Friday, February 01, 2008
Mold and Morality
We had some work done recently on our house, and in the process, our electrician noticed some mold in our crawlspace. He seemed concerned, and it made me worry, since I figured he had seen lots of nastiness crawling about under peoples' houses. Thus started a rather depressing odyssey into mold mitigation services. My wife called a number of such services, and the standard line went something like this: "You have a mold infestation/contamination problem, it's really bad, you don't need testing, and we can fix it for $10,000." We were almost ready to proceed, but something told me to keep asking questions. We finally stumbled upon an honest fellow, whose main business is restoration, but not mold mitigation. He noted that just about every home in our hot, humid region has mold, that it is rarely toxic, and even more rarely does it penetrate into the house. He showed us this video from KNBC TV in Los Angeles, which really tells the story of many of the mold mitigators. To summarize, many of them are frauds, spotting "mold" when none is there, and extracting thousands from those less wary than we were.
Sadly, this sort of behaviour is becomming more and more common, and trusting someone you don't know well is harder than it ever was. Another example: we had to repaint a small hallway in our garage due to water damage from a burst pipe, and went to the painters that we had used for the past 15 years. They quoted a price three times higher than they had charged us for the same job one year previouly. They backtracked after we hired someone else, but once burned, you know...
The Internet has made it ever so much easier to rob the unsuspecting. Everyone gets spam, and within are contained spoof emails that try to separate the innocent from their money. Every time I bid on something with eBay, for example, I get about five spoof email offers trying to sell me the same item from the same auction. Some of these are so poorly written as to be laughable, but some are very good mock-ups of an official eBay offer. Many of these originate from the newly-democratic Russia, where Internet crime has become rampant. I haven't fallen for one of these yet, but I know of many smart people who have succumbed.
It seems very few are immune from being victims, and frankly, some of the perpetrators are those one would expect to behave differently. Large companies aggressively push products they know are inferior to those of their competitors, rather than trying to improve them. Professionals generate unnecessary business to pad their pockets. (If you think I'm being a little oblique on these examples, you're right.)
I'm speaking here only of the manifestations of greed, but the moral decline certainly goes further than that. Politicians pander to whatever group they are speaking to at the moment, then speak ill of that same group when addressing some other demographic. Our schools are degenerating by the moment. Academics become less and less important, while worship of athletics reaches levels not seen since the days of ancient Greece and Rome. The athletes that our children idolize are rarely worthy of this adoration, and many are about the worst possible role-model for our youth. Bullying in school as well as elsewhere in life is tolerated and even encouraged, as long as the perpetrator is careful not to get caught. Hollywood stars proudly breed without benefit of marriage, or even much of a commitment. Their substance-induced antics and personal crashes are fodder for the evening news.
I guess there isn't anything new under the sun. A certain predatory or immoral sector of the population has always existed, and targeted the rest of us to some degree. The Internet of course makes this easier for those so inclined, but I cannot help but think that things are worse today than they have ever been, at least in my nearly half-century lifetime (I just turned 49). There hasn't been an abrupt slide over the precipice, but rather there has been a very slow degredation of our moral fibre. There is no global explanation for this decline, but if I had to cite specific causes, I would go with the loss of religious orientation, and the loss of parenting.
Religion, if taught properly, gives a moral grounding, a sense of worth as well as a sense of duty, and a code of decency. Yes, religion is often perverted and twisted to coax the masses into doing horrible things, but I submit that this is not true religious training at all. It is hard to tell the difference sometimes. We all should know right from wrong, but if a respected religious (or political) leader says it is alright to do thus-and-so in the name of faith, that can be taken as absolving one from guilt. It takes tremendous courage to rise above this sort of thing, something that true faith will help bring about. Notice that I do not specify which faith to follow. I have a rather naive instinct that all faiths at their core are moral. I could be wrong...
The other factor is the distressing and disgusting lack of parenting we see in the 21st Century, and by this I mean mainly the complete loss of discipline. When I was a kid, there was no talking back to parents, teachers, or other authority figures. The attitude of "my child can do no wrong" simply didn't exist. There were limits to behaviour, and they were enforced. There were consequences to actions. Parents didn't buy alcohol or condoms or birth control pills for underage teenagers to ensure their popularity. They didn't automatically assume that a boy who could throw a football reasonably well was on his way to the Heismann Trophy. Lawyers didn't line up to sue schools that "infringed" on the rights of out-of-control youth. In essence, parents were not their children's best friends, and they weren't afraid of losing the love of their little darlings as they are today. When kids know no limits, and they are told they can do no wrong, it is not a far leap for them to take advantage of others, is it? What is really frightening to me is that the first generation of kids raised under these conditions has come of age and now have children of their own. The legacy is not very pretty.
What is there to do about all this? I don't know about the big picture, but on a smaller level, my wife and I have tried to instill faith and discipline into our children. It's a start. I know like-minded people are already doing the same with their children, but it is the folks that don't see any of this as a problem who are the problem. I haven't a clue as to where to go with them.
Oh well, forgive my rantings. Maybe the mold is getting to me.