Defining America – an Essay on the Changing American Culture and Morality

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke. 

Perhaps when Henry Ford launched his first Model-T production line, he failed to realize that while it would automate the production of a car, it might also automate the very thinking of a society, and irrevocable change the culture and morality of future generations. No longer would auto-workers have to apply intelligence and discretion to make decisions. No longer would Mr Ford have to deal with independent thought from someone who wanted to do more, or differently or even better. Each activity would be clearly defined, each responsibility clearly delineated, each worker a living, breathing automaton that would all too soon be replaced by a robot that would similarly never need to think, or make a judgment call, or use its discretion, and with the added benefit of never needing sleep or leisure or sick-time.  

Has our society not become a place of puppets and puppet-masters? A society where a few puppet-masters control a multitude of puppets who are required to respond precisely to the rules of puppeteering? A place where there is no room for intelligence, no need for wisdom, and no need for ethics or morality? And perhaps a place where robots might better serve society absent the variables and foibles inherent in a thinking, critical and discerning mind.

Has not an overly legislated society, coupled with a queue-card mentality, obviated the need for, and indeed benefits of, an educated, knowledgeable, responsible and self-regulating populace? Where laws regulate every conceivable form of conduct, regardless of whether the legislator actually considered that specific circumstance at the time of penning such laws?

When I was a child, my father extended store-credit based upon a relationship with each of his customers, the customers' word and a handshake.  When asked about this, my Dad explained that if he recognized a thing called character and integrity -- a driving force to do the right thing -- this was more binding than a contract. And not once did a customer ever fail to repay a debt.

Many years later, I went into a Manhattan store to purchase a cell-phone. I struck up a friendly conversation with the salesman while we selected a phone, accessories and a suitable service contract. We spoke about the company I owned and my blue-chip and military clients. Yet all of this counted for little when he pulled my Trans Union credit score lower than average because I was a new-comer to the USA with a short credit record and few long-term accounts. The store-policy was not to do business with a credit-score like mine. The salesman apologized profusely but said rules are rules that have to be applied without question or variance. Interestingly enough, a neighboring store pulled my Experian credit-score which turned out to be 70 points higher than my Trans Union score and the salesman enthusiastically served me with an even better package deal and at an even better rate. 

The moral of this story was that unquestioning obedience to system-rules have superseded business acumen, discretion and intelligence. The automaton no longer has to think or use discretion. Simply check the queue-card to find the answer.

Wasn't there also a time when you could call a company, speak to the switchboard and find out the best person to speak to for a solution to your question? Now are you not simply told that she cannot help you because all she does is answer the phone? That she doesn't really know what anyone else in the company actually does?

And what does it say about a society when you can sue Starbucks for serving you a hot cup of coffee and you burned yourself? Or when you can sue the microwave manufacturer because they never warned you that you cannot dry your Poodle in the microwave? Or when you can sue me for injuries sustained when you come to visit me and slip on my walkway? Has the protection of law not deprived you of rational thought, common sense and self-responsibility?

Have we not indeed created a society where education is no longer designed to instill the power of independent, rational and logical thought, but rather to instill simple unquestioning obedience to the rules and string-pulling of the puppet-masters?  When it's easier to sentence a man to death than it is to grant him a stay of execution or a re-trial?  When the assumption exists that a bureaucratic ruling must be implicitly obeyed without question and without ever wondering whether the prevailing circumstances may be indicative of some error in adjudication? 

And in creating this unquestioning, unthinking, queue-card, rule-following society of automatons, have we not allowed ourselves to become circus-animals, performing and responding to the prods of the puppet-masters, without knowing why or what they are doing, other than that failure to perform and conform will evoke punishment?

Why did the people of Germany rampage though the streets on Kristallnacht in November 1938? Perhaps because the people of Germany needed someone to blame for the hardships of Germany, and blaming the Jews was an easy outlet for their frustrations? Perhaps, as said by Joseph Stalin, because education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.

What does it say about a society when college students at a sporting match target and taunt a foreign-looking brown-skinned student with a chant of "where's your green-card?"  Do we blame the students for being young and ignorant? Or do we blame our society for instilling in our students an antipathy for anyone with a brown skin? Is this anti-immigrant profiling not the thin edge of the wedge? Will we not also resort to the Nazi's anti-semitic playbook in restricting the rights of people to educate their children, operate a business, rent a home or secure basic utilities? Indeed, have we not already dusted off the Nazi playbook?

America is a nation of immigrants and its greatness is because of immigrants, not in spite of immigrants. To even suggest that immigrants today, whether documented or undocumented, legal or illegal, are to blame for American unemployment or an overburdened health-care system or an over-burdened and impoverished educational system, is nothing less than naïve. Yet the propaganda about the costs of undocumented immigrants will always work if the populace is too ignorant to know better and if the populace needs someone to blame for some perceived hardship. Thus, the undocumented immigration debate is emotional propaganda, fuelled by emotional ignorance, against which reality and common sense is a poor defense. Yet the debate will continue for as long it's easier to blame someone else for your hardship than it will be for you to seek the solution within yourself.

The term "illegal" immigrant is in itself an emotionally charged and inaccurate term. It tends to suggest the stereotypical criminal. Yet people without papers are not criminals. They have committed no crime. Indeed, being an undocumented person is a civil matter rather than a criminal matter. But using the term "illegal" rather than "undocumented" tends to enflame the passionate desire to punish and marginalize a group of people who by and large are tax-paying, law-abiding and hard-working entrepreneurs.

And as a society progresses along the path of "obedience regardless", the automatons are increasingly spared the dilemma of having to choose between following the queue-card and doing what is right, fair and just. When Martin Luther King condemned "unjust laws", was he perhaps referring to not only laws that are unjust per se, but also to laws that are sometimes applied in an unjust manner, or laws that result in unjust consequences?

If the law stipulates that murder without extenuating circumstances must be punished with the death penalty, what do we do if extenuating circumstances are known to the jury, but not introduced in the court-room in order to protect an innocent party. To disregard knowledge not introduced into evidence, will be to secure an unjust consequence from the application of a law that may not be inherently unjust.

Further support for electing to disregard just laws in pursuit of a just and equitable consequence may perhaps be found in the invasion of Iraq. Clearly a breach of international law respecting the sovereignty of nations, but perhaps justified on the humanitarian grounds of unseating and prosecuting Sadam Hussein. Similarly, justification for the illegal entry into Pakistan to execute Osama Bin Laden may have been found in the argument that the unquestioning obedience to international law would have unjust consequences.

If the law stipulates that a legal submission is to be filed within a period of 30 days, and the submission is filed timeously, but accidentally to an incorrect office of the designated recipient, thus resulting in it only reaching the correct office of the designated recipient some days after the stipulated deadline, would the unquestioning application of a just law not result in unjust consequences if the entire submission were to be rejected, regardless of the consequential seriousness and degree of hardship resulting from such a rejection?

Is the application of law a matter of black and white with no room for gray? Should laws be applied by automatons or is there a need for society to temper laws with humanity, fairness, discretion and morality? It is justice, not law, that is the great standing policy of civil society, and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all. The jurists at Nuremburg argued that they were applying the laws of Nazi Germany. The American court ruled that the laws were unjust, that humanity, morality and justice demanded a refusal to obey an unjust law.

What then of the laws persecuting undocumented immigrants, denying education to their children, denying them the human rights of liberty, equality and the right sell their labor free from oppression and discrimination? What difference is there between the persecution of the Jews in Germany in 1938 and the persecution of undocumented immigrants in America in 2012?

When the House Judiciary Committee decides to blindly follow its self-imposed regulations and reject a private immigration bill because no precedent exists for approving a bill to over-rule the decision of another government agency, without examining the veracity or justness of such a decision, are we not sacrificing the principles of justice on the alter of legislative obedience? And when the consequences of such failure result in the loss of innocent lives, what then do we say about the defense that the House Judiciary Committee is simply following regulations?

Perhaps America has reached a turning point. Perhaps the desire to achieve a utopian, regulated, organized, law-abiding society with a populace that obeys rather than thinks, will itself sow the seeds of our demise. Undermining justice and morality may just be the first step in ensuring that America will collapse from within itself rather than at the hands of its external enemies.

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually the people will believe it -- Adolf Hitler.
 

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