Allures of Playing in the Muck
by Bryan Mickens
The issue of Moral Decline has become a chief concern of many in the United States. All things considered, it wouldn’t be difficult to grasp why this problem has begun to blossom. Elevated unemployment rates, the fear that the American Dream no longer exist, and the uncertainty of the future of this Country have instilled a pessimistic attitude in many constituents. With this in mind we can better understand that the fear of lacking resources that allow upward mobility in American society has encouraged deviant behavior. By using examples such as the concept of social stratification and religious principles, I endeavor to illustrate how moral decay has managed to penetrate our society.
Means to an End
Being that we live in a world of images, we as observers have no choice but to access the images of those around us. When we see a man in a finely tailored suit, the assumption that that individual has a high paying job immediately comes to mind. Since we live in a society where a person’s occupation defines that individual, we must come to the conclusion that those with the highest salaries obtain the most attention and respect in our communities. This respect may come from the hard work and long hours that such jobs require. However, this was not the case for Nevin Shapiro, a Florida businessman who was charged for conducting a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme which involved sixty victims. The term for a crime such as this is white collar crime which is characterized by “complex, sophisticated, and relatively technical actions” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010 para.3). According to the FBI, “from January 2005 through November 2009, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in New Jersey (where one of his victims resides), Shapiro raised more than $880 million from his investors” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010 para.3). Believing that they were giving their money to a man that would create a profit in return, the victims were hoping for the resources that allow the mobility Shapiro had seemingly experienced. Knowing this, Shapiro used the scheme to gain millions.
The question that we must ask is why would a man wish to cause so much destruction to the lives of those that trusted him to work in their best interest? According to University of Missouri-St. Louis college professor Robert Keel, “most white collar criminals are motivated by economic difficulty and greed” (Keel, 2008) In relation to this thesis on moral decline, the kinship between this statement and the fear of lacking resources meet. In American society the gap between the rich and the poor continues to expand. This thought instills fear in any hard working human being that wishes to prosper in this land of opportunity. With this fear, an urge to act causes any worker to do what they must to insure themselves that their family will not go without. However, the claims makers that protest the moral decline in America would suggest that this behavior will only become a conflagration in our society.
On the Outside Looking In
“Business fraud is as familiar in their business context as are street crimes in poor communities” (Keel, 2008). In American society, we as constituents invest much into the idea of “hard work”. This idea gives a glint of hope to the worker at the bottom of the totem pole within her or his company. The low wage worker hopes that the sight of sweat and hard toil will appear pleasing in the eyes of the employer and result in a promotion that will bring forth a pay increase. But what if after years of attempts the worker never receives a wage that allows him to live a life of comfort? American sociologist Robert Merton has presented the term innovation in respect to the idea of his Strain Theory. In his theory, Merton conveys that the use of innovation involves “unconventional means to achieve a conventional goal” (Macionis 170) In the case of the low wage worker, the innovation could be theft. Most often, those that embrace the idea of innovation live in communities where there are very few opportunities to ameliorate themselves. One may ask why a poor person would commit a serious crime since he or she will not able to afford high priced lawyers. The rebuttal to that question would more than likely be “if you have nothing to lose, the risk is worth the reward.” When comparing the actions of Shapiro and the low wage worker, one could conclude that deviance can be viewed as a filtering process. When the “have-nots” observe the deviant acts of those that appear to be living off of the fat of the land, they too will consider demoralizing themselves with hopes that they will be in a better position to enjoy the feast associated with a luxurious life. However, the observer must remember that those who utilize innovation are the lower rung of society. The significance of this reveals itself in the criminal justice system. Once the courts reprimand the lower class individual who attempts to use unconventional means to achieve success, the society that they return to will place the stigma of “lower class deviant” on them which will make amelioration even harder to obtain.
Symptoms of Pleasure
In Thomas Hobbes essay The Leviathan (1651), the English philosopher writes that without security other than themselves, men will live a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, para 9) When thinking of a political scandal such as Watergate, the constituents living in today’s American society may condemn Hobbes’ assessment. Yes, refulgence does emit itself as well, but when one uses his or her sociological imagination, it’s difficult to say that the US economy touches everyone in the same way. I feel that any sentient human being would read Hobbes’ statement as a warning to embrace a system where we feel secure beneath legislatures. However, ever though laws are enforced the population as a whole will not abide by those laws. There are various reasons for a person to invest themselves in behavior that society feels is morally wrong. A young girl may have an abortion because she feels that she isn’t ready to provide for a child. A man may decide not to attend church because he feels that prayer does little to improve the conditions of the world. A teenager may rob from a store because his mother and father do not earn enough money to provide him with adequate shoes. Certainly the religious community would condemn the idea of abandoning what is considered morally right to pursue the glittering image of a better life. But the question is what does it take to prevent a person from going astray? Is prison or a life of damnation (as some Christians may deem it) worth the price we pay in order to achieve amelioration? To align the statement to my thesis on the growth of moral decline in America, we could refer back to the paragraph above regarding the hard working employee that finally decides to use innovation mentioned in Merton’s Strain Theory. What if the employee was a regular member of his church and knew that stealing was morally wrong, but also knew that his or her family needed bread to eat that night? Clearly his religious views would persuade him to not steal the much needed item, but when thinking of hungry children awaiting him or her at home, a difficult decision would ultimately have to be made. Quite possibly, the members of his or her church would counsel the poor wretch, but over the past few years, researchers have found that church attendance has declined in our society, adding on to the problem of moral decline.
In an article by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir titled Statistic and Reason for Church Decline, he presents the reader with the percentage of those in America that regularly attend church service. In the section of his essay title More Startling Data, Krejcir notes that“20.5% of Americans frequently attended church in 1995. This number decreased to 19% in 1999, and 18.0% in 2002” (Krejcir). In the same section, Krejcir writes that “Perhaps, the “so called” Evangelists who are seen on TV, living lavish lifestyles while preaching a message that does not conform to how the average person lives or one based on biblical precepts have disillusioned many people” (Krejcir) Again, the idea of images comes into play here. The sight of those with resources being analyzed by those with little to none plays a huge part in the psyche of American culture. Multi-billionaire Bill Gates has been quoted of saying “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” Such a statement could encourage a person down on his or her luck to seek personal growth elsewhere than a church sanctuary. Not to treat Gates’ statement as the impetus for moral decline and the evidence of Americans abandoning church, but when a man with such prestige in our culture makes a statement such as this, certainly there will be those that listen.
According to the theologian St. Augustine, “There is no Salvation outside of the Church”. Some claims makers would say this is the problem. Being that we live in a society that feeds off of competition, it’s an arduous task to place religious principles in every decision that we make. What it boils down to it is that there are those that live by the philosophy of “It’s you or me” to carry them throughout their lives. Although this thought may allow the thinker to feel secure and safe in an unremorseful world, it would be difficult to say that this thought doesn’t also settle a feeling of uneasiness inside of us all as well. Here, a dilemma occurs. The problem is whether or not we ought to insure our station in the world through wrong doing, or go about the entire process with a sense of integrity which may not achieve the results of decadent behavior. The question that we must ask ourselves is during a time of hardship, which choice is worth the outcome?
In today’s information society, no one would argue that the education enables a child to acquire the tools that are necessary to succeed in world. But like the world around them, competitions exist in high school class rooms as well. These competitions include best looking, best dress, but in reference to my thesis, best grades. On the homepage of EducationPortal.com, the reader is given the percentage of cheating in America’s classrooms through the past years. “Back in 1940, only 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during their academic careers. Today, that number has increased to 75 to 98 percent” (education-portal.com). Clearly this conduct occurs due to everyone’s desire to get ahead in a society where financial progress can be stagnant. Since no one wishes to sink into the depths of poverty, the emphasis to do what it takes to separate ourselves from the pack has taken root in high school classroom. Some may look at this as real world lessons stimulating the young population at the right time, but the claims makers would say that this activity only solidifies the decay of the world in the years to come. “’The evidence is that a willingness to cheat has become the norm and that parents, teachers, coaches and even religious educators have not been able to stem the tide,’ says Michael Josephson, Josephson Institute of Ethics president” (education-portal.com). What does it mean when the authoritarian figures in the life of a teenager are unable to hinder the individual from cheating? Has the concept of doing what right abandoned our society, and if so, how do we get it back? With the economy in the horrific condition that it is in now, maybe the question is can we get it back.
The motif that I’ve endeavored to place in each section is that the resources that enable upward mobility in our society have influenced the deviant acts that are narrated. From the Ponzi scheme carried through by the business man living in Florida to cheating students in high school class rooms, the ongoing theme in each section is a growing fear of falling behind. We could say lets just hope that the youth turn a blind to what is morally wrong, but there does not appear to be a successful method to assure that they will make choices that are acceptably. Each shred of information indicates that the desire for resources that will provide capital is great, so great that at times the means that a person chooses to acquire them becomes devious. Another thought to ponder is whether those that carry out these acts consider them to be deviant or a means of survival in an unforgiving society.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2010) Another Ponzi Scheme and a Warning for Investors. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2010/may/ponzi_050310/another-ponzi-case-and-a-warning- for-investors
Keel, R (2008) White Collar Crime. Retrieved from http://www.umsl.edu/~keelr/200/wcolcrim.html
Hobbes, T (1651) The Leviathan. Retrieved from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-c.html
Krejcir, R (2007) Statistics and Reasons for Church Decline. Retrieved from http://www.intothyword.org/articles_view.asp?articleid=36557&columnid
Education-Portal.com (2007) 75 to 98 Percent of College Students Have Cheated. Retrieved from http://education-portal.com/articles/75_to_98_Percent_of_College_Students_Have_Cheated.html
Macionis, John J. Social Problems. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2008.