

    Miami is run by the Cuban community. Their parents drifted ashore on old inner tubes, with nothing. Now it’s their city. They got off the inner tube, waded ashore, and went to work fourteen hours a day, and the kids went to school. Now those kids and grandchildren are running the place.

  • jg

    DQ, many thanks for .11. You have said a lot very well–and offered some insights into the discussion about illegal immigrants (which is another problem.)

    I concur with Eli about the inner city, having seen the same in a diffrerent aspect in the Deep South. My family works now on the Gulf Coast to help rebuild individual homes, usually through local churches.

    It was their experience during and after Katrina that– although governmental intervention mattered– it was the sacrifice, contribution, concern of individual citizens that was first to help.

    Churches were there first; many individuals from Vermont to Oregon came. That aid has never halted.
    Money matters, of course. Billions have been spent. But rebuilding the lives of the survivors.. that requires human hands, hearts, and love.

    Many, many thousands–indeed hundreds of thousands–of individual Americans have aided the Katrina effort..through their actions– not just their tax dollars.

    It’s not politically correct to acknowledge the strength of our care for one another in this country, but it’s true. The Gulf Coast has witnessed firsthand America’s basic unity and decency. (Note: our involvement has been with the devastated Coast areas, and not New Orleans or Louisiana.)

  • expat


    I think there might also be a connection to our victim culture. If a person fits into one of the approved victim categories, he cannot be criticized. If, however, he is an oppressor, it is necessary to do everything possible to destroy him.

  • kevin

    Well I for one, would like to wish all the posters on Bookworm’s site (conservative and liberals alike) a Happy and Prosperous New Year! I’ll be looking forward to locking horns with some of you in 2007 but tonight is a time for reflection and revelry.


  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com/ Don Quixote

    And cheers to you, Kevin. Thanks for adding your point of view to our discussion and I look forward to your comments in 2007.

  • http://http:/pobox.com/~vogelke Karl Vogel

    > Does cultural relativism dilute moral certainty?

    I think “Does moral relativism dilute moral certainty?”
    is a better question. I don’t care what culture you come
    from as long as you understand certain basics, like (say)
    encouraging your kid to strap on explosives and walk into a
    restaurant is *bad*.

    Cultures can and do change, but moral basics don’t; liberty
    is just as right today as it was when the Saracens practiced
    it, and the right to *not* be treated as a means to someone
    else’s ends is as true today as it was when the US Civil War

    > Does a decline in belief in God and an afterlife play a
    > role, since there is less long-term reason to engage in a
    > moral life?

    What a horrible assumption! I’m an atheist, and I have
    plenty of reasons to refrain from violating the rights of
    others, not the least of which is the Golden Rule (which
    predates Christianity by hundreds of years).

    Have a look at Bertrand Russell’s essays on why he was an
    unbeliever, or Rand’s book “Philosophy: Who Needs It” to see
    why a systematic philosophy fills a vital human need, and
    why a practical moral code need not be based on fear of some
    supernatural voyeur.

    > Is the fact that we relate to each other in ever more
    > distant ways a part of the problem?

    That probably solves more problems than it causes; without
    weblogs, etc. the likelihood of my being exposed to your
    (very good) writing would have been slim. The ‘net is also
    letting the media know that there’s no such thing as a right
    to an audience – Dan Rather and his producer started working
    on the “Bush-National-Guard” story in 1999, and 5 years
    later a bunch of bloggers blew their finished product out of
    the water in less than 72 hours.

    > Why the decline of moral standards, pretty much no matter
    > how measured?

    Standards imply a basis for judgment. Moral standards imply
    a basis on which to judge the actions of others, hopefully
    the same basis on which you’d want your own to be judged.

    We can’t survive without passing judgment; I had a choice
    this morning to eat rat poison or cereal for breakfast, and
    I picked cereal because my *judgment* told me that cereal
    was of value to my life. When passing judgment is no longer
    considered evil, the standards problem will go away.

    > How can we help America, and the world, rediscover its
    > moral compass?

    By showing the world that there’s a *need* for a moral
    compass in the first place. We can’t do that without
    demonstrating that things like rational standards and
    judgment are virtues rather than evils to be stamped out.