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By Forrest Hershberger
View From The Handlebars 

Public Opinion and Moral Values


September 30, 2020 | View PDF

“Without a vision, the people perish.”

That might sound a little preachy, critical, or condemning even. It might even sound a little egotistical.

Go my way or you’re wrong. Well, actually that isn’t the point.

Even in my age, I never thought I would sit in a newsroom or have a conversation with another news hound in the region who is equally concerned about stories packaged as news but even we have to admit are on the edge of “fake news.” It isn’t because we do or don’t agree with the writer, it is because how it is packaged or presented. It is opinion packaged as news relying on the historic reputation of the writer or news office he or she works for.

Most of us have seen via television on some social media reproduction the protests and destruction occurring in various places throughout the country. Protests that appear to start with a justifiable cause quickly turn to the destruction of neighborhoods, assault on police officers and on innocent commuters who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, and this should be both comforting and alarming, few of these incidents are as overwhelming as the news consuming public are led to believe. On a recent trip to Denver I learned from a resident they streets are not nearly as dangerous as news feeds were leading us to believe. There are, of course, specific areas a person shouldn’t travel unless you know the area or are prepared for things to get out of control. For us, it was just another drive through Denver and to our destination.

I talked with some travelers in Sidney recently who had a similar experience. There are places in Portland you don’t go unless you are looking for a fight, but most of the calamity is focused on downtown.

Meanwhile, there are protests because a police officer, pick a city at this point, injured or killed someone in the line of duty. All that matters at that moment is the 15 seconds of camera time with a cell phone. A court doesn’t find all of the officers involved guilty and protests get even louder. The story behind the story is the court, assuming it is following the written law, is secondary to the values set by public opinion. I’ve heard from video-taped protesters to former associates that running from a police officer is no reason to be shot, that committing a felony is no reason to be arrested or shot. Then there are reports of Hollywood’s elites calling for defunding police one day to calling them the next; in this case, reporting a pre-teen with a toy gun.

Several years ago, probably a decade or two by now, religious philosophers said the US was in a period of relativism. Concrete values were no longer important. A person could do whatever they wanted to do if they thought those values were right for them. We were giving up what I would call baseline values for increasing individualism. The problem with law by individualism is social norms disappear. The person who gives the best speech, or on the streets carries the biggest stick, gets to decide the laws of the day.

I hear people argue that “the old days” were littered with the same racial tension as now and even worse. Laws were enforced just as arbitrarily. Probably. The thing to remember is we are fallible people who choose to be ruled by members of ourselves, fallible people, and the more power we give those in charge, the more by nature they will want. The difference between now and a lifetime ago, is people had a fair idea what the benchmark was. You could choose to follow it, or not. Now, a court could follow the written law, and public opinion gets air time protesting and in some cases rioting.

We need a vision of what is expected to maintain an organized society. It doesn’t mean everyone will follow. It doesn’t mean it will be infallible. It doesn’t mean we need the government to decide what is right and wrong. The government is designed to trace its roots to its residents. Having a vision means we can see the line, and choose to follow it or go our own way.


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