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Don’t Pay The Ransom — I’ve Escaped…and Other Thoughts on Ethics and Excuses

My oh my how tempus can fugit in large quantities when you’re not watching the clock. Having had to re-set mine to give effect to daylight savings time, I took note of the date of my last post on this blog, and to my horror I discovered that I’d been among the missing for over five months! Yes, I know, that discovery was over a month ago. That’s what I’d call inauspicious attention to detail. I could tick off all the various and sundry reasons why I’ve not posted, but that would require you to wade through my accounts of the vagaries of how water leaks through roofs, things you think you need to do to put your house on the market, and a myriad of other day to day insanities that I’m not mean spirited enough to put you through. As this blog was conceived of to be an intellectual exercise, well, let’s just say I’ve waded through a heap of potholes on the treadmill of life and refuse to just post whatever drivel runs through my head, just to put something out there. I prefer to keep this blog a haven for critical thought and well reasoned argument. Because that is so, I haven’t had the muse speak to me in quite a while — at least not in the format suitable for posting in a blog…she’s been dictating a book instead, but I digress. If that sounds like an excuse, hold that thought, and do read on. It was an excuse called “affluenza” which finally moved me to write a post-length diatribe, and this is it.

So where to begin…or should I say pick up the thread? It was election night when I woke up to my extended disappearance, and I could have offered commentary on the results…but from what I saw, there was nothing definitive to be discerned from same. I could also have piled on to the growing backlash against Obamacare, but that too is…well, too much with us, particularly as I’ve already opined it was unconstitutional to begin with, despite what the Supreme Court had to say on the subject, and the daily misadventures of the official roll-out appears to be confirming the worst fears of its critics, myself included. I’d rather devote a few hundred, or thousand, carefully chosen words to discussion a notion worthy of actual thought. So I’ll start with the title I gave this post.

The title of this post was born out of an old joke about what to say to one’s spouse upon stumbling home at an exceedingly wee hour, after a night of, drinking…whether or not it included any drunken debauchery. It is, at the intellectual bottom, an excuse, and it is that precise notion that got my personal collection of gray matter jingling, mostly on the issue of why we humans need an excuse…for anything? Pour yourself a drink, and “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” You get two extra points if you recognize that as a quote by Bette Davis’ fading star character, Margo Channing, in the 1950 movie classic, “All About Eve.”

Implicit in the notion of needing an excuse is the underlying notion that we’ve done something that was wrong or offensive in some manner to someone, or someones, such that an apology of some sort is in order…or more. When one looks at this notion a bit deeper, it is perhaps easy to discern that a simple mea culpa is not necessarily sufficient to secure forgiveness for the transgression. To note the obvious, consider a wrong or offense that is collectively perceived as so serious that it is deemed “criminal.” A truly sincere “I’m sorry” offered by the offending party to the judge imposing sentence, will not likely spare him or her the jail time, or fine, or both, that is likely to be imposed upon proof the transgressor was just that. Some transgressions have been deemed so serious, no amount of jail time will suffice, and the transgressor has been put to death. What piques my interest is how and why whatever the offending conduct was determined to be such, and by whom?

We Americans live in a society in which we prize such notions as those of freedom of speech, freedom of thought and a whole bunch of other alleged individual “rights.” Do you ever wonder from whence those rights sprung…or where our societal sense of what is right and wrong has its origins? Free though we purport to be, we are actually surrounded by an ever burgeoning series of codes of conduct, some criminal, some civil and many others merely social in nature, that are intended to suggest, if not direct, how we are to comport ourselves with respect to others, the first two sources backed up by the power of the courts to penalize the errant, should they comport themselves in a manner deemed to be offensive of the standard in some manner…and the latter backed by the power of your fellow humans to shun you or otherwise make you uncomfortable. But what standards are all these rules of conduct based on?

If you ponder it a bit, at the very root of all notions pertaining to “offenses” is the core notion that there are such subjective notions as “right” and “wrong.” Expressed with a religious flavor, we could substitute “good” and “evil;” and, to some extent, with all (or most) subjectivity removed, as “true” or false.” If you don’t see the subjectivity in such notions as right, wrong, good and evil, you’ll have to read my forthcoming book, “The Reason Why” to understand how and why this subjectivity comes into play. Suffice it to say here, each of these notions employs a value placed upon some act, or refusal to act, that renders either as being perceived positively or negatively by a majority of others. The problem with all is that one is left to wonder just who determined the positive or negative value and based on what criteria? Aha, there’s the opening for some subjectivity.

Assuming our perceptions are in good working order, and our ability to test and confirm matters unfettered, such notions as true or false can be readily tested across an uncountable number of assertions to determine which of the two they are. Mathematical equations are demonstrable of this notion. Take your basic first grade assertion that 1 + 1 = 2. Humans have been counting things from time immemorial. Once there is an accord on what to call each numeric value one might count (which naming process might be considered subjective) the value of each denominated number is immutable, as is the sum of same when they are added together; the difference, when they are subtracted; the product, when they are multiplied; and, the quotient and remainder when they are divided. So long as one uses the same terminology to refer to each quantity in an equation consistently, what we actually call each component is utterly irrelevant to the truth of the mathematical expression, and totally apolitical.

My example is actually a form of proof of this assertion in that I intentionally used the numerals 1 and 2 to represent the elements of the equation…but I could have used their English language counterparts, “one plus one equals two” and have said the same thing. Moreover, I could have said “uno più uno uguale due,” and have arrived at the same truth, in Italian. Need I add one could repeat the exercise in every known language and get the same result? To beat this point to death, as is my wont to do, we could make up a word to represent “one,” say, “arf,” and “two,” say, “woof,” and the expression still remains “true;” only now it is expressed “arf plus arf equals woof”…and maybe we are speaking dog. Did I digress? Sorry. My dog, Etna, understood me.

No matter how many times humans have added 1 + 1 throughout history, they have always arrived at 2 as the correct answer, and thus we may say the expression is “true.” Correspondingly, when one arrives at the conclusion that 1 + 1 = 3, or any number other than 2, we may assert with supreme confidence that the proffered answer is resoundingly, “false.” Note, there is a total absence of human emotion, bias, religion, philosophy and politics in the mathematical expression, rendering it as “objective” as it is possible to get, in this Universe. Thus, 1 + 1 = 2 for both genders, regardless of sexual preference; for believers in every religion known to man, as well as for atheists and agnostics; for Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and the politically disenchanted. It is equally true in Congress, even though the current denizens are incapable of dealing with numbers that small, but I digress. Ah, if only the rest of life were so wonderfully objective…but it is apparently not.

Perhaps you notice the notions of “true” and “false” are not restricted to mathematics. Science, through the application of rigorous and repeated testing, in the format we call the “scientific method,” has lead to the discovery of an impressive number of scientific truths…along with an equally impressive number of scientific suppositions and outright falsities, dressed up to look like truths. No, I am not…presently…referring to the contemporary, increasingly discredited notion of “man-made global warming,” rather to the fact that less than a thousand years ago the generally accepted “scientific truth” was that the Earth was flat…and less than a hundred years ago the generally accepted “scientific truth” was that the most elemental particles to be found in nature were protons, neutrons and electrons. Now we “know” both assertions are actually “false.” If you doubt that, I suggest you read my earlier “Backward Thinking” posts and secure enlightenment.

Empirically tested and proven scientific data that has passed muster under the rigors of the scientific method are, in themselves, objective, and religiously, philosophically and politically neutral. It is only when we mere humans begin to offer our personal interpretations as to how and why these objective truths exist or behave in the manner they appear to, that human emotions, biases and other bits of “subjectivity” are introduced and infect an otherwise perfectly objective assertion.

Objective truths aren’t limited to math and science either. The existence of the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and other physical aspects of our planet are essentially objective truths, because if you doubt their existence, you can look at a picture of either or both, or, if you’re really super skeptical, can go look at them yourself. Once again, one might have a panoply of political or philosophical notions about the Statue of Liberty, as regards what it represents, what motivated the artist to create it or the French to send it over here…but those are largely subjective, and have nothing to do with whether it exists in the first instance.

As it turns out, however, mastery of the ability to discern between that which is demonstrably “true” and that which is demonstrably “false” is an incomplete set of references for navigation through life. It is a most excellent start, but still short of the guidance system we need, because so much out there to contend with cannot be satisfactorily proven to be one or the other, relegating us to having to form opinions…and those are only as good as the basis from which they were derived.

We are at the mercy of others to supply much of our information regarding the world about us, its history and current goings on, and, as you might imagine, that journey is fraught with danger, as an uncritical mind receiving these broadcasts might be inclined to receive them as “truths” when nothing could be further from the notion as we just described it…thus the reason why I wrote my book, so to speak. I admit that is a cheap plug, but I can’t help myself…or won’t if you prefer.

It is because this last assertion of mine is “true” that we need to tread carefully when making the transition from discussing matters that are “true” to those that are “good” or “right,” as these latter notions are built on more than outright objectivity. You can doubt me, but walk with me a little further and see if we can’t reach an accord.

Let’s start with the notion of something being “right,” as opposed to being merely “true.” What have we added to the former assertion that distinguishes it from the latter? If we look at how we define the term, perhaps you can discern where the subjectivity creeps in. “Right” has been defined to include such notions as being: “in accordance with what is good, proper or just;” “in conformity with fact or reason;” and, “correct in judgment, opinion or action.”

We will put aside the first definition and focus on the second one for starters. If an assertion is in conformity with fact, it is also “true,” thus at the very base we might say all “true” assertions are “right,” at least in some sense, but that does not imply that all “right,” assertions are necessarily “true.” Why? Well, look at the alternative in the second definition and consider whether an assertion may be in conformity with “reason,” but nevertheless be totally “false.”

If we define “reason” as “a basis or cause as for some belief, action, fact or event,” then focus on the term “belief,” and you have your answer. In the days before it was possible to soar high above the Earth and observe it from all sides, or to even sail completely around it, mere humans were constrained to form their opinions as to the actual shape of the Earth from what they could observe, and “reasonably” concluded, (formed a belief) it was flat. We now know it is more or less round, but have believed it was flat for much longer than we have known it to be round, rendering those who believed it to be flat until proven otherwise to have held a “right” opinion in their day, that was nevertheless actually “false.” Those who presently continue to believe the Earth is flat are dolts…but that is a topic for a different post.

I will parse out one other alternative definition of “right,” that which defines it as being “correct in opinion.” An “opinion,” by definition, is a belief, not a fact, and thus may be fervently held, yet utterly “false.” Such is life, and the reason why it is important to discern whether one is hearing a fact or an opinion. (Yes, the italicized phrase was yet another cheap plug. I purport to have intellect, not shame…but I perhaps digress.)

Have another sip of that drink. Massage your temples and ponder what I just said. The distinguishing factor between the rather mechanical “true” or “false” determinations and those that are either “right” or “wrong;” or, “good” or “evil,” is the interjection of “opinion” into the mix, which often is determinative of the value ascribed to the result of the equation. Our acceptance of those “values” and efforts to comport ourselves in conformity with the positive ones, is at base, our sense of ethics. But what if our personal sense of discretion in these matters is faulty, or lacking sufficient mental discipline to be truly discerning? Well, then your sense of ethics will be no better than what you built them on, no?

Maybe you noticed that humans have a tendency to cling to their opinions, regardless of how factually wrong, or how tenuous the logic on which they are based, might be. All human faith in a deity is, at its very base, an opinion, as no one has yet proven empirically, whether there is or isn’t one…or more, for that matter. And yet, when we switch from “right” to “good” there is implicit in most of the notions of what is good, a reference to a value system ultimately based on a belief in a higher deity, who has what to say on the subject. How we purport to know what it is the deity had to say on the subject is yet another matter of opinion. If we could re-locate the Ark of the Covenant, we might look upon the tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, then argue over who actually inscribed them…but alas, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was a Hollywood movie, not a History Channel documentary.

Primitive though human origins may be, in comparison to what we claim we’ve developed into, and our ancestors, not knowing exactly what stars were, or that billions of other galaxies populated the cosmos, replete with a myriad of phenomena we still to this day do not understand, the notion nevertheless apparently developed rather quickly to early humans that all of “this” just might be the handiwork of something greater than just “us.”

Say what you will, I personally find it more than mere coincidence that no matter what culture you look at in the historical record, wherever located, some notion of a greater deity developed and took hold within that culture. It is equally non-coincidental, in my mind, that along with prevalent acceptance of some form of religious belief came development of notions of ethical behavior and distinction between what was good and what was evil. Skeptics will perhaps give these observations of mine short shrift and attribute humans’ affinity for finding a deity out there to superstition born out of ignorance. I posit we have not become so enlightened that we have succeeded in empirically disproving anything in that regard, thus far.

Exactly how do atheists purport to distinguish between the right or wrong in the absence of some deity positing some guidelines? Mere blind acceptance, such as, “well, this is the law,” is too simplistic. Who made it so? What was it based on? Why is that superior to any alternative? Is it based on some sort of “Natural Law” that was born as part of the Big Bang? That can’t be it. We didn’t even theorize there was such a thing as the Big Bang until less than a hundred years ago, so what did pre-20th Century atheists use to base their ethics on? Maybe they’re just self-evident. Perhaps you cognize such a notion is just as much a mere opinion as is any ethical tenet rooted in belief in a deity. So why hold it? As best as I can determine, in the latter instance, we can pick and choose which ethics we wish to hold, whereas in the former, we are told what they are, by others, and have to struggle to live up to them. Hmmm.

Let’s go back to my original provocative cause. You are out on a Friday night for a drink with the boys, or girls, as my example, believe it or don’t, is gender neutral, in contemporary society. After sipping down a few drinks, you look at your watch and say to yourself, “Jeeze, I better get off this bar stool and head home, my spouse (significant other, room-mate, whomever) is waiting.” But, curse your fate, just as you get ready to pick up your rump and head off, a buddy buys you another drink. It’s impolite to refuse it. (We will save for another diatribe why that is so, but it seems to be.) If you are truly popular with your buds, because you are at base a good person, you could have four or five more drinks backing you up before you actually haul ass and go home…only now it is several hours later. You are not doing anything to vitiate your marriage vows, merely sitting and talking shop, sports and assorted nonsense with people you like. You are having fun…but back at the casa, your mate, if you have one, is dealing with the kids, watching the clock, doing laundry…and a slow burn, because you aren’t there to share the exhilaration. You don’t even need to be there to know that’s what’s going on. When you finally stumble in, drunk though you be, you know you must offer, minimally, an explanation, and better yet, an apology. But for what? Whatever the reason, you may take it to the bank, it is based on some ethical notion, and chances are good that is so whether you attend services religiously or not, so to speak.

You have perhaps noticed I’ve proffered no comprehensive and acceptable answer to that question. Believer and atheist alike could feel the need for making an apology in the scenario I described. I could parse out why a believer might feel the need to, but you could do so for yourself. I’m more interested in why an atheist feels the need to do so, and admit I don’t have a satisfying answer…if only because I’m having difficulty on grasping where their sense of ethical behavior is hitched to in the first instance. I suppose they could say it is based on expedience, founded in the notion that if they wish to keep the peace, they must tender the olive branch, but then I would also suppose the recipient of such an offer would know that and throw the olive branch back in the face of the offeror…as there is nothing behind it of substance…other than a sincere desire to not be harangued for another hour or two.

We humans are not only physical structures, we are mental and spiritual structures as well. Our physical structures are built about our skeletal frames, much in the way a building is built. But our individual mental and spiritual aspects as humans have structure as well. On what are they based? If the foundation of one’s mental and spiritual structures are made of the conviction we are all mere happenstance, what can I say? Your beliefs, whatever they are, don’t have much to cling to for support when pressed upon by the vagaries of life. While one might be free to go through life with the absolute minimum in a sense of ethical behavior, the problem is that you don’t exist in a vacuum, and your low standards have a way of affecting, negatively, those who have somewhat higher ones. Stick with me a bit longer, and see where I am heading.

I admit to being over 60 years in age, and perhaps my memory of times that were seemingly less self-absorbed has affected my perspective on things. But maybe not. Even though I have been banging around courtrooms for 30 or so years, I learned a new defense this week, called “affluenza.” “What is that?”, you ask. “Patience,” I say. First the back story.

Breanna Mitchell had her car break down the night of June 15, 2013, on the Burleson-Retta Road in Texas. Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who lived nearby, had come outside to help Mitchell; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, a passer-by, also stopped to help.

Ethan Couch, a 16 year old, admitted to being drunk when he lost control of his Ford F-350 pickup, was speeding, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, plus traces of Valium in his system, when he struck and killed Mitchell, both of the Boyles and Jennings. Two teens in the bed of Couch’s truck were also seriously injured. Solimon Mohmand had numerous broken bones and internal injuries. Sergio Molina remains paralyzed and communicates by blinking his eyes. Just to add some fuel to the fire, it is alleged the spree began with Couch and his buddies stealing beer from a Walmart.

Under Texas law, Couch faced a sentence of between 2 and 20 years as well as a fine of up to $10,000.00 for his crimes. His lawyers had him plead guilty to four counts of manslaughter by intoxication and two counts of assault by intoxication causing bodily injury. Couch’s lawyers, arguing for a lighter sentence, alleged Couch suffers from “affluenza,” a term which apparently means that his wealthy parents pretty much let him get away with everything, for most of his life. “He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Gary Miller, a psychologist assigned to Couch said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”

I know, you’re all wondering what sentence this youthful miscreant received. The short answer is 10 years probation. Oh, and State District Judge Jean Boyd ordered the 16-year-old to receive therapy at a long-term, in-patient facility. He will stay in Tarrant County juvenile detention until the juvenile probation department prepares a report about possible treatment programs. I feel safer, don’t you?

Let’s boil this down a bit, before my head explodes. We start with the notion of a 16 year old so closely supervised, by those who caused him to be here at all, he is free to drive off in a Ford F-350 pickup with his buddies and go steal some beer. His parents are alleged to have had a volatile and co-dependent relationship, and a contentious divorce…so maybe he scored the Valium from one of them. I leave it to you to calculate just how much beer a 16 year old must ingest to score three times the legal limit on the Breathalyzer.

Regardless of how acquired, the alcohol and Valium in Couch’s system caused him to lose control of his speeding vehicle, kill 4 totally innocent people and seriously injure 2 others, for which he receive no jail time in exchange for a very sincere, “I’m sorry.” Really?

The defense posits that this happened because Couch’s family’s affluence sheltered him from reality. Maybe so. How can it possibly be though, that the solution to Couch’s failure to comport himself within the rules of society, is to further shelter this cretin, by keeping him from the large dose of reality that would await him in the county jail?

Brace yourselves, the muse is upon me and I feel the need to expound a bit, as this case brings into focus a number of notions I’ve spent much time writing about in a number of diatribes that are attempting to coalesce into a book. (Yes, I know, another cheap plug. Sorry)

Let’s go back to the alcohol. The legal drinking age in all 50 states is anomalously, 21. Why is that anomalous? Well, you can enlist in any of the military services at age 17, with parental permission, or at 18, on your very own, and shortly thereafter have some Afghan or other armed person seeking to send you to perdition in defense of your country…but you can’t buy a drink here to calm your frayed nerves until you’re 21. In other words, you could be shot, but not have a shot. If you don’t see the anomaly in that notion, I can’t help you. In Couch’s case, none of this matters, he is only 16, and wasn’t looking to calm his nerves from being under enemy fire. He was apparently just out having fun…but not at his own expense. Taken at face value, Couch’s lawyers’ assertion is that because Couch had no prior experience in pondering the potentially lethal consequences of his actions, he should somehow be accorded different treatment than a somewhat wiser, but equally lethal perpetrator. Why? They weren’t arguing he couldn’t understand that driving while drunk could lead to serious injury or death. They argued he wasn’t used to paying for the consequences of his own insensitivity. If that’s the law, shouldn’t everyone get one homicide on the house?

The United States is on the short list of countries with a 21 year old minimum drinking age, accompanied by such forward looking countries as Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan Palau and Sri Lanka. Most of the rest of the world sits at an 18 year old minimum, with a few countries, including Italy and 8 other European countries at 16 years old and 19 countries with no minimum age at all, including apparently hedonist Norway. We used to be at 18 in most states, but the proponents of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the auto insurance industry, which pays for much of the carnage, convinced Congress to get into the act and legislate a mandatory minimum of 21. States could opt out, but only at the cost of losing a fortune in federal highway funds, so none did. I could throw a whole bunch of statistics at you as regards the rate of teenaged drunk driving casualties between the United States and Europe, but they favor the Europeans, who apparently let their kids drink younger, but drive later in life. Hold on to that thought.

We tried banning the sale of all alcohol here, under the auspices of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920…but that just shifted the business to an ever burgeoning criminal element and deprived federal and state governments of so much revenue, it was quickly repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-First Amendment…in a sense rendering the right to drink alcohol a Constitutionally protected endeavor. And why not, humans have been consuming alcohol since they discovered it. None of the Ten Commandments provide, “Thou shalt not drink alcohol.” Christians may point to Jesus’ employment of wine at the Last Supper as proof God approves imbibing. Indeed, if you still have doubt in this regard, remember His first “miracle” was turning water into wine during the wedding feast at Cana. That is not an act of disapproval of the commodity. As is the case with so much of life, it is really a question of degree. In a free society, such as ours, we are, at least initially, in control of setting our own parameters, as to how much, when, where and what kind of alcohol to ingest. So, if you are cognizant of what you might do under its influence, and have some consideration for others, you are behaving ethically. What happened to Couch? Poor parenting? Inadequate elementary and middle school education? At what point does he become responsible for his own actions? Shouldn’t acceptance of the license to drive a motor vehicle carry with it acceptance of the consequences of violating the rules of the road?

Alcohol coupled with motor power, of any sort, really, has been found to be a particularly lethal and maiming combination. Accordingly, we have a panoply of laws and regulations targeted at restricting the combination, particularly as it relates to automobiles. They are there to suggest to you some guidelines for self-regulating your consumption. People, not just teenagers, still die or get seriously injured from alcohol related stupidity, regardless of the amount of laws and regulations…because some people are better at self-regulation than others. Couch’s exploits are but a fairly recent example of the failure to do so.

Despite all the legislation to eradicate teenage drinking, I’m not aware of any legislative attempt to approach the problem from a different perspective, by raising the driving age. If you ponder it a bit, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to hold on to the car keys than it is to keep junior out of the liquor cabinet…or Walmart? But that would require many of us to chauffeur our kids around…or trust them to public transportation…to get them to wherever they are going, and that seems to be a bigger burden on society than a few thousand annually self-induced fatalities and maimings.

You can’t look upon an ad for drinkable alcohol in this country, without hearing or reading the ending admonition to “Drink responsibly.” If you ponder that notion for a moment, perhaps it strikes you between the synapses. There it is. A generic request that you exercise some ethics, begging the questions as to where to get them from and upon what they are based. I’m not here to supply any, just to get you to do some pondering on your own and perhaps point you in some directions.

Returning to Couch, as regards his failure to exercise some ethical behavior, what can I say? It was unlawful for him to buy a drink, so he stole some anyway. That was a criminal act, was it not? Then he operated a motor vehicle under the influence of the alcohol he unlawfully consumed, and that too was a criminal act. Then while operating the vehicle in an intoxicated condition, he killed 4 people and maimed 2 others, and each of those acts were criminal too. But because he was not used to hearing, “No!”, throughout his life, he received a sentence to probation instead of jail, leaving him totally convinced he is indeed a special person! Does that notion trouble you? If it doesn’t, it should. Where is Al Sharpton or some other rabble-rousers clamoring for a special federal prosecutor to be appointed to bring charges for deprivation of the victims’ civil liberties? As former Russian comedian, Yakov Smirnoff would say, “What a country!”

Based on the logic of Couch’s defense, I would argue it apparently wouldn’t matter if he used an illegally acquired firearm to cause the death and injuries, by indiscriminately firing it in several directions, instead of pointing a Ford F-350 pickup down a road. Why should it? Now we are only bickering over the precise instrumentality he employed. Indeed, firearms are, at least presently, Constitutionally protected, motor vehicles aren’t.

I admit I am baiting you into a digression regarding gun control…perhaps you see how it is apt to the matter of Couch. If you don’t, you are new to the inner workings of my mind. Chances are neither raising the drinking age nor the driving age will avert future Couch-styled assaults on innocent victims. The restrictions were already there and were utterly useless in the face of Couch’s lack of ethical comportment. In much the same manner, attempts to restrict the law abiding public’s access to firearms, particularly handguns, has failed, miserably, to reduce crimes committed with them, because it appears criminals, who apparently are short in the ethics department, continue to disregard the law. If you doubt my assertion, I suggest you go read my last post, “Backward Thinking, Ancora!

Historically, admitting one had no sense of right or wrong excused you from nothing, in terms of consequences for your actions. Has this changed? We had better hope not, unless we are prepared to allow every miscreant unready, or unwilling, to secure some basic ethics, and actually use them, to run roughshod over the rest of us. Hope, shmope, look around and tell me we aren’t on the slippery slope already.

Do you remember how all this started? I asked, “Why does one need an excuse?” It would appear that the answer is because even if you don’t have any personal sense of right or wrong, society will supply one for you, and when you run afoul of one of the rules laid down for all to obey, you will suffer consequences. Well, that would have been the answer, before the matter of Couch, now I’m not so sure.

Admittedly, Couch is an extreme example, yet, in my mind, he is typical of an ever-growing population of ethically unencumbered denizens of the planet. We are presently bombarded with news reports of mass identity thefts, perpetrated, undoubtably, to enable the hackers to help themselves to your hard earned assets, without working for them. The inspector general estimates that the IRS could issue as much as $21 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the next five years. Whose money are they taking? Yours! So too are those out there making phony disability claims, accepting government assistance while earning money off the books and otherwise bilking the system for all that can be grabbed.

What about something simple, like merely telling the truth about something? I remember hearing in grade school about our first American President, George Washington, and the anecdotal story about how when he was a lad, he confessed to his father to having chopped down the cherry tree, by saying, “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” The story is included in a biography of Washington written by Mason Locke Weems, generally known as Parson Weems, and attributed to a distant cousin of George’s.

Apocryphal or not, Washington is credited with having set the early bar for succeeding American Presidents in many respects, inclusive of how long to hang around in office, a tradition not broken until Franklin D. Roosevelt took the helm and decided to hang around for four elections…which prompted the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution, to keep that from happening again.

Now we have our first Black American President, in the person of Barack Hussein Obama, who was recently credited by CNN’s Politifacts, with having told the biggest lie of 2013, in the form of, “If you like your present health care plan, you can keep it” — a prevarication originally uttered by him in 2009, before Democratic Representative, Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House, famously announced, as regards Obama’s Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, “We have to pass the bill to see what’s in it;” and, apparently was re-uttered by him in 2013, after we did. My how things change!

We have apparently become so used to having our politicians….of both parties…lie to us, we accept that they are, whenever they are speaking. To show my assertion is bi-partisan in nature, consider first, George H.W. Bush’s famous emphatic assertion, made on August 18, 1988, while rendering his presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” By October of 1990, faced with mounting budget deficits, and no willingness on the part of the Democrat controlled Congress to cut spending without some tax increases, and after an October 5th government shutdown, over the Columbus Day long weekend, Bush signed into law the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, thereby increasing taxes and thus setting himself up for a loss of his presidency to his successor, Democrat, William Jefferson Clinton.

I note for the sake of completeness, Clinton’s equally emphatic and famous assertion, made at a press conference held on January 26, 1998, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Well, no, not unless you are a prude and consider receiving fellatio as having sexual relations…then you might have a problem.

Too many Democrats? Richard M. Nixon, “I am not a crook.” Oops, he wasn’t, he was a liar.

As long as we continue to elect persons of remarkably low ethical fiber, I suspect we are doomed to getting our just deserts from them, which might reasonably be expected to include more lies, about more than just their sexual proclivities. That notion inspires me to wax a bit lawyerish and remind you that it is still the rule of law in every courthouse in the United States, that a jury, when considering the testimony of each and every witness heard, may reject the totality of same upon proof of their having lied to the jury, a process we call impeachment of the witness. The theory behind that is quite logically sound, because it is based on the notion that a witness willing to lie about any particular point in their testimony is capable of lying about others, and the jury shouldn’t have to figure out where the truth was told and where it wasn’t. As regards any elected official, I don’t see any circumstance attendant to whatever office they hold, that would vitiate the logic behind the notion of witness impeachment, but they mostly get a bye anyway…because we allow them to.

What is actually more troublesome to me, intellectually, is the electorate’s acceptance of Nancy Pelosi’s assertion. Really? First we pass a law, then decide what’s in it? How could that possibly be acceptable to anyone capable of holding a job and paying taxes, or caring for their children, or both? Consider the notion that these Bills that ultimately become laws are actually written by a bunch of non-elected minions, who, in the case of the Affordable Care Act, took over two thousand pages to say whatever they said, but once passed and signed into law, we are all expected dutifully comply with them, whether we know what it actually says or not. If you don’t have a problem with that notion, I have a problem with you, as you are a dolt…and a dangerous one at that. If you don’t understand that, I suggest you read my original diatribe, “Backward Thinking” particularly the part where I discuss how much our illustrious U.S. Senators spend on average to secure a job that pays $174,000.00 a year for six years.

In a Universe noted for its elegant simplicity at its very base, the notion that there is any bit of legislation worthy of passage, that requires over two thousand pages to say what it might mean, is offensive to both Nature and my intellect. As the author of the Ten Commandments, a marvel of both ethical guidance and prosaic simplicity, God must surely wonder whether His creations have lost their way. “Thou shalt not steal.” Any questions? No? Good! Next!

Consider the foregoing at the hands of our present Congress. “Thou shalt not steal, unless it is ‘reasonably necessary’ to feed yourself under any of the circumstances set forth in sub-paragraph (b), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (ix), both inclusive, of Section 701; or, is reasonably necessary to feed your ‘family,’ as such term is defined in Section 708, sub-paragraph (c), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (xiii), both inclusive, under any of the circumstances set forth in sub-paragraph (c), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (x), both inclusive, of Section 701; or, is reasonably necessary to feed a ‘non-family related person,’ as such term is defined in Section 708, sub-paragraph (d), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (xx), both inclusive, under any of the circumstances set forth in sub-paragraph (d), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (xiv), both inclusive, of Section 701; or, was committed by a ‘person acting under a disability,’ as such term is defined in Section 1212, sub-paragraph (k), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (viii), both inclusive, under any of the circumstances set forth in sub-paragraph (f), sub–sub-paragraphs (i) through (xvi), both inclusive, of Section 701….” Need I go on? Have you considered the possibility that the lessening prevalence of a belief in God by the electorate, and their elected officials, is at the base of all of this nonsense?

Those of you who have yet to come to know me might think me to be some preacher of sorts. I admit, I became an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, but that was to enable me to officiate at my sister’s wedding, and put one back up on the board…after a legal career that took 300 or so less than blissful marriages off the board, as a matrimonial lawyer. I don’t do Sunday services or proselytize. Not yet, anyway. That said, I also am neither agnostic nor atheist and believe fervently we are not a mere coincidence and have an obligation, imposed by our Creator, for merely being here, to find some ethics to live by, and try mightily to adhere to them.

One more riff, then I promise to get off the soap box…for now. We have this notion called the “American Dream” pursuant to which denizens of other countries looked to the United States, believed it offered them and their families a pathway to a better life and they emigrated here…lawfully or otherwise. They arrived, worked hard, used their earnings and savings to educate their children…who in turn worked hard, but got paid better, and further educated their children. The “Dream” was gradually realized through the acquisition of wealth and social status, rendering their descendants economically secure and bona fide members of the culture. That was the “Dream.” I know that because I grew up in it and am living proof that it worked…I’m the lawyer my father wanted to be, but couldn’t, because he worked to make sure his brother became one instead.

There’s a set of ethics embedded in that “Dream,” broader than just the work ethic, although that was surely one of the ethical elements. But there was also a sense of family, a duty to country, a desire to be self-reliant and a firm belief that doing good to others was repaid tenfold. It is that last notion I’ll close on. Doing good to others, in my world, meant giving a hand-up, not a hand-out, and the distinction was important, because the former gave the recipient a sense of responsibility, thus preserving their dignity; and, the latter a sense of entitlement, at the cost of their dignity. It is not a coincidence that we have re-titled a multitude of social welfare programs into entitlement programs. If you believe that the cost of doing so is measured solely in terms of the dollars needed to fund them, you need to think harder. When there are more on-lookers than workers out there, the bough will break.

 

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