When I look around at the changes that have occurred in society since I was a kid almost six decades ago, one of the starkest is the decline in civility in America. All around, I see examples of how human behavior has snowballed into a veneer of haughtiness. Even the Eddie Haskells of the ’60s had good manners despite being troublemakers. Today, people are acting less grateful and more “entitled,” less generous and more demanding, less polite and more assuming. Aggressive and impudent behavior is on the rise. There are those who treat others with apathy or contempt, who step on others in the way, and think it beneath them to wait their turn in line.
I remember in grade school when my teacher demonstrated how a few mice in a box become more and more inconsiderate of their fellow mice as more mice are put into the box. The U.S. population is over 50 percent higher now than it was then, and we are acting like mice in a box. Yet we are human, capable of establishing rules and laws to govern our behavior so we don’t end up like a box of mice. And we do have laws. Tons and tons of laws. So many laws, no lawyer or legal scholar even knows them all.
My contention is that the environment which cultivates Americans’ decline in civility is a direct result of the nation’s penchant to keep making laws which society is unwilling or unable to enforce. After generations of lax enforcement, people have learned that most rules are bendable and many are breakable or have loopholes, and can be ignored without penalty. Those with a conscience will obey the rules even without a police presence, just as they show everyday respect and common courtesies. But there is a growing number of people who abandon their conscience for the advantages obtainable by bypassing some silly law when, after all, there is no penalty. Diminished regard for the rule of law and lack of self-policing leads to an “anything goes” mentality in an era when laws are mass produced in the face of a decreasing will to enforce them.
I see these attitudes being reinforced by governments which pass their non-enforcement mentality on to children by threatening their parents with child confiscation if the parents discipline “too” aggressively. Meanwhile, children grow up in a school environment which makes teachers fearful of enforcing any sort of disciplinary action against students’ disrespect of authority. The past two generations of these children have grown up with little fear of punishment for wrongdoing, and today we’re seeing the unfolding of a society in which teenagers are attacking police with impunity, even as the police pull back for fear of public condemnation just for doing their jobs.
Civility means obeying the unenforceable, yet even enforceable laws are being broken with increased effrontery and without penalty. The resulting in-your-face mentality carries over from the laws of the state — to neighborhood CC&Rs — to rules of club memberships — to rules of etiquette — to everyday civil behavior.
How can this trend of incivility be reversed? The first step is to enforce the rules! There must be consequences for bad behavior. Enforcement agencies claim they do not have the funds to enforce the laws. Penalties may have to increase if that’s the case. I routinely see dozens of cars every day running red lights or stop signs — simply set the fines higher than the cost of enforcement! Laws which cannot be enforced uniformly and justly should be repealed. Additionally, the trend which inhibits the discipline of our children by teachers and parents must be reversed. This will take time, maybe several generations.
We are a nation of laws and a society of rules, and leaving them unenforced encourages violators while punishing the obedient. Defiance of the law is fortified by the lack of enforcement and leads to an attitude of incivility. The next law we need is one that prohibits any law on the books that cannot or will not be enforced.
Blog: GlennsWordPressBlog | Post title: Lack of Law Enforcement Leads to Incivility | Post date: March 13, 2013 | Author: Glenn Walker | From: Pacific Beach | Blogging since: March 2013