What Has Happened to Morality in the USA?

moralityYears ago, religions enforced what I would call a pseudo moral code through the power of the state to enact laws desired by the most powerful religions.  This of course reflected the power that religions had in society back when you could go to hell for missing mass on Sunday.  Gambling was verboten.  There was legalized horse race betting in only a few states, and a few states had some other sports such as greyhound racing or Jai Alai which you could bet on.  Legally, you could only place bets at the venue.  Of course, organized crime found it very lucrative to offer “off track” betting.  Every street corner where I grew up had a bookie some place or other.  And of course, the numbers game was a very popular way for fools to lose their money.  Sports betting was done privately, and casino gambling did not start in Las Vegas until 1931.  It had been legal earlier but was outlawed in 1910 and not legalized until 1931.  The only lottery I ever heard of when I was growing up had to do with the Irish Sweepstakes.  There must have been some way to buy these tickets, but I never investigated it.

Today, you can buy pull tabs and lottery tickets in almost every gas station.  Casinos are just around the corner in twenty states and sports betting became legal on April 15, 2021, in the USA.  Organized religion believed that gambling would be addictive, and husband and wives would neglect their parental responsibilities as they gambled away their hard-earned wages.  People who regularly buy lottery tickets are the norm today even though economists refer to the lottery as a tax on the poor and the stupid.

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Marijuana was once considered a drug from Satan and every state in the Union banned its sale.  The movie “Reefer Madness” came out in 1936 and portrayed wild eyed youth going crazy after smoking a joint.  Smoking weed was a sure path to hell and damnation.  As of May 27, 2022, 19 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have now enacted measures to regulate cannabis for adult non-medical use with several other states limiting its use to medical purposes.  You can now smoke that joint where it once would have put you in jail.

drink-whiskey-hail-satan-satanic-baphomet-gift-manuel-pichlerWhiskey can now be purchased almost 24/7 in many states.  You can buy it in grocery stores, gas stations, bars, and convenience stores.  Perhaps no substance has been more abhorred by religions than whiskey.  Benjamin Franklin said that “Beer is proof that God loved man and wanted him to be happy.”  However, this was not the attitude of most religious organizations.  Temperance movements motivated by so called moral considerations did their best to ban alcohol in the US.  It is illegal in thirteen countries in the world.  Several of the world’s major religions ban the use of alcohol.  There are seventy-five scripture (Bible) warnings against the drinking of alcohol.  Is it any wonder that so many religions have prohibited the drinking of alcohol.

  • Hosea 4:11 – Intoxicating wine takes away intelligence.
  • Micah 2:11 – Israelites are eager to follow false teachers who prophesy plenty of intoxicating drinks.
  • Habakkuk 2:16 – Drinking leads to shame.

I have been trying to show some of the influences that religion and state have had in terms of legislating and enforcing moral codes and policy.  I could say more about prostitution and pornography but the nuances I hold regarding these subjects would entail a blog of their own.  Suffice it to say that restrictions in these areas have declined considerably in the last fifty years.

The_Fire__Brimstone_PreachingNow there may be some of you reading my blog and expecting a fire and brimstone sermon regarding the sins of humanity and the temptations of the devil.  Nothing could be further from my mind.  I am not advocating going back to the religious sanctions or beliefs that fueled so much of our political system.  In the first place, they were misguided and in the second place they penalized those who could practice moral virtues along with those most reluctant.  I could never understand why I could not buy liquor on Sunday or after 10 PM on weekdays or in a grocery store.  I have never received a DUI or even a warning for driving drunk.

The biggest problem with efforts to legislate morality is that they assume that the legal sanctions will result in a more moral society.  The evidence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia in America should put a stake through the heart of that false belief.  The government has never been a vendor of morality.  People confuse legality with morality.

1787-Money-Mania-fullThe government has always been in the marketing business.  They would market “SIN” if they could find a way to sell it or allow it to be sold.  In some respects, they are already doing that with the legalization of gambling and their promotion of bigger and bigger lotteries.  The poor buy more and more tickets when the odds go ever higher against anyone winning.  Powerball’s odds are 1 in 292 million, and the combined populations in the states where tickets are sold equal nearly 320 million.  What would anyone do with 2 billion dollars?  (As I write this, the lottery of 2.0 billion has been won by a single person in California)

This is the stuff of more is better which I talked about in my last blog.  How large of a jackpot would be enough to support you for the rest of your life?  Assuming the average age of a lottery ticket holder, it would take nearly $5 million, according to Robert Pagliarini, president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors.  With a net take home of 1 billion dollars, one billion dollars could easily support 200 people for the rest of their lives.

There is nothing moral about ever bigger lottery purses.  Not to mention the fact that the odds are better that the lottery winner will go bankrupt rather than that they will see a happy old age with lots of money.  “Life after winning the lottery may not stay glamorous forever. Whether they win $500 million or $1 million, about 70 percent of lotto winners lose or spend all that money in five years or less.”Easy Come, Easy Go.

What does this have to do with morality? 

First, we must define morality.  It is not about making money, winning the lottery, drinking booze, smoking weed or visiting a casino.  The Prosperity Gospel is a distortion of the idea of moral behavior.  Morality is the process of asking yourself what impact an action, a course of action, a decision, a purchase, or a behavior will have on other people.  It does not mean that you cannot drink and gamble.  It does not mean that you cannot have wild sex at a swinger’s party.  It does mean that you need to be able to ask yourself if your gambling and drinking is having a negative impact on others.  It does mean that you need to ask yourself if your sexual habits are having a negative impact on other people.  By others. I mean more than your family, more than your friends, more than your neighbors.  I mean other states.  I mean other countries.  I mean the entire world.  This does not mean that you have no rights.  You have the right to swing your arm but your right proverbially stops at the nose of another person.

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As I said in my last blog, we must look outside of ourselves to find morality.  This is not easy to do.  Some of us, (fewer every year) go to a church on Sunday where we may get a sermon that asks us to look at our behaviors and what we can do for other people.  (“According to a 2021 survey, 31 percent of Americans never attend church or synagogue, compared to 22 percent of Americans who attend every week.”— Church Attendance of Americans)  Those of us who attend church hear maybe a twenty or thirty minute sermon each week on morality.

Compared to this 30-minute sermon once per week for maybe fifty percent of Americans:

The average American watches four hours of TV each day (that’s down from about six hours in the 1960s through 1990s by the way). There are about twenty minutes of “non-program material” per hour, which includes ads, promos, news updates, etc. For our purposes, let’s consider all of this commercial matter.  So in four hours, we see eighty minutes of commercials.” — Fred Pagano, Radio, television and Internet advertising producer and director.

This means that the average American hears about 560 minutes of paid advertisements each week or the equivalent of 19 sermons.  These ads exhort you to think of yourself.  You are special but you need more to be more special.  If you don’t buy more, you neighbors will look down on you.  Your friends will surpass you in status.  Your family will stop loving you.  You can be a better smarter person, but you must buy the new Persico Bacon Maker.  You need a new car or maybe even a bigger house.  You should go out to eat more or get a new insurance policy.

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Advertisements are NEVER what you can do for other people or society.  They are ALWAYS inherently selfish.  Is it any wonder that Americans shop till they drop or keep on buying more stuff that is bigger and bigger than they will ever need?   Americans have been and are continually bombarded by Madison Avenue messages that are a form of de facto brainwashing.  Too many Americans today are selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, and exhibit an entitlement mentality.  Economic policy extols benefits that will accrue to society with more buying and more spending.  It is somewhat ironic that the rampant inflation today and the wild economic swings have not been helped one iota by a greedy narcissistic economic policy that ignores any effort to provide a balance Moral Policy.  In addition, Americans are no happier today than they were seventy years ago.

“The vast majority of Americans report being “very” (42%) or “fairly happy” (44%), but the combined 86% is down from 91% the last time Gallup asked about this, in December 2008. It is also the lowest overall percentage happy Gallup has recorded in periodic readings over 71 years and is only the fifth time happiness has dipped below the 90% mark in 23 readings since 1948.”Happiness Not Quite as Widespread as Usual in the U.S

How do we get a balance between Moral Policy and Economic Policy?

My apologies.  This blog was longer than I thought it would be.  I will address the above question in my next blog.  In the meantime, I would love to hear any comments, questions or ideas that you might have concerning the issues I have raised in this and my previous blog.

Don’t Tell the Truth, Hide Behind a Euphemism

Collateral-Damage

New Introduction:  May, 2021

I wrote this six years ago.  Last week, (May 2021) I was teaching a class on Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and was explaining the difference between analogies, metaphors and euphemisms.  I remembered that I had written this blog several years ago and decided to see if it had any relevance.  I was struck by what I had said about policing back then since my comments have supported more recently by numerous examples.  I have decided to republish the original blog.  I will go through and correct some egregious editing and grammar problems.

January, 2015

I woke up at 3 AM the morning of January 2, 2015 with military euphemisms on my mind.   Knowing that I would forget the ideas I had, I jotted down a few notes on paper before going back to bed.   A few of the specific euphemisms that were running through my brain included:

  • Collateral Damage
  • Surge
  • Village Pacification
  • Enhanced Interrogation
  • VUCA
  • Shock and Awe
  • IED
  • Drone Kill

Thinking that this was probably a very incomplete list of the euphemisms out there, I decided to Google the following:  Military Euphemism Examples.  Here is what my screen looked like:

Pages of Search Query

You will notice that I now had 254, 000 results.  I next went to the “Glossary of Iraqi War Euphemisms” and I found a site full of euphemisms that I had not thought of.  At this point, I realized that any possible list of euphemisms that I could compile far exceeded the limits of my prose for this blog.  I had originally thought to list a few of the more commonly heard euphemisms and discuss the implications of these words in respect to our thinking and behavior.  I would still like to accomplish this objective but now with more deference to those who have gone before in this effort as well as with increased humility in terms of the extent of the problem we are facing.  (Following this blog, are two references which anyone who wants to explore this problem further should pursue.)  See the late great George Carlin on Euphemisms.

What is the problem you may ask?  David Bromwich put it very succinctly:

“The frightening thing about the use of euphemisms is their power to efface the memory of actual cruelties.  Behind the façade of a history falsified by language, the painful particulars of war are lost.”David Bromwich

Dangerous-LiarsLet’s take a concrete example to illustrate the problem more.  The United States Senate recently released a report officially titled as:  Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.   Unofficially, it has been called the Senate Report on Torture.   I downloaded and saved the above report (525 pages) which I assume is the condensed version or summary of the full report.  Just for curiosity sake, I searched for the word Torture in the summary.  There were 131 instances of the word in the 525 page summary.

I then typed in “enhanced interrogation” and found 997 instances of the term in the report.  Apparently our Senate is no fonder of the word Torture then its intended victims were.  Given our penchant for euphemisms, I am almost surprised that they did not call it the “Senate Report on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”  With such a title, they could probably sell it to Human Resource Managers looking for better ways to screen potential new hires.  I also typed in the word Victim to see how many times this was in the report.  It was found a total of 6 times and in each instance, it was related to the phrase:  “United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”  Apparently, the word victim is too harsh to use.  Maybe we should call victims of torture something like “unintended recipients of undesired attention.”  You must admit it has a sort of ring to it.  I think it sounds a lot more interesting than “victims of torture.”  We could abbreviate it as URUA which can then be used when needed so as not to offend anyone.

grave yard euphemismA euphemism is a word or phrase used in place of another word or phrase.  However, a euphemism is different than a synonym.  The difference is important because it is insidious and it strikes to the heart of the problem that we are facing here.   This is an example from Baker Editing Services on the use of synonyms versus euphemisms which I think does a good job of illustrating the differences:

“You need to select your synonyms carefully.  Euphemisms are sometimes a good choice as a specific category of synonym when selecting an alternate word.  They are neutral, mild, or vague terms that can be used to express a more offensive or traumatic word or situation without giving offense.  Rather than saying a coworker is a competitive ass, you might say that he is “driven” or “very dedicated to achieving his goals.”

war picturesNotice the difference?  When we use a euphemism, we may be trying not to give offense.  We may also be trying to hide the truth or something that might be unacceptable if rendered in plain English.  Thus in war, words like casualties replace deaths and “suppressing the enemy” replaces “killing” the enemy.  American casualties are reported but not enemy casualties since we don’t really care about the number of freedom fighters (Oh, I meant terrorists) we kill.   We did not really destroy the village and all the women and children and freedom fighters (Oops, my mistake again, I meant terrorists) in it.  We pacified the village.

(‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.)Peter Arnett

We certainly pacified the town of Bến Tre which now has a population of over 140, 000 people.  Of course, back during the Vietnam War, they were not people, they were Gooks.  I was curious to find out just how many people were killed while we “pacified” the village but I could not find any specific figures.  (If anyone knows the number of people killed at Bến Tre during the offensive, please let me know.) 

Another euphemism or at least it seems to be a euphemism is the concept of “force continuum”:

force continuumA “Use of Force Continuum” is a standard that provides law enforcement officials and security officers (such as police officers, probation officers, or corrections officers) with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation.

excessive forceThe principle idea here is to use only the amount of deterrence necessary to protect oneself and also accomplish the objectives needed by the situation.  Practically speaking this means that if someone calls you a name, you do not shoot them.  If someone comes at you bare handed, you may use the minimum level of force necessary to protect yourself.  This might mean you would use tear gas or a Taser before you would blast them with a shotgun.  I mentioned that the concept of force continuum seems like a euphemism but perhaps it is more of a misnomer since it often seems like it is an upside down continuum with police shooting first and asking questions later.

The problem of euphemisms is evident in policing as well as in military situations.   However, it is more insidious and subtle here and thus more difficult to recognize.  Nevertheless, it plays an important role in police efforts to prevent crime and violence.  If instead of looking at someone as a human being or a citizen, police label them as “violent perps”, then they will likely use more force than they need to.  Many of the recent examples in the news of “police brutality” reflect this overuse of force due to the stereotyping of African Americans as more violent and dangerous than Whites or other ethnic groups.  Again, we see the problem here is that we are labeling people not as they really are but as we are programmed for them to be. Human life becomes cheap.  Maybe we should call it a “killing” continuum instead of a “use of force continuum.”

euphemismMadison Avenue has become an obscene part of the communication process in both the military and law enforcement.  Hide it.  Obscure it.  Obfuscate it.  Give them what they won’t understand.  Make it sound benign.  Sugarcoat it and they will buy it every time.  We did not kill the man.  We neutralized him.  We did not choke him to death.  We used acceptable deterrence procedures.   We did not abuse the woman; we used standard assault control techniques.   Let’s not say what we mean.  Let’s not call it what it really is.  He injured himself in the course of our investigative process.   She was injured while we were restraining her for her own safety.

Euphemisms are dangerous.  I would go so far as to say they are evil.  They hide the truth.  They convey a message which does not fit reality.  They paint an inappropriate picture of what is happening in our lives.  They distort the facts.   Without seeing things as they really are, we are lost in a fog of illusion.  We are navigating in a maze without any sense of direction.  We are looking in a mirror that shows us what others want us to believe and not what is really happening.   Here is a recent news story about a 90 year old war veteran who was arrested for feeding the hungry.  Notice the euphemisms:

“While video available on YouTube shows Arnold Abbott and ministers being taken away in police custody, the Mayor states that Mr. Arnold had not been arrested, but rather was detained, cited, and ordered to appear in court.  Those cited face possible jail time and have taken the city to court to fight the ordinance.”  CNN,  11-5-2014

Should you get arrested, I hope you will remember the difference between detained and arrested.  It might help in your plea to the court.   Here is another example of a euphemism that has evolved over time.  It is from the pen of the famous cartoonist Scott Adams known for his Dilbert series.

“You’re fired.”  (1980)

“You’re laid off.”  (1985)

“You’re downsized.”  (1990)

“You’re rightsized.”  (1992)

Do words matter?  Of course they matter.  Why would advertisers, marketers, PR people and political pundits go to such trouble to use words to disguise meanings if they did not matter?

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’  (From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.)

bank exampleThe golden rule applies unilaterally when euphemisms and misinformation must be spread.  The golden rule is “he, who has the gold, makes the rules.”  In most cases, this easily answers Humpty Dumpty’s question about who is to be the master?  The person who has the most gold is the master.  The poor, the underprivileged, the defeated, the economically disadvantaged, the bottom of the pile minorities, and lower income groups do not get to choose the words and make the euphemisms.   If they did, it might lead to a type of new grammar which I would call “reverse euphemisms.”  This is euphemisms named by a group that has nothing to hide or would really like to see the truth out.  Thus, in Michael Brown’s case it would have been said that he was:

  • Indiscriminately slaughtered
  • Butchered in cold blood
  • Executed
  • Assassinated

Eric Garner did not die from aspiration or asphyxiation or not being able to get a breath while in a police restraint.  Eric (it would be more accurate to say) died from:

  • Being strangled to death
  • Choked to death
  • Unwarranted and unnecessary application of dangerous and lethal police procedures

article-eric-garner-wife-1203All lives matter:  Black, Brown, Yellow, White, Blue, Pink or any other color.  No exceptions.  No one’s death is a cipher.  When we diminish the victims meaning and their importance through the use of sophistry, euphemisms and carefully crafted words to hide behind, we increase the probability that no lives will matter.  We must not allow others to hide behind words designed to conceal the truth.   Start speaking the truth.  Say the truth.  Change the words you use to reflect the truth.  The truth may just set you and the world free.

Time for Questions:

What is your favorite euphemism?  Why?  What do you think would happen if we stopped using so many euphemisms?  Would we have more truth or less?  Do you think euphemisms are helpful or harmful?  Why?  Can you trust what anyone means anymore?   What is the difference between a lie and a euphemism?

Life is just beginning:

Here are some good sites to visit if you want to explore this subject further:

 

 

 

 

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