In his immensely popular book, "The Purpose Driven Life" , one of the major points that Pastor Rick Warren tries to make is that people must change the way they think before they can change the way they live. I believe the same principle applies to cultures. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I do not believe morality can be legislated. All the laws in the world against every imaginable immoral act will not make any culture or nation better or more righteous. Instead, we need a cultural change that comes as a result of modifying our opinion about certain things in our society. Specifically, we must change the way we view violence, theft, foul language, and personal responsibility.
Sadly, the culture of violence is so ingrained into American culture that the two have become almost interwoven. We have come to accept violence as a fact of life. We wink at it. We even laugh and make jokes about it. I believe this attitude stems from the fact that, for many centuries, we have blithely accepted idea that it is sometimes okay for a man to strike or assault another man for reasons other than to defend himself or someone else from imminent physical harm. For example, we seem to think it is sometimes acceptable for a man to give another guy "a good beating" for "mouthing off" at him. Some people refer to this attitude as "old school." Well, if that’s old school, classes need to be shut down immediately!
Let’s look at what this mindset as led to. Since that kind of escalation has been accepted for so long, people now often escalate from hitting to shooting or stabbing, without thinking twice. Many young people today see no difference between those forms of violent escalation. In their minds, if one form of escalation is acceptable, then why not another? Of course, mobsters, gangs, and those involved in the drug culture have never had any problem with the escalation of violence, but now that sentiment has spilled over into mainstream society.
Violence has become a staple of our entertainment industry. Violent entertainment, even in its most graphic form, and is considered socially acceptable. In fact, the FCC cannot fine broadcasters for violent content as it can for sexually explicit or vulgar content.
We need a whole new attitude toward violence. It should be completely abhorrent to us. Those who harm others with violence, other than in cases of self defense or the like, should be considered disgusting. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see all manliness as well as manly sports erased from our culture. I’m not one of those fanatics who advocate such foolishness. In fact, football and boxing, what some people would call the two most violent sports, are two of my favorite sports. Also, if two guys want to mutually agree to settle their differences by "duking it out", that’s fine with me. However, when someone resorts to the use of unnecessary and unexpected violence against another person, it should be interpreted as a barbaric act and treated as such by our laws. Violence will never be completely eradicated from our society, but it can be greatly reduced. However, this will only happen when we begin to view it as unacceptable.
As is the case with violence, our culture seems to accept the inevitability of theft. It didn’t use to be that way. There was a time when almost everyone respected the property of others and would not bother it. However, people now have to keep the doors of their homes and cars locked to keep the contents of such from being stolen. In fact, we spend millions of dollars a year on devices that attempt to prevent would-be thieves from stealing our cars, breaking into our homes, and robbing us of other precious possessions.
We sometimes excuse theft and take it lightly. We treat it in such a matter-of-fact manner that we assume that a certain (high) level of it is always going to exist. For example, most stores seem resigned to the "fact" that a certain percentage of their merchandise will be lost to shoplifting.
In addition, we often seem to hold everyone but the thieves themselves responsible when theft occurs (I’m getting to a general point on that later). For example, if a child leaves his bicycle outside, unprotected, overnight and it gets stolen, the child gets yelled at for being irresponsible. Now, if the child goes outside and gets molested by a pervert, I bet his parents wouldn’t yell at him. Why the difference? Because we treat child molestation as unacceptable while treating theft as somewhat of a norm. I don’t mean to make light of child molestation in any way, but we ought to treat theft as unacceptable too.
We should view theft as being almost as bad as violence and then treat it that way. Our new view of it would result in theft becoming more stigmatized. At that point, we would likely institute more of a zero-tolerance policy toward it, with thieves being punished more severely than they are today. Then, perhaps, theft would become more of an anomaly and less of an expectation.
Foul language has become a mainstay of modern dialogue. While I don’t agree with the cultural conservatives’ efforts to censor various forms of media, I do agree with their perception that our culture has become coarsened. One of the major manifestations of this coarsening is our increased use of profane and vulgar language. In fact, our language has become outright callous and is quickly headed toward becoming atrocious. On top of that, habitual use of foul language makes us seem collectively boorish.
When I was growing up, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I believed that certain "bad" words had just recently been invented. I was wrong, of course. They’ve been around for centuries. However, they weren’t used in polite society or mixed company. They were mainly confined to locker rooms, sports fields, bars, dance halls, smoke-filled back rooms, battlefields, etc. They weren’t used in many other venues because people viewed them as inappropriate.
Fast forward to the early 21st century and we can’t escape foul language, no matter where we go, except maybe for our houses of worship. It’s on TV, it’s in the movies, it’s at our work place, it’s in the classroom, it’s at social events, it’s in the "music" being blared out by the driver next to us at the stoplight, etc. Things have gotten to the point where some people literally can’t verbally communicate without the use of profanity or vulgarity in every other sentence.
What happened? We let our guard down and started accepting this kind of language without blushing or raising an eyebrow. We stopped correcting and punishing children for using it. We eventually became indifferent to it. We need to shrug off our indifference and start looking at foul language as both unnecessary and extremely rude. Once this attitude change becomes prevalent, we could well be on our way to a more gentile society.
Another problem that plagues modern American culture is that we have become a nation of blame-shifters. Far too many of us are constantly looking for someone (or something) else to blame for our own actions. In addition, we often hold one person (ex., the child who got his bike stolen) accountable for the deliberate and illegal actions of someone else (ex., the person who stole it). We also expect the government and or our fellow citizens to bail us out or relieve us of the consequences stemming from our illegal and/or unwise behavior. When they fail to do so, we act as if we have been wronged. The root cause of these attitudes is that we have a distorted view of the role of personal responsibility.
We need to amend our view of personal responsibility in such a way that we: (1) require that any natural consequences resulting from a person’s behavior, both private and public, be borne solely by that person and (2) hold people entirely responsible for their own actions and entirely blameless for everyone else’s.
Accordingly, we would rightly blame the person who actually does the crime, not the one who (although negligently) might make it easier for him or her to do it. A person would not be allowed to blame "hate speech" for his or her violent actions. Criminals would not be permitted to use the excuse that their parents abused them as children. Poverty would not be a valid excuse either. The victims of shootings and/or their families would be blocked from suing gun stores. Rapists could not pin the blame for their actions on pornography or indecency in the media. Whoever commits a crime would do the time. We would rid ourselves of the scapegoat mentality that says someone else could be prosecuted or sued for it. If the perpetrator could not be caught, no one would be punished (criminally or civilly).
We desperately need a cultural change affecting all of the areas that I have described. Without it, we’ll soon find ourselves in the wastebasket of history.