In part one of what will be a three-part blog, I discussed what I think is one of the biggest problems with modern society, that money and profits are valued more highly than anything else, including human life. In that bizarre hierarchy of values, we allow people to die from lack of medical care even though that care is readily available.
Number two is that modern society has failed to produce enough of the most necessary aspect of any successful culture…common decency. It is not simplistic to say that decency, or goodwill, or good intent are the glue that holds society together, and that these attributes determine our success or failure as much or more than anything else. It fuels the virtuous cycles that are the hallmark of successful societies.
This isn’t part of some hippy or new age philosophy. It is a basic truth. Especially with the advent of modern technologies, if we wanted, we could shape and have almost any kind of society we wanted. We could eliminate poverty, workers could have high wages, everyone could have affordable (even free) health care, the best education could be available and affordable to anyone who wanted it, and we could even have a much safer society, if that was what we wanted.
Some would say that it is the rule of law instead that determines such things. Others argue incessantly that markets make such things happen. But that is not the case. We now see that evil intent undoes and undermines laws, and that markets create efficiencies and sometimes can maximize profits, but they uphold no other values, and they do not make effective plans for society.
But it is nothing more mysterious or complicated than our goodwill towards one another that truly determines the course of society. That is unfortunate, though, because goodwill and decency are almost entirely absent in this generation of American politicians. They talk about such things, and often stand behind and tout their religiosity, but their behavior tells an entirely different story.
This era of American politicians, by and large, especially when they come together in and hide behind their groups and labels (political parties, left, right, liberals, conservatives) are devoid of decency. They no longer bother with such things as ethics or basic rules of conflict of interest, the most basic expression of common decency in society. We will someday, I truly hope, look back at this era and ask of almost every one of this political generation, “Have you no sense of decency?” the famous line uttered by Joseph Welch that was the beginning of the end for Senator Joseph McCarthy.
And so we see wholesale acceptance and legitimization of corruption, often under the guise of democracy (free speech). Modern politicians willingly move within it, use it to their advantage, or just go along with it for expedience.
Indecency is the rule when Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leads the clearly illegal movement refusing to vote on a legitimate Supreme Court nominee, but objects when the Democrats threaten the same thing a year later. It defines House Majority Leader Paul Ryan’s efforts to undo Medicare and social security. But it also underlies Democratic Senator Cory Booker’s vote against a bill that would bring about lower drug prices in America. And basic indecency is the reason that American government has failed to address climate change.
When our leaders lack common decency, the rule of law and even the most robust markets have little effect.
And oddly, modern religion seems to hold little sway over such things. Whatever is discussed with the congregation on weekends has little effect come Monday morning.
And so, a most worthy New Year’s resolution, a truly vital one, and maybe the true key to moving towards a more successful modern society, is something as simple as holding ourselves and our leaders to the Golden Rule.