Usually when I write a piece for this site I conduct hours, sometimes even days of research, using a wide variety of facts and numbers to support my claims and views. Very rarely do I write something that is primarily opinion based. I’m taking this opportunity to write out my opinion on what I perceive to be the decline of American culture and society. I urge you the reader to set aside your politics and preconceived notions of me and my stances and just try to keep an open mind as you read this.
Today I watched an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumble wherein Gumble and his team of journalists sat around the table and reviewed some of the stories they covered during 2014. They talked about a lot of different things, dog shows, drug use, the cost of hosting the Olympics and the World Cup; but there were a few segments that hit me especially hard involving horse racing, video games, and collegiate athletes. You may be wondering how those things might possibly be connected to the decline of American culture, and I’ll get to that, but first I want to say that I came away from this show feeling truly bad about my culture, my country and about myself. There are myriad reasons to feel bad about America and our history, but I have always been of the mind that the past is the past and in order to move forward one must look forward. Despite the many mistakes this country has made, some of them truly horrific, I have always felt good about America because I have always felt that we as a nation have continued to move forward. Admittedly, in recent months that good feeling has begun to fade, and today a single episode of this show delivered to me a significant blow that has me feeling very bad about my county and in turn myself.
The first segment involving horse racing discussed the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in horses. I don’t mean steroids or growth hormones, I mean medical drugs designed to combat illnesses in people. Horse trainers and owners are injecting horses with medical drugs that increase respiration and heart rate allowing horses to run harder and faster for longer periods, and every year hundreds of horses drop dead after, and sometimes during races because of this. The worst part is that this is all perfectly legal in America because these drugs are not actual “performance enhancing” drugs, they are simply medicinal drugs used to treat illnesses.
The second segment involved the rise of e-sports, otherwise known as the sport of gaming, otherwise known as not a sport at all because it requires no physical exertion whatsoever. Gaming has become so popular in America that not only are there players making millions just by playing games, but now colleges are offering scholarships to gamers. Colleges are actually forming video game teams complete with coaches and equipment budgets. Take a moment to let that sink in. Actual sports, like golf and tennis, are on the decline in America because more and more young Americans are developing an aversion to physical exertion. It’s simply easier to play video games.
The third segment was arguably the worst as it involved the state of education for college level athletes. Apparently college athletes, in many cases, are no longer required to pass college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT. In fact academic standards for athletes have gotten so bad that many schools don’t even require student athletes to attend actual classes. The show focused on the University of North Carolina that actually has a phantom academic program for athletes wherein they attend no classes, are assigned no homework and simply have a to “write” a paper at the end of the semester in order to earn a passing grade. One teacher who was previously a part of this program at North Carolina said she was actually teaching college athletes how to read and write. There are actually young adults playing sports for some of our most prestigious universities that can’t even read their own names much less write them. Take a moment to think about that as well. How have we allowed this to happen?
So the question is how are these three things connected? The easy answer is money. Horse racing, video games, and college sports are all big business with lots and lots of money at stake. But money is only a part of the issue. I’m a capitalist, I believe firmly in the principle of the free market economy and I believe everyone has the right to become as wealthy and successful as they possibly can….within the confines of law and morality. That is the key. These stories highlight the real issue, corruption. We have become an increasingly corrupt society spurred heavily by our advancing technology. Technology has allowed us to become lazy, laziness encourages us to cut corners, and cutting corners (legally or morally) is corruption. Why bother to properly train a race horse when you just inject it with legal drugs to make it run faster? Why bother learning a viable and practical skill allowing you to contribute to the advancement of society when you can simply play video games for a living? Why bother teaching a student (or being a good student) when you can simply manufacture (and receive) passing grades in order to keep your athletes on the field and winning games? And the corruption doesn’t stop there. Why bother growing wholesome, natural food when you genetically modify produce to withstand horribly toxic levels of chemical preservatives and pesticides? Why bother curing diseases when you can make more money treating the symptoms? Why bother paying down our national debt when you can simply borrow more money? Why bother examining the world in which we live and taking some pride in ourselves and our country when we can go on Facebook and post our thoughts about last night’s episode of the Kardashians acting like assholes? Why bother doing anything the right way when technology allows us to do everything the easy way?
The real kicker here, the real gut shot is looking out at America and realizing that no one cares. It’s not that people aren’t aware. People know horses are being drugged, people know young Americans are lazy and addicted to video games, people know colleges are giving athletes a free pass, people know we’re eating incredibly toxic food that causes all sorts of illnesses, they know that the government is in bad shape, they know there are far worse things going on around the world (like the continuation of international slavery, religious genocide, and global famine) than what’s happening in Ferguson; they simply don’t care. The national apathy is by far the worst part. So long as people continue to get their government checks, their reality TV, and their tax dodging loopholes, they couldn’t care less about the rest. To be perfectly honest this is the reason why I don’t write as many stories for this site as I used to. People would rather read stories about the state of the hip hop scene in America than about national debt or foreign policy. No one gives a damn about anything until it directly affects them.
I will admit that the “me first” attitude is not a new development. People have been looking out for #1 for thousands of years. But the technological advancements of the last 100 years have made it increasingly possible to put ourselves first and society somewhere down the list. We can receive instant gratification with less work and less participation in society. The problem is that a functional society is based on the unwritten agreement that we will all participate and do what we can to continue to progress and make the world better. We have a reached a point where our technology has made it easier but also more difficult to do this. We have the power and the know-how to cure diseases, to educate the masses, to build bigger and better than ever before. But we also have the power to be more lazy and self-serving than at any point in human history. Every day technology continues to advance. This is only the beginning of a new age of human society. To borrow a line from Jodie Foster, how will we survive this technological adolescence? How we will we survive the moral and legal corruption that our technology has encouraged in us? I honestly don’t know. In an era when more people are upset about the loss of their Instagram followers than they are about runaway government spending or religious genocide, how can the few people who actually see the problem make any difference? How can one stand against the rising of the tide? Or perhaps more importantly is it futile to do so?