Factors in Moral Decay


By Richard Kieninger


The increasing incidence of overt violence in the United States is a very real and deep-seated problem. Our rising crime rate among juveniles and the recent assassinations of prominent political personages are evidence of the preva­lent contempt for the rights and opinions of others.


The trend toward individual dissociation from social responsibility can be traced to a breakdown in the family unit. The pursuit of material accumulation does not allow the mother and father of most families to have much time for their children. Although the youngsters are well fed and clothed and have many material advantages, they are almost bereft of the all-important loving involve­ment with their parents which would have set the stage for a healthy, interper­sonal regard for others.


We have been conditioned from childhood to dissociate ourselves from concern over the results of mass slaughter of enemy civilians and soldiers in war by regarding them as subhuman in some vague way. A whole generation was fed movies which glorified the killing of Indians on the ground that they were savage redskins, and television still knocks them off like clay pigeons. That such things occurred is a matter of history, but these horrendous losses of life are watched by youngsters without a ripple of feeling while they munch on popcorn to the tune of wholesale death. I too was brought up to regard Indians as the malefactors, but they were the victims of treaties broken by whites and a merciless gentleman’s agreement to exterminate the whole race. I would have no great objection to “entertainment” which shows an Indian being killed, provided it portrays in detail his pain and despair in dying and the disastrous effect on his widow and the cost to his orphaned children. Instead, we continue to preach to our children dissociation from human sensitivity. Our modern morality plays teach loudly and clearly: do not consider the other man’s rights; do not try to seek a just agreement through compromise if you have an advantage which lets you squeeze the other man out; kill your irritating rival and you will be right by virtue of survival and the silencing of your accuser. That was how the West was won, and we are apparently still trying to rationalize it.


Producers of television shows realize that there is no shock value any longer in shedding the blood of hoards of Indians because we have been taught to regard them as some sort of talking animals who would have killed us first if we weren’t so superior. To make violence more personal, more meaningful, more fascinating, television brought into our living rooms the sadist, the pervert and the psychopathic criminal who enjoys murder and the torture of pretty young women. These bizarre characters somehow become heroes in comparison to the solid but dull citizens. The role of the government secret agent who can murder with impunity whether by mistake or personal malice and the role of the private eye who has plenty of money, a nice car and beautiful girl friends in exchange for murdering his clients’ enemies have become heroic roles which youngsters emulate in their imaginations. But this engenders attitudes which color the child’s whole concept of life and social responsibility.


Being a tough guy who is squeamish about nothing regardless of its moral ramifications is the model for the majority of young men today. A boy must defend his honor by doing anything that will keep the appellation “chicken” from being applied to him. He is expected to be quick at taking offense and maintaining a belligerently surly posture lest he be challenged. Living in an environment where one must always expect to be challenged to defend the “honor” of his manhood is frightening and exhausting. Violence is the natural outcome of the confrontations which continually arise.


The same kind of insanity was bred into the feudal lords and aspirants to knighthood. Upholding personal pride and honor in combat kept men dying young thus precluding their attainment of wise maturity. The history of the Dark Ages was made by hot-headed adolescents proving their manhood in war and in romantic tournaments. The same kind of “manly” pride and adulation of glory in battle is still being praised by jingoistic nationalists in most countries of the world. Our own tradition encourages us not to question the romantic mad­ness of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” and the disciplined bravery of tens of thousands of French infantrymen who early in World War I were marched in wave upon wave against German machine guns and died to a man in great mounds of bleeding flesh and shattered bones. To what end? Pride? Glory? Honor? Can such “honor” be an honorable virtue? The same rules apply to national karma as to individual karma. A nation which kills for national pride and national glory (of which the British Empire and The Third Reich are good examples) is just as wrong as the young man who kills because of a slur against his “manly” pride.


The acceptability of killing has been bred into us by traditions of the glories of battle and by our lack of empathy with the other man’s love of life. To play games of pride and glory with human life as the stakes is truly madness whether on the national or personal level.


We are bred to accept international violence but are appalled when the same violence manifests itself domestically. Pride, callousness and fear are at the root of all killing. Their antitheses are humility, empathy and love; and these are the true marks of an honorable man who is courageous enough to live-and-let-live and to forgive those who would be his enemies.


It seems to me that entertainment which shows a man smashing another’s face or blowing a hole through him is an obscenity far more degrading to the observer than any portrayal of the gentle acts of making love, which Americans find so dirty. What perversity has so twisted our values that love is made base and war is exalted?


In the future, our closed television circuits will not parade the antisocial acts of sick minds under the guise of entertainment so as to dignify them in the minds of children as the way adults behave. Displays of depravity may be titillating to sniggering adolescents, but we hope to encourage in our youngsters a wholesome engagement with life rather than a sophisticated acquaintance with the evils of the world. The performing arts have a responsibility to mold public tastes to the highest possible standards of appreciation. Cheap panderings to murder and crime are not art even though they may tell it as it really is. The underworld is too depressing for me to view, let alone subjecting children to it.




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