Pushing the Decadence Envelope

Posted on August 7, 2014 by Robert Ringer


Violence is the darkest side of humanity, which, of course, is nothing new.  But what is new, relatively speaking, is that the United States is now steeped in violence.  It’s true that we aren’t into car bombings and beheadings, but we do love our daily fix of blood.

You need only turn on the news, and you’ll be treated to old ladies getting mugged … men and women with mental disorders murdering their spouses and children … kids videotaping “knockout punches” … wives mysteriously disappearing … little girls being raped by perverts, who then get no jail time.

From Attila the Hun to Josef Stalin … from Genghis Khan to Adolf Hitler … from Ivan the Terrible to Saddam Hussein, man’s violence has ripped through the fabric of life.  What made the United States unique for nearly two hundred years was that it generated the oxygen of morality, dignity, and civility needed to keep the soul of the human race breathing.

Americans actually had a sense of right and wrong.  Not a theoretical right and wrong, but right and wrong based on certitudes.  But who has the moral authority to decide on the certitudes we should live by?

A good question, to be sure, but that’s what was so interesting about America — and Western civilization as a whole.  Our certitudes weren’t handed down on stone tablets (although the certitudes on the stone tablets formed the foundation for all other certitudes).  The certitudes of Western culture were based on a “generally accepted code of conduct.”

In the United States, that was a pretty simple proposition.  Since most Americans were Christians, Jews, or rational, non-angry atheists, there was a sort of unspoken consensus.  Heck, no one even questioned the necessity to wear a coat and tie when dining at a fine restaurant.  You just accepted that it was the right thing to do.

Maybe life wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t confusing, either.  Everyone understood the rules.  Then along came the Rousseau crowd of the Sixties generation, preaching the religion of relativism.  Nothing, they insisted, is certain; everything is relative.

Worst of all, the government got involved in education — a monumental step in ridding us of those nasty old certitudes.  Did you know that high school history texts now devote considerable space to such upstanding Americans as H. Rap Brown, Janis Joplin, and Timothy Leary?  “Turn on, tune in, drop out” is now right up there with General Sherman’s “War is hell.”

In just a few decades, America, the moral leader of the world, succeeded in trashing its certitudes.  In the book Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, the author compares what classroom teachers identified as the greatest threats to education in 1940 with what they identified as the greatest threats in the early 1990s:

The number-one concern in 1940 was talking out of turn.  In the early 1990s, it was drug abuse.

The number-two concern in 1940 was chewing gum in class.  In the early 1990s, it was alcohol abuse.

The number-three concern in 1940 was making noise.  In the early 1990s, it was teen pregnancy.

The number-four concern in 1940 was running in the halls.  In the early 1990s, it was suicide.

The number-five concern in 1940 was getting out of line.  In the early 1990s, it was rape.

The number-six concern in 1940 was wearing improper clothing.  In the early 1990s, it was robbery.

The number-seven concern in 1940 was not putting paper in the wastebasket.  In the early 1990s, it was assault.

Today, of course, things are much worse, though I don’t have a current survey at hand.

As one certitude after another has been shouted out of existence by “progressive thinkers,” it has become an open invitation for morally lethargic people to push the envelope of decadence ever further over the edge.

And where it stops, nobody knows.  But one thing is certain:  Violence is a natural offspring of an anything-goes society.  After all, anything means anything — and anything includes violence.

Now, all this may make a lot of anarchists cheer, but there’s one problem they haven’t considered.  Once all certitudes have vanished and violence is totally out of control, a nation becomes a dictatorship waiting to happen.  And I hear through the grapevine that anarchists always scream the loudest when confronted with the iron fist of totalitarianism … and it’s threatening to come to a nation near you.  Make that very near.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

22 responses to “Pushing the Decadence Envelope”

  1. Larry Foss says:

    Bob, your "certitude" piece makes me ill, because at age 74, I lived the 40s, and, I see the cesspool we live in now! The schools my grandchildren attend are populated by many progressive-thinking teachers, who not only advocate the progressive agenda, they actually bully students who take issue with that point-of-view.

    I really don't know where to start to turn this movement around – all the signs are there for it to get worse. I will just stick-to-my-guns and keep trucking!

    • Richard Lee Van says:

      I'm 78 and know what you mean, Larry! I used to lament leaving college teaching in the mid 70s, but now I see that that was the best thing that could have happened! When I attended college in the 50s, boys used to wear, often, sports coats, shirts and ties to class. And we sat up in our seats and ATTENDED! I taught my first year in a German farming community. I kept discipline and parents backed me up. Etc. I prefer the "way it wuz" back then.

  2. Heather says:

    OK, OK -Let's not get too dark here. We humans (and Americans) are constantly evolving, taking a couple of steps back and then more forward. It is our dance, and I know we hear way too much about the darker side of humanity lately. But you have a choice in how you view this evolution. I don't hear as much anarchy as I do silence. Silence is OK. Silence means people are contemplating, taking it in, reflecting. But it does not mean they are accepting. Give the goodness time to bubble to the surface, as it has done time and time again in the history of our species – if you just look for it. Evil appears to be more powerful than good because we lend our energy to it. The beautiful thing is that we can also lend our energy to what is right in the world; and don't tell me there is nothing right. Change your filter and you will see for yourself.

  3. Laurent says:

    What is also concerning is how violent movies and horror have evolved during the last 40 years. If you see a horror movie from the 70's today, it's almost like a comedy. The level of violence in today's horror movies is so extreme that I do not understand that young, or even older people, want to watch this. I suppose values and morals really are being destroyed at a rapid pace.

  4. Thomas says:

    Great article, Robert!
    And dead on accurate, too.

    • Teri says:

      But it is interesting watching this "anything goes" crowd. Their lives are so messed up and they don't have a clue why.

  5. Greg Lauer says:

    One of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had was a US history teacher who threw our textbook out and instead spent the entire school year drawing parallels between the Roman empire and US history. Mind you, this was 1986…almost 30 years ago…and it is still eerie to me how prescient he was. He talked about the changing morality in the Roman empire and how it went to an anything goes culture…one which basically demanded violence on display. And he predicted that we would see something similar in the US where we would be "treated" to weekly displays of brutality for the sake of brutality. Everytime I see an ad for Ultimate Fighting whatnot, that teacher's words come back to me. He said that our society was on track to devolve and fall apart somewhere in the neighborhood of 2030, if not sooner, depending on the speed of communication and the availability of entertainment channels. Prescient. And thanks again for another thoughtful piece, Mr. Ringer.

  6. seifpro says:

    Very enjoyable read as always, although we actually have less violence in our country now than at any point in history. It just seems like more because we hear about it 24/7.

  7. Steve says:

    Hi Robert-I thought I'd share something that happened to me recently that corroborates what you are expressing in your article. I rarely watch TV, but lasdt week turned on public TV, and there was a documentary on about the history of etching in the U.S. Before the program began, there was stern warning that the show might be inappropriate for youngsters. I wondered why? The show itself was very goo, actually. It talked of various artists, their history, and all of the work involved in the print and etching field. At one point, they were showing a famous etching, which showed the back of a nude woman. It didn't even show her full back, just a partial view of her naked backside. I thought-"Oh my God-they have no problem showing kids graphic violence, foul language, mean and totally anti-social behovior. They can show kids programs where the father is basically a castrated eunuch who simply provides money, and the mom a hysterical, crazed **tch, whose job seems to be telling everybody (especially the husband) how worthless and unworthy they are, and essentially negatively deconstruct the entire culture, but you cannot show a child a perhaps 20 sec. clip of a famous piece of art, in an otherwise intelligent
    and uplifting program". Well, I for one feel safer. Why? Because after playing hours of violent video games, and games that glorify THUG culture, I sure would not want them to see an etching of a woman's partially unclothed backside.

  8. RealitySeeker says:

    "Now, all this may make a lot of anarchists cheer, but there’s one problem they haven’t considered. Once all certitudes have vanished and violence is totally out of control, a nation becomes a dictatorship waiting to happen".

    Who in the heck are you talking about? It couldn't possibly be the anarcho-capitalists who believe in the most important "certitude" of them all, viz., "the Nonaggression principle". You couldn't be speaking of Ayn Rand; the one who believed in the separation of government and markets for the same reasons she believed in the separation of church and state. It couldn't be people like me who believe in voluntary taxation for the same reasons I believe in voluntary military service.

    One thing I will say about the hippies is thank god the hippies armed themselves with flowers and beat back the warmongers who were armed to the teeth with"certitudes". Frankly, I say that the government can go screw itself, if that collectivist body-politic unjustly forces upon me a particular, patriotic "certitude".

    I know you couldn't be meaning Murray Rothbard; the man who articulated one of the most rational cases for anarchy since Lysander Spooner and Henry David Thoreau. The agorists and voluntaryists must also be exempt from your blame. No, the blame for violence and "planned chaos" falls squarely upon the collectivists who cloak themselves with the flag, and all of the bloody certitudes associated with that flag.

    The 1950s were endearing in many ways, yes, but behind the scenes there were powerful men who wanted to launch a massive, nuclear first-strike against the U.S.S.R.. How's that for a "certitude"? Most Americans will never know how close it was to midnight. And nowadays amerikans (sic) don't have a clue that the nuclear clock is once again ticking.

    Let's see if Rand Paul ( the perfect libertarian-conservative if there ever was one) can stop the clock— assuming that Washington doesn't extinct us sometime before 2016.

    • Richard Lee Van says:

      I was about to bring up Libertarian philosophy which I embrace, mostly, and Rand Paul who appears to be a worthy candidate for the Presidency. But I personally hope Mitt Romney will have another go at it to see if WHOLESOMENESS can also be strong. The current crowd in charge doesn't seem to be able TO THINK!

  9. Liz says:

    "Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint." (Daniel Webster, 5/10/1847)

  10. Gene says:

    Great Article! This certainly explains a lot! I haven't heard an explanation of our current social condition given so accurately and concisely as this article. It all boils down to right and wrong. When a society is taught, such as ours, that there are no moral absolutes chaos ensues. Out of that chaos there are always those who for their own selfish desires and aspirations (think todays modern politician) try to take advantage of a situation and end up making things exponentially worse. Too bad every one in our country couldn't read this article and just ponder it's implications.

  11. Murray Suid says:

    Mr. Ringer writes: "The certitudes of Western culture were based on a “generally accepted code of conduct.” Since most Americans were Christians, Jews, or rational, non-angry atheists, there was a sort of unspoken consensus. Heck, no one even questioned the necessity to wear a coat and tie when dining at a fine restaurant. You just accepted that it was the right thing to do."

    Ah, yes, the good old days before the 1960s. Being 72, I remember some of them well. For example, because of his religion, my uncle, a noted oral surgeon was denied the right to purchase a home in an "exclusive" neighborhood. But that was nothing compared to a black family seeing their newly purchased home burnt to the ground–not far from where I lived in Cleveland.

    I remember four (4) armed policemen coming to our home to threaten my mother who had opened her dress shop on Sunday–violating the blue laws of Ohio. This was circa in 1950

    A few years later, we moved to Florida and were treated to having two water fountains in the supermarket, plus absolute racial segregation of the schools. The town was almost entirely Christian with a minority of Jews. All upstanding, and most accepting segregation.

    But if it's violence you like, consider the pogroms against the Jews in Christian Russia. Or the implementation of "Manifest Destiny" in the U.S. with the slaughter of so many Indians

    The 1940s had a good code for civilized behavior? Read the journals of ethnically Japanese American citizens put into the camps–with no due process, Christian or otherwise. In the 1950s, our government did medical experiments on unwitting populations–not just blacks. And let's not forget the HUAC and the blacklist of some of our best writers.

    For sheer violence, read the reports of Civil War battles, mainly Christian against Christian.

    How about political violence, such as the army being called out to kill unionists? Or how about a Senator, speaking in the Senate in the early 20th century, proclaiming that Jews, Italians, and other non-northern-European types did not have the intellectual and moral qualities needed in a country like the U.S. and hence should be kept out of the country.

    Yes, currently there's plenty of violence in the media and in schools and in big cities. And yes, there have been post-1960-summer-of-love mass shootings using automatic weapons recently legalized. I need to check the religious background of some of the shooters, but I don't recall any of them being identified as atheists.

    Yes, we have a rough civilization. But if you want violence and other forms of decadence, look to the decades prior to the 1960s, and you'll find plenty. My guess is that TV, computer games, and more casual dress codes have not made things worse. (People dressed very well in Nazi Germany.)

  12. Jeremy D. says:

    Being 23 and attending university currently, it's difficult. The drug use I'd argue is larger now than it was in the 1960s. I'd have students in my simple accounting class talking cocaine, pot is everywhere, and the resurgence of LSD, mushrooms, and other hallucinogenics are also becoming very mainstream. It's hard to find students who aren't strung out on a substance. All of the uncertainty of the economy, mixed with the uncertainty being taught in schools. It's no wonder my generation is turning to substance abuse in such large numbers. A substance will always get you high. At least it's certain.

  13. Shankar says:

    I think humanity is approaching a dead end very fast, actually not knowing that it is heading in wrong direction. God bless All!

  14. Robby Bonfire says:

    I see the disintegration of the nuclear family as the root cause of all this. Each generation, now, has its own values and language, to the deliberate exclusion and discrimination against the older generations, as well as its own way of spelling what used to be foundational words in our language. Advancing technology has widened the gap between the generations, as it seems that this younger generation is all-electronic and no substance.

    Plus, you look at the Yahoo and other site story headlines and it's all about how "hot" some Kardashian is, and how "curvy-looking" Kate Upton is in her new tightly-fitting bikini, and just an endless stream of childish pablum designed to distract narcissistic young people from serious issues requiring using their minds instead of just their eyes.

    I gave up on this society long ago, I just cannot figure out where in the world to go to completely drop out. To think that France and Sweden, now inundated with fanatical, sub-human dreck from the Middle East, used to be at the top of my list. There is no escape from the reality that, for all of us who are not young any more, life in this world, as we knew it, is OVER!

  15. Tom Blanton says:

    How odd that the rise in violence and decadence that took place between 1940 and the early 1990s occurred simultaneously with an unprecedented increase in the size, scope and power of government (not anarchy).

    Most actual anarchists (as opposed to bomb-throwing provocateurs) subscribe to non-aggression. Much of the violence in society is state sanctioned.

  16. Philosophizer says:

    The USA is "falling down". While we advance technologically, our sociology is declining after its peak in the mid 60's after the Civil Rights and Voting acts; and then the decline thru the introduction of the spirit of Anti-Christ. As Greg noted about the Roman empire, the same can be said about the USA. The multiculturalism of Rome was its downfall, and the same can be said of the entire West as it intentionally immigrates Islam. The Muslims do not come to the West to assimilate, but to colonize, build up its numbers, then attack. Another Civil war of cultures is inevitable simply because of Western idiocy.

    We have the makings of a tyrant for a President right now, and this will only get worse as the days go by. As our Muslim President tries to build up Islam throughout the world, and weaken the West so Islam can gain greater power, the violence can only increase here and abroad, like we are witnessing every day. Obama has opened our borders so all the evil in the world can walk right in and help in his goal to make America a killing field and further his secret agenda of destroying American supremacy. ……We have an evil Mickey Mouse for a President. As long as we have the majority of voters voting for men like Obama, there is no hope for this decadence to decline. A majority of Americans have become narcissistic, low awareness ostriches.

    It's not just America, but the world that is disintegrating and is ripe for a world leader tyrant who can "save" the planet. We watched the rise of Obama for no reason I could see, as I immediately knew he was the biggest phoney I had ever seen – but the rest of the country thought he would be the "Savior" of the planet. So as we have witnessed, there is virtually no hope for this violence to abate as the people have no discerning spirit to guide them any longer…

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