Behind America's Moral Decay
by Dr. William Pierce
Free Speech - October 2000 - Volume VI, Number 10
Today I want to talk with you about a topic that I believe is extremely important. It's a topic that I have been thinking about for a long time but have hesitated to talk about because it's a big, complex topic, and I don't have much in the way of scientific data on it: I don't have a lot of hard statistics, just a number of general observations and a good bit of specific anecdotal material. Because this topic is so important, however, I have decided just to plunge into it. Perhaps our listeners will be able to contribute to this subject if we discuss it more than once.
The subject is the general decline in moral fitness of White Americans. In fact, I believe this moral decline is an affliction not just of Americans, but of White people nearly everywhere. I don't want the word moral to be misunderstood here. I'm not talking at all about the same thing some Christians refer to when they lament the decline of morals in America. I'm not talking about sex, for example.
By moral fitness I mean such things as strength of character, toughness, degree of self-discipline, willingness to endure hardship. But moral fitness is more than that. Being morally fit also means having an internal code of behavior and sticking to it. It means having values and standards that one applies in a systematic way to guiding one's own behavior and to judging the behavior of other people. It means having some purpose in one's life and directing one's life in accord with that purpose.
What I see around me in America today are very few people with much moral strength -- fewer, at least, than we had 50 years ago: fewer men, for example, of whom we can say with confidence, "he is a man of his word"; fewer men and women who are willing to work really hard over a long period for the achievement of a goal. And I see many more men and women -- especially young men and women -- who are soft, self-indulgent, undisciplined, and with neither moral standards nor purpose in their lives.
Well, that's a bit too general to have much meaning, I'm afraid. Let me try a few specific examples to illustrate my point. I'll begin with glassblowers. Before the Second World War every chemistry department and every physics department at a university large enough to sustain any sort of scientific research had a glassblower on the staff for making specialized glassware. Glass is not especially easy to work with, and learning how to make glass scientific apparatus with it, and make it well, requires much training and much practice. But before the war there were enough young Americans willing to spend several years in apprenticeship to an experienced glassblower in order to learn the necessary skills. They could then count on secure employment at a university or at a company engaged in scientific research or in manufacturing scientific apparatus. By the 1950s, however, good glassblowers were becoming hard to find in America, even though more jobs were available and salaries were going up. Some large companies had their own training programs, but universities who needed glassblowers generally had to import them from some place such as Germany, where apprenticeship programs for skilled trades were still the rule.
I mentioned the shrinking supply of glassblowers, because that is something with which I had personal experience, but my impression is that the phenomenon is more general than that: young men are less willing to enter trades which require long periods of training before they are fully qualified and can earn more than an apprentice's wages. I'll generalize even further: Americans are less willing -- in fact, less able -- to postpone gratification than they were half a century ago. Of course, we all would like instant gratification -- but we used to have the willpower and self-discipline to postpone it a bit when that was advantageous. In talking with young people especially, I get the definite impression that there is much less willingness to focus on long-range goals.
Another example of this is to be seen in the spending habits of Americans. Before the Second World War young families went to a bank to borrow money to buy a house, but that was about it; everything else required cash. If you wanted to buy a piece of furniture or a radio or a new suit, you had to have the money first. Even in buying a car, the common practice was to save the money from one's salary, and when one had enough one purchased the car. Credit cards may have been around, but they certainly weren't as common as today. In order to acquire the things they wanted, Americans had to plan ahead and exercise some self-discipline.
In today's age of plastic credit, that is much less the case. And it seems to me that there has been a real loss in self-discipline. The average American today ends up paying much more for things simply because he not only can't wait until he has earned the money for the things he wants, he can't pay off his credit card debt at the end of every month and avoid interest. He just doesn't have the willpower. He can't control his desire to have more shiny junk and to have it now, and so a good bit of his income goes to paying interest. If he had the willpower to wait, he could avoid interest and actually own many more things.
Of course, we always had people without self-discipline and who were unwilling to postpone gratification. There always were people who had to be paid every week. If you paid them only once a month they would spend their whole paycheck in the first two weeks, and then they would starve during the next two weeks until another payday. It just seems to me that the problem is worse today than it used to be.
Here's another example for those of you who are employers. I've had many people who are in business for themselves complain to me about how difficult it is to find young Americans who are good for any kind of work. And I've noticed the same thing myself. A young employment prospect seems eager and enthusiastic; he talks a good line. But if you give him a real job to do, you will quickly discover that he has no conception of what work is. He really believes that a plausible excuse is a satisfactory substitute for performance. He believes that going through the motions and putting on a good show of working is the same as working. He never accepts responsibility for the results of his work. Responsibility is an alien concept to him. It is as if the work is not quite real, and he doesn't quite grasp that the consequences of adequate work or inadequate work, of success or failure, are real too.
Poor work habits are part of this problem. Young Americans these days have not had much experience at real work as they were growing up. Most of them have not had to deliver newspapers or mow lawns or wash cars or do anything else to earn their own money from the time they were 11 or 12 years old. Delivering morning newspapers is an especially good discipline: it forces a young boy to crawl out of his warm bed at three o'clock in the morning and go out into a dark, often cold or wet, world and do hard work by himself for a couple of hours. And he must do it every morning, whether he feels like it or not. It is inevitable. Most young White Americans never have been faced with the inevitable choice of no work, no money; they've always had a way around it, and not having had to face that inevitability has stunted their moral growth.
Well, it's worse than that. I refer to these young people who can't cope with real work as members of the Star Trek generation. On Star Trek a meteoroid hits the spaceship and knocks a big hole in it. The air is rushing out into space. Electrical wiring is arcing and sparking. Fires have broken out all over the ship. Vital systems have stopped functioning. So the crew members grab fire extinguishers and screwdrivers and run around for a few minutes fixing things up, and pretty soon everything is more or less back to normal -- whereas in reality everyone would be dead. Kids raised on television have been given a grossly distorted conception of reality, a distorted reality in which there are no really painful consequences for failure, a distorted reality in which every problem has an easy solution.
And it's not just television. It's also a welfare system, which protects people from their own folly and weakness and vice and keeps them aware that if they fail at whatever they're trying to do, there's something to fall back on, so they don't really have to succeed. And it's an educational system that has shifted away from rigor and hard rules and performance toward fuzzy concepts and lots of verbalizing and social conditioning. Problem solving, with exact answers required, is out; being able to wave your hands and talk about a concept is in. Using language with precision and understanding the structural functions and relationships of words, are out; that's too masculine and analytical. Studying the history of our people and our civilization and learning the values and traditions that gave us strength in the past are out; that doesn't mesh with multiculturalism.
In fact, the schools in America have abandoned completely the task of building character and instilling values in young people. If you think I'm exaggerating, go to your library and check out a set of the McGuffey's Readers that were used widely in American public schools in the latter part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century. McGuffey's Readers not only taught young Americans how to use their language far more precisely and elegantly than young Americans are taught today; they also taught children values. Every anecdote and story and reading selection in the McGuffey's Readers taught a moral lesson: a lesson about courage or honesty or perseverance or loyalty or correct behavior. Compare the quality of the language in the McGuffey's Readers and their content with the reading material in America's elementary schools today.
None of these aspects of moral decay I've mentioned is new -- with the possible exception of the loss of a sense of reality resulting from watching thousands of hours of television. We've always had soft, lazy, self-indulgent, irresponsible people with a short attention span who had insufficient self-discipline to postpone gratification. But the problem is substantially worse today than it was 50 years ago. There's more hedonism and less responsibility, more softness and less perseverance, today than in the past. There's less purposefulness in young people's lives and less willingness to work long and hard and carefully to achieve what they want. Of that I am certain, even though I don't have hard statistics to prove it.
So what are the causes of this moral decline, other than television, and what can we do about it?
Undoubtedly the sustained material prosperity of the past half-century has been a significant contributing factor to our moral laxity. The natural conditions of life that kept us hard and morally tough in the past have been abated to a large extent by our relative material wealth. Soft and ill- disciplined individuals who would have perished a century ago and who would have been kept at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder 50 years ago are so sheltered from Nature's selective forces today that they are able to thrive almost as well as more fit individuals.
The morally debilitating effects of wealth have been recognized for a long time. The Roman patrician, Cato the Censor, railed against the moral decay of the citizens of the Roman Republic 2200 years ago, and he directed most of his criticism against his fellow aristocrats and their self-indulgence. He called upon them to return to the Spartan ways of their ancestors and to raise their children with the same rigor and austerity that had prevailed during the time of their grandfathers. Cato undoubtedly had some effect, but he lacked the authority to enforce measures sufficiently severe to stem the tide of decay. Then as now, most people, rich as well as poor, were inclined to take the course of least resistance, with little thought for the consequences; as long as they could indulge themselves they did. Nevertheless, the Republic lasted another two centuries -- which is a lot longer than America is going to last.
The destruction of the American family certainly is a major cause of our moral decay. Before the Second World War the nuclear family was the norm among White Americans, with the mother at home to take care of the children. That was true in working-class families as well as in the middle class. There were no daycare centers for preschool children, and when the kids came home from school their mother was waiting for them. Children, in other words, got vastly more parental guidance and influence then than now. And they got a lot less permissiveness.
You know, it used to be that there was a clear distinction between childhood and adulthood. A child was fully under the control of his parents, and he was completely dependent on his parents. An adult, on the other hand, was on his own. He was independent; he could do whatever he wanted; but he was completely responsible for himself. As a child approached the magic age of 16 or 17 or 18, he looked forward with eagerness to becoming an adult and having his freedom. He looked forward to other things too: sex, being able to choose a mate, being able to buy things for himself and choose his own life-style, being able to have a car. But he understood that he would be responsible for himself. He would have to support himself, and he would be held accountable for what he did. His parents no longer would be there to support or to shield him.
This distinction between childhood and adulthood is a very fundamental distinction, and among humankind it has been nearly universal, from every European society of which we have records down to the most primitive non-White tribes -- until now. Among White Americans the distinction really has become blurred since the Second World War. On the one hand the parental control and the restrictions that formerly were characteristic of childhood almost have disappeared. Nowadays young kids have money, sex, freedom to do almost anything they want -- but no responsibility. And on the other hand far too many young men continue to be supported by their parents well into their 20s or even into their 30s. They shun independence. It's an unhealthy situation all around.
There's another reason, in addition to the softening influence of too much wealth and television's loosening of the grip on reality and the lessening of parental guidance, for the decline in moral strength of Americans today. That reason is a deliberate policy of moral destruction that has been implemented with increasing effectiveness during the past half century. In every society there are factions who want to push social or political changes in particular directions. There are egalitarians, for example, who really believe that people ought to be equal even if Nature didn't make them that way. They have combined forces with the feminists to reduce competition in the lives of children at school and at play. They have downgraded the idea of winning or losing, of success or failure, of excellence or mediocrity. They have instilled into children's minds the notion that cooperation is better than competition, that working in a group or on a committee in which no single person is responsible for the outcome is better than individual striving, that a uniform level of achievement is better than having some individuals excel and some fail. In addition, the feminists have played a major role in the destruction of the family, not just by teaching that the family is a repressive institution which is unfair to women, but by using their political influence to push policies which have undermined the family.
Then there are the multiculturalists, who are absolutely determined that we must integrate Blacks and Vietnamese and Mexican mestizos into our society in a way in which the various non-White minorities will be happy and successful. They are determined to change White social institutions in any way necessary to facilitate their goal of a happily integrated society. Lowering achievement standards in the schools and performance standards in the workplace and in the armed forces in order to accommodate Blacks, for example, seems to them a small price to pay for successful integration. Likewise, they are happy to phase out the teaching of history to young people in order to weaken their sense of European identity and make them more willing to accept multiculturalism. The fact that people with a weak sense of identity tend to be people without strong values is not half as important to them as achieving integration.
There are people -- White people -- who actually prefer the moral situation we have today to the one we had before the Second World War. They feel more comfortable with weak, indecisive, self-indulgent, and irresponsible people around them. They don't like strong, self-confident, independent people.
We've always had this interplay of ideological factions in our society. What's really new is the role of the mass media in favoring some factions over others. In the past the factions with really nutty and destructive ideas didn't have much influence over policy. A faction that believed the family repressive and wanted to weaken it, for example, would have a hard time prevailing over the general feeling that the family ought to be kept strong -- unless Hollywood began backing the anti-family faction. A faction that wanted to lower performance standards so that Blacks could do better relative to Whites wouldn't have made much headway -- without media backing.
When the Jews began gaining control over the mass media of news and entertainment early in the 20th century, they began using their growing influence over public opinion to favor the factions with the most destructive ideas and goals. The Jews not only backed feminist policies, for example; they actually supplied most of the feminist writers and propagandists themselves. They not only supplied most of the money and brains behind the postwar drive for a multicultural society, they also launched programs to weaken the opposition by undermining the character of the White population. In the 1960s, during the drive to weaken and discredit the forces of tradition, the Jews were the prime movers, and the mass media were their indispensable weapons.
I apologize for this crude and unscientific explanation of the fact of the moral decay of White America. I believe, however, that if you look soberly and carefully at the evidence all around you, you will find that there is much truth in what I have said. Think about it.