“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will - his personal responsibility.”
I fear we live in dark and troubled times. A time when the inner conscience of the world seems to have deserted us. Ours is a generation that has been starved of great leadership; one where the persistent famine of visionless stewardship prevails. Ours is a generation to whom life came easy, with its hardship and turmoil, earned not on the blood soaked beaches of Normandy but washed aside in the pursuit of the Microsoft dream. Ours is a generation that has lost its moral compass.
We live in a time when bankers do God’s work and the clergy undermine it. We live in a time where Tia Tequila and Mayawati are considered celebrity and God, respectively. They have become our measure of success. A time when politicians are admired for quitting halfway through their terms, rather than for the sacrifice and service to their constituents. In a time when drugs allow athletes to believe they are invincible on the field and untouchable off it. And we, the adoring fans, are willing to forgive them no matter their trespass, provided they apologize to us in a public manner, repent and spend time in a facility that can wash away all their sins for a mere $5,000+ per night. When city sanitation workers decide it is okay to hold local residents hostage during a blizzard, simply to flex their union muscles and make a point to their political bosses. In a time when elected officials forget to declare income and pay tax on it, not once or twice but for ten years running; and then not only protest their innocence, but truly believe they have done nothing wrong. When people can publish and market books on ‘how to be a pedophile’ on the biggest bookstore on earth - and have the company defend their decision, saying they protect free speech (and only reluctantly removing it after a sustained public outcry). In a time when college professors believe it is fine to desecrate the greatest works of fiction in order to update them to be politically correct. We live in a time when society seems to have decided that the shortest, fastest and least honest and hardworking path to success seems to be the right one, as long as success is measured by the increased number of zeroes in one’s bank account.
The shocking revelations at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. that have engulfed the British Isles are not surprising, in my opinion. They are not dissimilar to the systemic failure that led to the 2008 global financial crisis that started on Wall Street; the gravest since the US Great Depression of the 1930’s. Technology allowed people to cheat, obfuscate and hide the truth with alarming regularity, and with a high degree of sophistication never possible before. But much more frighteningly it was symptomatic of the culture we have created. One where people perpetrating these actions are fully aware of the fact that it is, at best, ethically wrong, and in many instances breaking the law. Yet, they are encouraged to pursue any and all means necessary to sell the next newspaper or collateralized debt obligation (CDO). It does not matter if the truth has to be perverted to achieve the goal, or even if an outright lie has to be told, as long as it benefits the corporation’s bottom-line.
Progress is a wonderful and powerful thing. The internet and modern technology have broken down barriers between our worlds, ushered in hitherto unimaginable connectivity and provided a voice to the meekest. But the “anything goes” culture that seems to have accompanied this revolution is in danger of destroying the very fabric that civilised societies were built upon; civility, values, and personal responsibility. If Kennedy were alive today perhaps he might say, “Ask not what YouTube can do for you. But what you can do (for your world) through YouTube.” We all seem so madly absorbed and wrapped up in the pursuit of our fifteen gold-plated minutes of fame that we have forgotten about the far-reaching consequences of our actions. About the impact they have on our children, our culture, and a global audience now in the billions. I am sure every generation has felt the same fear I describe, starting with Socrates who famously warned society against writing because it would "create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories." At every stage of great technological advancement, we have been reminded and warned about the vulgarisation of our culture. Yet here we are today still thriving and moving forward, for the most part. But with each generation, and this great progress, we have been prepared to give up just a little bit more of our decency and privacy; I wonder if the internet is that final slippery slope, and if we have reached the point of no return? Just to be clear, it is not the internet or all that our current technology enables but our unhindered access and ability to manipulate this technology 24x7 in an unchecked, rumor-mongering, careless, lawless and invasive way that seems to have unleashed the true nature of our beasts. We can make up facts, destroy reputations, hide our identities, obscure the truth and invade people’s privacy in a manner that was not possible a mere decade ago. Just ask your father or grandmother, and no matter where in the world they grew up, I bet they will tell you that society today seems to have abdicated personal responsibility, principles, and values at a much more alarming rate than ever before.
Ironically, it was the British that were credited with giving the world the “rule of law.” Yet, today it is Britain that seems to have completely lost its own moral compass and forgotten the very rules that it created. The question is not how deep or wide-ranging this crisis in Britain will be but how far are we all willing to fall, before we lift ourselves up again?