Homeless Veterans Basic Rights Ignored in L.A.
Was 'Reasonable Doubt' Reasonable in the Casey Anthony Verdict?

Societal Effects of Cyberbullying, Immoral Behavior, and the Cult of Celebrity

Ethics Being Ignored in 2012 Election

It's all around us yet no one talks about. Why is that? I explore the possible reasons that politicians ignore the lack of ethics in society in this blog.

Examples of immoral behavior pertain more to personal choices and include recent failings by politicians such as Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Ensign and the creepy John Edwards. Morality and ethics are often thought of as one and the same. I prefer to think the latter as the process of reasoning and deliberation one should follow in making personal and professional decisions. Morality and ethics often are intertwined in decision making. Tiger Woods broke his vows to his wife and violated a Commandment so he acted immorally, and he also failed to consider the consequences of his actions on others as expected in ethical decision-making.

Much has been said since the debate on health-care reform about the estimated $500 billion in Medicare fraud. Fraud is certainly an unethical act. Fraudsters like Bernie Madoff made decisions based on lies to investors and then covered-up their theft through deception. The financial meltdown of 2008 was predicated on taking advantage of unsuspecting borrowers who had a right to know about the risks inherent in their mortgage loans. The accounting frauds at companies such as Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and Global Crossing were motivated by greed on the part of CEOs and CFOs. Employees and investors lost millions of personal wealth while the perpetrators of the fraud benefited from lucrative compensation packages.

We are fast becoming a nation without a moral conscience. Violent attacks no longer shock us and anyone can be a target: Gabrielle Giffords; Fort Hood Soldiers; the Virginia Tech massacre; the Beltway sniper attacks; and the slaughter of innocents at Columbine.

Cyberbullying illustrates how far we have fallen on the ethics meter. It has been blamed for the death of 13-year old Ryan Patrick Halligan in October 2003 who committed suicide after online bullying from middle school classmates accusing him of being gay, and he was threatened, taunted and insulted incessantly. A 17-year-old girl, Alexis Pinkington, took her own life following vicious taunts on social networking sites - which persisted postmortem on Internet tribute pages, worsening the grief of her family and friends. Sick hackers maliciously exploited interest in Alexis by automatically using blackhat SEO techniques to stuff webpages with content which claimed to be related to the news.

In Massachusetts, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince and 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took their own lives after unrelenting bullying pushed them over the edge. Hoover's mother was interviewed by 20/20 last October and told of continuous teasing by her son's peers despite his mother confronting school officials and her efforts to help him cope. Students called him gay, and would provoke Carl, getting him to react, and his reaction, though a victim, was what teachers were seeing, said his mother.

ABC's 20/20 featured a special report on bullying amongst students, subtly suggesting school officials and adults could take a greater role in working with students to prevent bullying. The episode, called "Bullied to Death" featured students who ended their lives due to bullying, some currently bullied students, and some former bullies.

From my perspective the lack of attention to these problems that have persisted for many years and are getting worse is due to the desensitization of society to unethical behavior. At its worse, most in society do not know what are ethics and what it means to have an ethical character. Traits such as honesty, trustworthiness, respect, and responsibility are no longer valued by society. We hear that everyone lies; we should act in our own best interests; respect must be earned and never given; and we blame others for our mistakes and failings.

You would think politicians would jump at that chance to discuss such issues. But very few, if any, see it as the underlying cause of the economic decline in America. Virtually no one seems to understand that the declining work ethic has led to the failure of our education system as students prefer to text and tweet rather than read works of literature, discuss philosophy, and learn how to develop critical thinking skills. The latter takes practice and it is "way more fun" to surf the Internet. Parents don't seem to care because all too many have become infected by the same malaise.

As a nation, we have become addicted to the culture of celebrity. We follow every tweet by our favorite stars and ignore the hard work it took to get to that point; we come to believe we deserve our fifteen minutes of fame and engage in immature behavior to get it; and we obsess over the lives of others such as the Casey Anthony trial. A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the U.K. found that the cult of celebrity is producing a generation that believes education is not important in achieving success. More than 70 per cent of teachers in primary and secondary schools said the cult of celebrity was perverting children's aspirations and expectations. About 37 per cent of teachers believe their pupils want to be famous for being famous.

These are the issues that should be addressed by political candidates because no amount of stimulus money or combination of fiscal and tax policy can cure the ills that have befallen our country until we recognize and deal with the fact that our moral underpinnings are crumbling.

Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, July 6, 2011