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All of nature has rules. Although unwritten and unspoken, in a primitive and savage way, right and wrong still exist there. The alpha wolf decides what is right in the pack because it possesses the physical power to exert its will. A tree may dictate what is right by exuding toxic chemicals into the soil out to its root perimeter in order to extinguish competing plants. A lion takes prey from a hyena and a hyena takes it from a leopard because that is the order of things and therefore the right thing. Instinct and physical attributes decree this form of morality in nature.
If we were just such creatures, a similar order would be the only rule over us. But we aspire to an orderly society and a higher ethic. Society, the in-your-face conglomeration of masses of people possessing tools and weapons that can inflict damage far beyond that of mere fang and claw, requires different sorts of rules and more of them. Without them we would regress to the might-makes-right order of nature. A brutal anarchy where weapons and muscle are 'right' is not a pleasant prospect.
It is a necessary function of government to set rules in the somewhat abstract arena of decency. Because it is hard to identify actual damage caused by such things as vulgarity, lewdness, debauchery, indiscretion, nakedness, sex and language, debate will always rage over what is or is not decent. Those fearing the decay of society will hold to more strict standards while others want to push for more and more freedom.
It seems to me that the development of decency standards helped humans rise up out of a world where only instinct ruled. But it is supposedly progressive and intellectual today to negotiate away any restrictions. But tampering with the very fabric that holds civilized society together is quite the opposite. It is both retrogressive and unintelligent. The libertine erosion of rules may seem to be more understanding, compassionate, intelligent, open and accepting on its face, but it unlocks the gates to chaos and degradation. This is what I fear today with regard to standards of decency, particularly in the media. The more that standards drop and rules are softened, the uneasier I become because I sense where this could ultimately take us.
Don't get me wrong. I'm no prude. Terrible things emerge from my lips at times without my mind even engaging. I can't help but laugh at some off-color jokes. But there are lines we all sense that should not be erased. These lines may in fact create the emotional release from swearing and the humor of a dirty joke. So standards of decency may even psychologically benefit us by giving us forbidden zones for these brief forays of release. (Seems like rather twisted logic to explain why swearing and dirty jokes work, but what other explanation do you have?)
When I was young, Elvis' gyrating hips drove religious leaders and many parents crazy. It was the end of decency. Sodom and Gomorrah had returned. I scoffed. The old fogies just didn't get it. In my opinion, rock-n-roll was way too cool and certainly no more than innocent fun. I saw no danger because I had not lived enough life nor gained sufficient knowledge to understand that civilization survives only because of standards and order. Society was sensing that threat and that is why they reacted to rock-n-roll as they did.
Maybe that's the way kids see the filthy language in rap, hip-hop, and sexually explicit entertainment today. So I am trying hard to see the parallel and make every effort to be tolerant, not wanting to be like the adult mossbacks of my youth. But everything is a matter of degree. When is 'with-it' too far? Or is there no limit? Should the entertainment industry keep pushing the envelope until pornography is rated G and the evening news gives an update from live video cams mounted in toilet bowls and under the covers of the latest hot group of S&Mers, transvestites, man-boy couples, necrophiliacs, homosexuals and straight-sexers?
When that becomes boring, do we go to live videos of rape, murder and torture? There are currently movies of this sort and they are justified as 'artful free expression.' Really. Is watching murder and torture what we should be doing with our minds and leisure? Is that valuable in any conceivable way? Might it not be numbing and create insensitivity, particularly in our impressionable children? Since children know that adults 'moms and dads 'create such entertainment, might they not feel flagitious behavior is validated?
Should we bring back the Roman Coliseum to get some extra flavor of real, live performance? If we can afford the special front row seats, we could even enjoy the thrill of hearing bones break, get sprayed with some real blood or have a lopped-off appendage land in our lap as a souvenir. The Romans worked hard to prevent boredom among the people. For approximately 400 years, the cruelty and gore in the arena for man and beast continued, taking on every imaginable grotesque creative form in order to maintain the interest of the audience. Shall we go that route again?
Why not? Why draw lines? Let's not let the audience get bored, lose record, ticket or advertising dollars. Lines seem to be vanishing fast. We have pay-per-view, bare-fisted, no-holds-barred bloody fighting. There is full-contact teen dancing that looks exactly like the sexual act, gay and straight TV shows fully accessible to children where the theme throughout is free for all sex. We're also treated to bare breast exposure, bumping and grinding, ignited horse flatulence, erection commercials and bestiality jokes during the family formatted Super Bowl. The wave of reality shows seem to have no limit in their reach for stupidity, shock and horror.
It most certainly appears that the race is on to remove all standards and that conscience takes a back seat if dollars are to be made. In the mayhem of shock, titillation and entertainment fanfare, we seem to have lost our moral compass. Violence is applauded, and sex, an act meant for committed adults capable of shouldering the responsibilities of family, is presented as mere thrill-ride recreation for people of all ages.
I'm all for freedom of expression, but as with anything else in life, potential consequences must be measured. Vulgarity, sex and other victimless acts do not in themselves harm. So it is easy to reason that there should be no barriers to their free expression. That's the way the naive, idealistic and short sighted thinking of children works. But unbridled freedom demands an ideal world where all people know how 'and are willing 'to use judgment to not let freedom devolve into savagery. I don't think humans have risen to that point yet, do you? Even with all the rules humans have ever devised to reign in people, crazies remain and we continually teeter on the brink of social breakdown. That's why pushing the envelope can be so terrifying to anyone who has the sense to see beyond 'freedom of expression,' thrills and immediate gratifications.
The problem is, the media wants the sensational, no matter how vulgar, to be fair game in a never-ending cycle of profiteering one-upmanship. Each new provocative display raises the ante and challenges the competition to push the envelope even further. Corporate greed without conscience is a dangerous thing particularly when it can impact the world via airways that know no barriers.
So let's put the brakes on and even back up a little to clean up what is freely available, particularly for children's eyes and ears. They need education, rules and time to develop conscience without confusing smut, vulgarity and every form of base biological and criminal urge being visually and 'boom-boxed' to them as if that is what life is about, how it is celebrated and what they should aspire to.
Modern communication is such a wonderful opportunity to uplift conscience and reason. The old time, so-called corny movies were a clear attempt to do just that by promoting and advocating morality and standards. The good guys always won and everyone was decent except the bad guys. How far (down) we have come! Entertainers should see their unique powers of influence as something other than a profit opportunity to promote depravity and to pander to those who evidently love to be dumbed-down. But for too many, as George Bernard Shaw observed, 'Virtue is insufficient temptation.'
Schools are tightly controlled because they shape the emerging buds of future society. In the larger classroom of the world, the media is emerging as the school. As leisure time increases, people feed more and more on entertainment. What a wonderful opportunity through the visual and auditory impact of story to raise the public's sense of right, dignity and ethic.
So there should be laws that prohibit media from airing programs that do not have socially redeeming value. I know this smacks of censorship, and it is. Nevertheless, a lot of freedom of expression could still be permitted. How do we judge what is not socially redeemable? Use the extrapolation tool described earlier. Ask the question whether society would be advanced or degraded if the action were universally practiced. Will open and free sex without regard for age, gender or whatever create a better society? Will the celebration of crime, filthy language, disrespect for parents and authority, sexism, racism, ageism and the like create a better society? The answer is not difficult and if an error is made, why not make it on the side of moderation and conservatism so long as people's basic freedom to be better people is not interfered with?
If the government does not properly intercede, then thinking people should use their dollars as decency tools. Consumers are as culpable as the purveyors and must interject conscience where the media and government do not.
About the author:
Dr. Wysong is a former veterinary clinician and surgeon, college instructor in human anatomy, physiology and the origin of life, inventor of numerous medical, surgical, nutritional, athletic and fitness products and devices, research director for the present company by his name and founder of the philanthropic Wysong Institute. He is author of The Creation-Evolution Controversy now in its eleventh printing, a new two volume set on philosophy for living, several books on nutrition, prevention and health for people and animals and over 15 years of monthly health newsletters.