THE DEMORALIZATION of America has become unrelenting, and the passiveness of the people toward this cancer eating away at our culture is beyond comprehension.
Demoralization is a decisive step toward decadence and we are fast approaching a point of no return. In a recent newspaper article, culture critic William J. Bennett and C. Delores Tucker, president of the National Political Congress of Black Women, stressed the diabolic effect of lewd music on our society. But music is not our only problem. Even more diabolic, other basic values are being diminished, de-emphasized and utterly ignored.
Let's look at the attack on the very philosophy that made our society the most coveted and propelled the United States to a world power: the free enterprise system -- one based on the principles of free choice and of mutual decisions and honorable arrangements, a system based on mutual trade for mutual good with respect for the rights of all traders, a system that operated on the belief that moral, social and ethical doctrines must be adhered to and respected. During the 1980s, that system was challenged, fractured, abused and disregarded.
That decade is now considered as one of ultimate greed, where there was no sense of conscience in those who sought immediate profit regardless of the effect on others or the nation. The term "instant gratification" became a byword of the media to describe the ruthless greed that existed.
Such greed and avarice were particularly evident in the hostile attacks on business establishments, aimed to destroy rather than to build. These attacks of avarice covered the spectrum of U.S. business from giant companies to insignificant ones. The mentality of those who participated in these activities seemed to have been "buy it, break it up, lay off as many workers as necessary to make more money -- and to hell with the consequences."
The disregard for morals and ethics bordered on the obscene. The attack on the oil industry was harsh and led to the industry's gradual diminishment. The public witnessed these attacks in silence. But those who were laid off as a result of hostile mergers and breakups of companies suffered untold hardships.
"Selfishness," "meism" and "predatory self-interest" -- the usual characteristics of a cultural breakdown -- clearly describe what ails us. The fact that Americans seek instant gratification, regardless of its direct consequences to others and the nation, is a strong indication that they no longer believe in the future.
This ethical and moral breakdown sowed the seeds of lower esteem for many personal values and respect. For example, where once acceptable apparel was worn by both men and women, we have seen the emergence of motley and mongrel dress that is revolting and reprehensible. It appears that the more outrageous and disgusting the apparel, the more acceptable.
There is a generation among us that has lost pride in appearance and in doing so has unwittingly lost self-respect by going to public places in disreputable clothes. Informal or casual attire does not mean sloppy, bedraggled or slovenly appearance. Unfortunately, as long as businesses permit such dress, it will continue. This all goes back to greed. The proprietor is anxious for business regardless of appearance. For instance, highly respectable restaurants that once adhered to a strict dress code have permitted the worst to be accepted.
Disregard for respect and courtesy commences at an early age. It is obvious that parents are not instilling in their children the meaning of personal respect, dignity, courtesy and to respect others. When was the last time you heard a child respond with "yes, sir," "no, sir," "please" or "thank you"? Adults also are reluctant to express gratitude and appreciation to one another.
Today's popular culture focuses on public depravity, violent movies, music with explicitly lewd lyrics, blatant sex and obscene language on TV and in movies -- all of which further demoralize our culture and are rapidly taking us toward total decadence. This popular culture is contrary to the basic values of Americans and is having a horrendous impact, which may be irreversible, on our children.
All of these social ills are multiplying quickly and at tremendous costs. Public acceptance of these ills without objection is compromising our morals even further. We must again become a nation of values -- morals, ethics, doing what is right because it is the proper and correct thing to do.
We have witnessed a complete disregard of these values in the past 35 years and the situation is getting worse.
We have seen the loss of values and mutual respect for one another, and we have seen business people become enmeshed in a spoiled moral environment. We should not be proud of what we are witnessing.
We have always lived and thrived on those good values of decency, honesty, integrity and fair play. They were the ultimate principles embodied in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and in our behavior as a people.
Those values and principles made our country the greatest in the world and envied by all, and it can survive only by maintaining them. Otherwise, we become morally ill, and the concept of trust, love, mercy, humility and forgiveness loses its depth and dimension. Then the foundations supporting our society crumble and everybody loses, but more significantly, the nation loses the most.
Michel T. Halbouty is chairman and chief executive officer of Michel T. Halbouty Energy Co. in Houston. He wrote this for the Houston Chronicle.