a thousand words

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DEATH OF THE HONOR SYSTEM

We Cannot Police Or Legislate Morality. So Many Crucial Decisions Have Been Left To The Will Of The Individual.

A President and his cabinet lie about everything. An author makes up his biography. Athletes use drugs to perform better and teachers cheat on student's tests to get money.

In each case, we relied upon the honor, nobility and heart of an individual to do the right thing. In our life, the Honor System has been the foundation of day to day life. We do our own taxes, check out our own groceries and are asked to only take one mint from the bowl at a restaurant.

An honor system or honesty system is a philosophical way of running a variety of endeavors based on trust. Something that operates under the rule of the honor system is usually something that does not have strictly enforced rules governing its principles.

For years, this worked because there were more honorable people than dishonorable ones. We always had cheats and liars but the good outbalanced them every time. America fought off its enemies and survived a civil war. We plunged into the Industrial Revolution and changed the way the world lived.

From the mid-20th century to the end, the notion that it's okay to cheat, lie and steal in some cases became pervasive in our society. We began to worship heroes who bent the law and subverted societal convention. In the end, they were still more good than bad, right?

So teachers cheat, politicians lie and someone empties the mint bowl at the restaurant. And our response is "Damn, he beat me to it!" And when there is outrage, it is only because we want to hold someone else to the honor system so we may defeat them by using our own dishonor.

And I know you think this is all nothing new. You're wrong. America has never had this level of casual acceptance of bad behavior. We have always struggled with our conscience but only now do we teach our children the art and benefit of being an asshole, only now do we have a President who got to the office by being a corrupt, lying piece of shit.

Our favorite entertainment is filled with "complex" characters who lie cheat steal and murder in the name of their new ambivalent morality god. Corrupt cops, murderous spies, money launderers, lonely vampires and misunderstood demons. As always, pop culture is a reflection of who we are, not what we want to be. And in each case, the honors system is not only wrecked but scoffed and laughed at as evidence of  weak mind and loser mentality.

When he was in high school, my son found a $100 bill and turned it in to the school administrator, a priest. The Administrator was so overwhelmed at the act, that he wrote us a letter praising us for teaching out son the value of honor. As a parent I am proud of course but when I look at our society. I wonder if I am doing a disservice. Am I sending a lamb to a slaughterhouse filled with men and women who look a nobility as weakness?

Since the beginning of the world, people have speculated about the end of it. We always picture explosions, disease, war and violence. I think that the end, if it comes, will be quiet, soft and almost unnoticed. It will be when there is one more dishonest people than not. This will tip the balance, break the system and that's all she wrote.

In Paradise Lost, Satan, upset at being cast out of heaven, made a self-serving and pathetic pronouncement which nonetheless became the foundation of this philosophy on Earth. He said: "Evil Be Thou My good." Is this what will happen to us once we reach the tipping point?

Don't get me wrong. I do not hold people to a standard of perfection. Humanity is a delicate mix but what has built civilization is not just intellect but humanity and compassion and without those last two elements, civilization crumbles. Man has always been more good than not and that has kept us from destroying ourselves time and time again. But if you think we have lost our way, if you believe that something is rancid in our culture, you have to look no further than what you tolerate. No system of government or society can be held together by a corrupt people because:

Where there is no honor, there is no system.