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The Escalating, Downward Spiral of Ethics and Morality in America

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What's going on in this country? All one has to do is turn on the TV or listen to the radio and the cases of unethical and immoral behavior seem to be everywhere. Whether they involve politicians, sports figures, Hollywood celebrities or even your average American, the incidence of unconscionable or deviant behavior in this society is increasing at an alarming rate.

Ethics is generally defined as a set of moral values or principles. Ethics and morality are terms that are often used interchangeably and both relate to judgments of right versus wrong. In practice ethics are typically applied to business dealings while morality is generally applied to societal issues. The question is; are either of them relevant in the American society of today?

A case in point: Penn State University is reeling from a scandal involving immoral actions and unethical behavior on the part of high level officials. In an atmosphere of apparent tranquility, reports of sexual molestation including rape, involving eight young boys ages 10 to 14, suddenly erupted and brought shock and disbelief to that university campus and the entire nation.

Let's examine this scandal from two distinctly opposite views: in the first, there is Penn State, a prestigious university; a legendary, nationally acclaimed football coach, his defensive coordinator who was also the head of a foundation for underprivileged children, and the university president. These were all very respected, upstanding people, right? At least, that is how it appeared on the surface.

But just below the surface a dark side was emerging; something very obscene that now has turned this university upside down. Quite suddenly the defensive coordinator was arrested and charged with various crimes involving sexual assault and molestation. Subsequently, the athletic director and the VP of finance were arrested and charged with perjury and failure to report the alleged incidents; the famous, iconic coach and the respected president were fired.

So, on the surface everything was just fine in this university town, an area fondly referred to as "Happy Valley." But the situation has now become a living nightmare, not only for the young victims, but also for the entire university, its faculty, its leadership, and the students who will likely never be able to forget this tragedy. And as for the future of its football program, it will be forever stained.

Here is further evidence that the abuse of our young children is reaching alarming proportions. A recent national study of students in grades seven through twelve, made by American Association of University Women (ASUW), indicates that 48% of them had experienced some form of sexual harassment by another student, either physically, by text or e-mail. Our younger generation is under siege by misfits who apparently have not been taught the difference between right and wrong.

Talk about incomprehensible, inexcusable moral behavior, what about this article about the U.S. Air Force Dover, Delaware mortuary that speaks of dead troops' bodies or body parts being cremated and thrown into a landfill in Virginia. How very bizarre is that? It is a terrible insult to those service members who America honors; those about whom it is often said, "They have given their lives in the service of this nation."

The article goes on to say, "Gari-Lynn Smith's husband was blown up in Iraq in 2006. His remains were disposed of in the landfill." "My only peace of mind in losing my husband was that he was taken to Dover and that he was handled with dignity, love, respect and honor," Smith told The Washington Post. "That was completely shattered for me when I was told that he was thrown in the trash." The general responsible for the personnel explained that the procedure in practice covered the "disposal of medical waste." So the lesson here must be, "fight to protect your country and if you die, you may be worth no more than trash."

And after this bizarre practice was uncovered what corrective measures were taken by the military to restore honor and respect? Well, since then the military has begun to dispose of the remains of the deceased by "dumping them" in the sea. What? Why in hell can they not bury them with dignity in Arlington Cemetery in a decent grave in the country for which they fought? This is just one more example in which highly immoral and disgusting behavior continued until the perpetrators were caught.

How about ethical and moral behavior in government? This nation continues to have a terrible problem existing at the highest levels of government. Think about the many senators and U.S. representatives who have been caught performing immoral acts involving prostitutes, someone else's spouse or, believe it or not, young congressional pages! Many Republicans and some Democrats have been exposed in recent times and worst of all, almost all of them were never brought before ethics committees or censured in any way; at least one of them remains in Congress, exhibiting no shame whatsoever.

What about those people who sat in the audience at one of the Republican debates and yelled, cheered, and wildly applauded when Governor Perry's record of executions was mentioned; when they booed and catcalled as a gay member of the military tried to speak. And during another debate when the audience cheered after a candidate indicated she approved of water boarding.

Politicians, football coaches and celebrities are not the only ones crossing the lines of morality; corporations, the pseudo-human beings that the U.S. Supreme Court created in the Citizens United case, have corrupted the political process with their tainted campaign contributions and turned greedy politicians into their pawns. And then we have the Wall Street manipulators that have effectively outlawed ethics and morality so that they can bend and twist financial regulations at will.

If these examples of a breakdown in moral behavior were just isolated, random cases then the situation would not be that problematic. But these incidents are happening with far too much consistency. They are living proof of the degree to which morals and values have declined. On the surface and in day to day relations it may seem that this society and people are quite ethical and moral. But just give someone a big enough temptation, in most cases involving money or sex, and see how fast that person can lose his or her moral compass and go astray.

When this society is being pulled in the wrong direction, it needs something to pull it back in the right direction. That something should be this nation's religious leaders who should be speaking out loudly and strongly against these kinds of abuses. But as these terrible abuses are exposed for all to see, what do we hear from our religious leaders? Virtually nothing. Except for a very few, do we see them on TV or hear them on the radio speaking out on these issues? They are failing to rise to the occasion when the people of America need guidance; and that is one of the reasons why this nation continues in this state of societal decline.

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Michael Payne is an independent progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues; and especially with the great dangers involved with the proliferation of perpetual war, the associated defense (more...)

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I think it is a product of the vast majority of us... by Thomas Brown on Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011 at 9:57:23 PM
to restore our morality. If you don't believe me,&... by Daniel Geery on Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011 at 10:06:01 PM
Daniel:Matt Drudge is near or at the bottom on the... by michael payne on Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 at 10:15:30 AM
The bible which I don't believe in but many do say... by liberalsrock on Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 at 11:26:01 AM
"Den of Thieves" by James P Stewart is one of many... by Susan Lee Schwartz on Friday, Nov 18, 2011 at 5:23:54 PM
This society is rapidly going in the wrong directi... by michael payne on Friday, Nov 18, 2011 at 8:13:13 PM