The Path of Destruction

Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to John Adams, the following statement:

Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom? Material abundance without character is the path of destruction.

The essential elements of that freedom are things like sacrifice and strength of character. It is a given that if everything is free, nothing is free, since even freedom has limits and demands giving up, or sacrificing some aspects our “freedom” to maintain others. Our founding fathers knew this, that is why we were established as a country ruled by law and moral conscience in which public and private religion was seen as essential to establishing and maintaining that moral conscience.

Today, contrary to the environment that gave this nation its birth, everything seems to be driven by power and money, the bottom line, which in itself is a significant symbolic statement. The key mantra is, “What is in it for me; how does it increase my bottom line?” A simple example is the athlete who makes millions and throws around lines like “what is best for my family” when deciding to take $25 million instead of $22 million, as if their family could see any real difference between the two. The deciding factor is the money, the bottom line, the desired material abundance. All other considerations are secondary, if they matter at all. This type of thinking is becoming pervasive in our culture.

With our emphasis on the material bottom line, we have begun to walk the path of other failed civilizations and we try to avoid facing the obvious lessons of history by diverting our attention, by entertaining ourselves to death. Television, movies, sports, video games, and other means of amusement take up most of our free time, and even to a degree many of the hours of our supposed work time.

In the mid-80’s Neil Postman wrote a whithering attack on the destructive influence of television in his seminal book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness. That was in the age of limited broadcast television. Cable was in its infancy and the Internet was still a gleam in Al Gore’s eye. Today, many of Postman’s concerns have been radically enlarged by the pervasiveness of electronic media. People are now immersed in their IPODs (or equivalent), their high def digital cable, and total immersion video games. Moments of quiet reflection, of in-depth thought are avoided at all costs.

In a later book, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, Postman argued if our approach to education lacked a serious spiritual context, which he defined as a guiding myth or narrative, then it was education that could not sustain or motivate its students and as such was education without an essential purpose.

It is important to see that education is more than schooling, K-college; it is a lifelong experience of growth, of reaching beyond our current grasp to build and enrich our understanding of who we are in the world in which we live. It is more than increasing our ability to grow material abundance. But when the only education we get is that force-fed us by our entertainment in a passive interaction with electronic media, we quickly loose the ability to think, to logically and effectively question what we see and hear, instead blithely absorbing whatever fits our current prejudices or politically correct assumptions. Critical thinking appears to be at an all time low.

We have become a culture driven by material acquisition at the expense of our religious/moral center, who amuses itself every waking moment in order not to have to deal with the difficult questions and when we do think, we succumb to facile and politically correct sentiment rather than any real effort at critical analysis. We are a culture committing slow and steady suicide.

May God have mercy on us.

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