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Crossing The Line -Surfer Killed By Sharks & Reality TV

A few days ago, a young man in South Africa was attacked and killed by a Great White Shark. His name was David Lilienfeld and he was a champion body surfer with his life stretched out before him. He was only 20 years old and his death was the unnecessary result of the carelessness of others who crossed the line.

There is an old saying about crossing the line which refers to having gone too far in doing something. It means that a person has gone beyond what is acceptable and done something wrong. Robbery, for example, crosses the line from legal to illegal behaviour.

It used to be relatively easy to identify when someone crossed a line because the lines were pretty well-drawn and were fairly-well established. If not universal, they were boundaries agreed to by the majority of people in a society and which basically defined the values of that society.

Those days are gone.

Whatever values our societies have these days, they are no longer universal and they are no long clearly defined by bottom lines which we have mutually agreed are not acceptable to cross. Today, morality and integrity are defined by individuals and often are based on expediency rather than any specific universal moral code.

“Some people cross that line but I think as film makers you have to make that moral decision for yourself.” 
Bill Wallauer – Wildlife photographer

We all face moral decisions at various times in our lives but the decision to chum waters close to the shore near Capetown, South Africa; to attract sharks for the a reality tv program was not a moral decision. It was a reckless decision made for the benefit of the filmmaker without regard for the safety of others. The decision to try to attract sharks to an area known to be frequently used by body surfers crossed the line.

Most of our societies were founded on values expressed through religious faiths like the Judeo-Christian code, or other faiths. Some codes have evolved to become purely secular but have retained the basic moral tenets of many of those religious-based codes.

Regardless of whether a society is based on faith, is purely secular or is a blend of both, it is usually only successful when it has an agreed-to set of moral values and principles. Once that is lost and people either redefine the boundaries for themselves without regard for others within the same society or simply ignore the existing boundaries, a kind of moral anarchy takes hold which begins to undermine that society’s values. It is happening now in most major democracies around the world.

While many still hold to their faith or to some other set of principles, collectively we have cut our moral anchors loose and are drifting.

People seem able to justify just about anything now, even the manipulation of nature in order to save it.

“We have to understand the life of the white shark if we’re going to protect it’s future. If we don’t handle a few of these sharks and we don’t know anything. About their lives, we could accidentally wipe them off the face of the planet.”
Chris Fischer – Shark Men

Mr. Fischer misses the point completely. What happened here is not about saving sharks, it is about a careless disregard for the safety of others so that he and his film crew could make a television show. It is how they make their living. They put all other considerations aside and crossed a line that resulted in the death of a young man. Rationalizing the decisions that were made in this case does not validate those decisions. It exemplifies the moral decay our societies are experiencing.

It is the same attitude that many who supported the Occupy Movement brought to their attempt to rationalize the self-indulgent behaviour, the vandalism of our cities and the crime in Occupy camps. For them, it was a small price to pay for what they considered a greater good. For most of us, it was simply one more example of rationalizing the lack of real values attached to the movement.

It’s not all that surprising because we have become societies that put our individual opinions and feelings ahead of the common good and which revere celebrity status rather than moral leadership. We are societies that give more support to American Idol than to religious observance or respect for the founding principles of our nations.

John Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but rather what you can do for your country.” Today, the only question that usually gets asked is, “What’s in it for me”.

It is how organizations like PETA, which kills more animals than SPCA and The Humane Society combined, rationalize their actions in the name of treating animals ethically. It’s how politicians, who’s morality is so flexible, they are able to rationalize to themselves the fact that they do not personally or professionally live the values they represent to the people during elections.

It is how places like Guantanamo are built and a nation’s own constitution is violated and how people can ignore the rule of law when our personal prejudices and opinions are offended.

Whether we are religious or atheist, we are part of democratic nations built on core principles and moral values. The documents where our nations’ principles were set down are noble and revered documents. Many believe in them but while we may wave those documents around as defining who we are, we have lost sight of their true meaning and no longer honour their intent.

We have replaced our morality and values with trite, bumper-sticker slogans. We have replaced our need to learn with speaking endlessly on things about which we know next to nothing but have cribbed from some web site or another. We form instant opinions based on whatever is currently trending on social media rather than on what we should believe in because many of us believe in nothing beyond the moment.

We are quick to take offense and slow to forgive.

In our attempt to be more inclusive, we have so watered-down what we collectively stand for that as nations, we stand consistently for very little.

We fill that void with mindless entertainment from reality tv, causes that are poorly thought out but which seem important and which we allow to delude us into believing we are living meaningful lives. We play computer games and watch twenty-four hour news reports that are less about the transmission of information than turning life into a circus for the masses. We need to be entertained rather than informed and we indulge ourselves in the mindless violence of extreme professional sports.

We text, tweet and ‘like’ all over social media with friends we’ve never met while ignoring the real people who live down the street.

We have become like every previous civilization that was in its final decline. Like the ancient Romans and others who came and went before us, we are too busy watching gladiators in the arena to notice our own declining civilization.

We are spiritually and morally bankrupt and we have not only crossed the lines that once defined us but have blurred them until we no longer see them.

Collectively, we no longer have a collective moral compass to guide us. We no longer understand or know which lines should not be crossed because we no longer believe in anything beyond  this morning’s news,  last night’s vote on American Idol or own personal interpretation of what is or isn’t moral .

We have become societies filled with individuals and governments that can justify almost anything.

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  • Anonymous

    But how did we get here as a society? Can we reverse this – or start over? My personal opinion is post modernism thought has perhaps not caused this, but definitely occupied the minds of too many at “higher” institutions of learning. They propagate a culture of deconstructionism that tears down everything around you, without building up anything in its place. A very harmful path for society to follow.

    – solemnwatch

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

      When people in a society no longer share a collective set of values, the individual become pre-eminent. When the individual no longer believes in anything beyond their own personal self-interest, there is no one to speak for the society.

      We have become a society that sees people line up over night to buy the latest version of some gadget that will be readily available the following week; a society that has replaced values with things. We are a society with ADD.