Temper of the Times: Public Depravity

“There are some bad hombres out there.” This is what my close friend wrote on Facebook recently to justify going in a news fast. He stopped reading the headlines. He had had enough.

I can’t say that I blame him, even though I am such a news hound I couldn’t do what he did. You might as well ask me to give up coffee.

Technology has allowed all the decadence of mankind to spread instantly around the world. It is really discouraging.

I do not think today’s people are any worse than those of the past. All you have to do is look at history to learn of the murders, rapes, pillagings, prostitutions and other degeneracy of previous times. Even the Bible has stories revealing such things.

However, with the Internet, satellite TV, mobile phones and other technologies, the dissipation all around us is broadcast 24/7. There’s also a lot more people living today spreading their moral turpitude.

It is kind of a slow news day when it comes to debauchery in the press today.  Today’s there’s only stories about a football coach and a drug-crazed fiend molesting children. The rest of the news is pretty tame.

In past days there has been stories of cannibalism in various areas of the United States. It is not the kind of coverage you want to read while having your snack at the computer.

The problem of our debased culture is ongoing, and so is the reporting of it. I didn’t watch TV much for a few years when I went overseas. When I came back to the USA, reality television was all the rage.

I hate to sound like an old fogey, but a lot of the lyrics in the songs on the American Top 40 are just trash. Ideas that were just inferred when I was a youth are now spelled out in all their inglorious depravity.

I won’t even discuss the pornography. Everyone knows it is pervasive. I can’t remember where I read it, but one pastor recently wrote that the media is sex-charged in just about all of its products.

There’s something missing in today’s media, and of all people, Edgar Allen Poe-the Stephen King of his day-articulated it in a lecture entitled “The Poetic Principle”:

Dividing the world of mind into its three most immediately obvious distinctions, we have the Pure Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense. I place Taste in the middle, because it is just this position which in the mind it occupies. It holds intimate relations with either extreme; but from the Moral Sense is separated by so faint a difference that Aristotle has not hesitated to place some of its operations among the virtues themselves. Nevertheless we find the offices of the trio marked with a sufficient distinction. Just as the Intellect concerns itself with Truth, so Taste informs us of the Beautiful, while the Moral Sense is regardful of Duty. Of this latter, while Conscience teaches the obligation, and Reason the expediency, Taste contents herself with displaying the charms: – waging war upon Vice solely on the ground of her deformity – her disproportion – her animosity to the fitting, to the appropriate, to the harmonious – in a word, to Beauty. An immortal instinct deep within the spirit of man is thus plainly a sense of the Beautiful.

What is missing in our public discourse today is taste. William Safire, in commenting on this lecture, says that Poe identifies taste as the “sole arbiter” in poetic creation of beauty.

 Since much of what comes through our electronic gadgets today lacks taste, we are inundated in a sea of ugliness. What we need is a return to beauty.

The media can do more than just push this uncomely material on us. They have a responsibility to their audience.

Donald R. Kinder and Shanto Iyengar did a study on television news which showed that it didn’t just broadcast information, but engaged in agenda setting. Those in charge of the more responsible electronic news outlets today could do a better job of setting it.

If they did, the content coming from our computers and other media transmitters would minister to our souls, not our prurient interests.

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