The same cognitive failure that allows people to believe that Winston Churchill was made up and Sherlock Holmes is real influences our sense of what is right and what is wrong.
I recently stumbled upon a Ted Kopple speech from about 20 years ago (ancient history to many) that addresses this. Here are some excerpts.
Look at MTV or Good Morning America and watch the images and ideas flash past in a blur of impressionistic appetizers. No, there is not much room on TV for complexity. You can partake of our daily banquet without drawing on any intellectual resources; without either physical or moral discipline. We require nothing of you; only that you watch; or say that you were watching if Mr. Nielsen’s representative should call. And gradually, it must be said, we are beginning to make our mark on the American psyche. We have actually convinced ourselves that slogans will save us. “Shoot up if you must; but use a clean needle.” “Enjoy sex whenever with whomever you wish; but wear a condom.”
No. The answer is no. Not no because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward — but no, because it’s wrong. Because we have spent 5,000 years as a race of rational human beings trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In the place of Truth we have discovered facts; for moral absolutes we have substituted moral ambiguity. We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing….
Our society finds Truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form Truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a hallowing reproach.
What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions, they are Commandments. Are, not were.
The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify, in a handful of words, acceptable human behavior. Not just for then or now but for all time. Language evolves, power shifts from nation to nation, messages are transmitted with the speed of light, man erases one frontier after another; and yet we and our behavior, and the Commandments which govern that behavior, remain the same. The tension between those Commandments and our baser instincts provide the grist for journalism’s daily mill. What a huge, gaping void there would be in our informational flow and in our entertainment without routine violation of the Sixth Commandment. Thou shalt not murder.
On what did the Hart campaign flounder? On accusations that he violated the Seventh Commandment. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Relevant? Of course the Commandments are relevant. Simply because we use different term and tools, the Eighth Commandment is still relevant to the insider trading scandal. Thou shalt not steal. Watch the Iran/Contra hearings and keep the Ninth Commandment in mind: Thou shalt not bear false witness. And the Tenth Commandment, which seems to have been crafted for the 80’s and the Me Generation. The Commandment against covetous desires; against longing for anything we cannot get in an honest and legal fashion.
When you think about it, it’s curious, isn’t it. We’ve changed in almost all things — where we live, how we eat, communicate, travel; and yet, in our moral and immoral behavior we are fundamentally unchanged.
Jesus summed it up: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So much for our obligations towards our fellow man. That’s what the last five Commandments are all about.
There have always been imperfect role models; false gods of material success and shallow fame; but now their influence is magnified by television. I caution you, as one who performs daily on that flickering altar, to set your sights beyond what you can see. There is true majesty in the concept of an unseen power which can neither be measured nor weighed. There is harmony and inner peace to be found in following a moral compass that points in the same direction, regardless of fashion or trend.
He was right on 20 years ago. I think he’s right on today.