As I took my daily two-mile walk the other day, I couldn’t help noticing the the beautiful countryside I was passing. Across the way was Red Top Farm, a pastoral piece of land featuring a large pond, farm house and barn, and a half-dozen-or-so horses grazing in the grass of its gently sloping pastures. Conversely, opposite the farm, all along the far shoulder of the road, was a landscape decorated with every form of litter known to man. Beer bottles, soft drink cans, and fast food containers were the major culprits, discarded by people with no regard for their actions. It was heartbreaking.
The Breeding Ground
What’s this got to do with a war? you ask. Everything! I respond. Littering is simply the most easily observed example of the last war we will ever fight: Civilization vs. Anarchy. There are more aspects of this conflict in evidence, but to see them we must dig a little deeper. Let’s start with the entertainment industry. Which TV shows are the most popular? Shows like The Sopranos (the study of a mafia family), Breaking Bad (high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer), Lost (a bunch of marooned individuals doing whatever it takes to triumph over the others, at all costs), 24 (a post 9/11 struggle against terrorists), The Wire (exploring broken bureaucracy, dirty politics, and news media shortfalls), Freaks and Geeks (focusing on the lives of social outcasts in high school), and Shameless (featuring a dysfunctional family, headed by an alcoholic father). One thing all of these shows have in common is the glorification of anti-social behavior. They’re all uncivilized. We love to watch criminals and the socially downtrodden on shows like Cops, Alaska State Troopers, and Cajun Justice. Even the art of making bootleg whiskey has a show about it called Moonshiners. Comedies like Seinfeld, Friends, and Curb Your Enthusiasm all promote humor via name calling and character assassination. The more anti-social the activity, the better we like it.
Without getting partisan, politics is another prime example of the lack of regard for civility and tradition. If Presidents don’t like the laws legislated by Congress, they use questionable executive orders to bypass the will of the people. Eminent domain, the process of taking private land for public use, traditionally used almost exclusively for railroad and highway development, is now routinely co-opted for the purposes of commercial development, and camouflaged as being in the best “interest of the public.” Have you received a speeding ticket lately? Good chance you were given the opportunity to avoid an insurance increase by paying a substantial fine and entering a “plea for forgiveness” (just another term for a bribe that ends up in a municipality’s coffers). Internationally, the major “civilized” countries in the world make “the worst deal imaginable” with Iran, regarding its nuclear program, despite the fact that it is the premier supporter of terrorism around the globe. Why? Because the deal allowed Iran to regain control of nearly one hundred and fifty billion dollars. Immediately, multi-national corporations with no principles and no allegiance to anyone but their stockholders began lining up do business with the corrupt Middle Eastern country. Just another example of uncivilized behavior.
Schools Not Helping
In our nation’s schools, parents who fail to take responsibility for the lack of attention they give to their children’s schoolwork shift the blame to teachers for the pupil’s failure. The teachers, defenseless against the pressure of school board members devoid of principle, succumb to those same parents, and promote students who should be retained. Rules don’t matter anymore. Ironically, lawyers have contributed heavily to our collective disdain for the law by searching for and finding every conceivable loophole available to win in court. Notice I said win. I didn’t say to achieve justice. It’s all about winning, no matter what it takes (think OJ). Civilization is becoming a fading memory. There’s a sense of hopelessness that dominates the social landscape. Right now, we’re losing the war. We are slipping and sliding toward lawlessness. “But there’s nothing we can do about it,” we complain. “What can one individual do?” we ask, rhetorically, without really expecting an answer.
Making a Difference
And that brings us back to litter. Start with litter. Every time you see a bottle, a piece of paper, or a can strewn along the roadside, pick it up whenever you can. Encourage others to do likewise. Consider each container retrieved from the side of the road a shot fired over the bow of those we are fighting. Each time you feel prone to blame your bad behavior on someone or something else, stop and consider whether the problem might not lie with you. Take responsibility for every aspect of your life. If you don’t like a particular TV show that “everybody watches,” don’t watch it. Choose to read a book instead, or listen to some classical music. Civilization is nothing more than a collective term for all of us! We are civilization, and we can make a difference—if we choose to!
Now go turn off that TV show with the R rating for language, violence, and brief nudity, then turn on your iPod or CD player, and listen to Mozart, Ravel, or Tchaikovsky. There, don’t you feel more civilized already?