COMMENTARY: Decency on the rise

December 31, 2013

Seems to me we made substantial progress in 2013.

We got over the idea that “class warfare” didn’t exist or was the whining of envious losers. We saw the warfare up close and personal, saw who was waging it — the rich against everyone else — and saw its tragic, anti-democratic and self-defeating outcomes.

Big year in technology. A renegade contractor enabled us to see the National Security Agency’s surveillance sickness and the spineless politicians who won’t stand up to it. Seeing it will enable citizens to address it.

No major new products from tech-land. Instead, those of us who rely on technology for our work and home life discovered new ways to manage work, manage time, avoid crowded stores, listen to music, watch television, communicate with family, and encrypt our email against the NSA. We did so using year-old smartphones and tablets and two-year-old computers.

We got a sobering look at the insufferable arrogance of the Silicon Valley techno-set. After over-the-top self-celebrations, Gilded Age indulgences and romper room workplaces, serious people began to take technology to saner regions. Even bankrupt Detroit got some startup buzz.

People proved to be smart and resilient. They stayed away from theaters showing lousy movies. They toned down their fascination with Facebook, now revealed as privacy-challenged and ad-saturated. They rallied to a new pope who seems the real deal and ignored shrill radio commentators calling him a “Marxist.” The Tea Party wore out its welcome, leaving congressional Republicans running over a cliff and no one following them.

Not too many people seemed troubled when a “Duck Dynasty” star got suspended for being a raging bigot. But a whole planet of people cared that Nelson Mandela had waged his lonely struggle against bigotry.

Enterprises clinging to faded business models found their customers venturing elsewhere. Bricks-and-mortar retailers, for example, got swamped by online commerce. Change-resistant legacy churches lost more market share. Private colleges faced pushback against escalating costs.

Bookstores and book publishers discovered that people just want to read, not engage in some retro-romance with paper. Beyonce went straight to the public with her latest pop album and skipped the exploitation layers entirely. Cable networks created their own programming.

All of these changes, from e-commerce to e-church to e-publishing, sent a clear message: You can’t just open your doors and expect people to walk in. Consumers are smarter than that. They don’t hesitate to change the way they do the basics, such as shopping for groceries or buying cars and furniture.

Did everything come up roses? Sadly, no. It was a rotten year in some respects. Think NSA, Chase Bank, John Boehner, Koch Brothers, scammers preying on soldiers and the elderly, payday lenders and other bottom-feeders, and legalize-marijuana shills.

Even so, I end the year feeling positive. My business travels this year took me to many places, from big cities like New York and Boston to down-home places such as Orange, Texas; Mobile, Ala.; and Clarksville, Tenn. In all of them, I met some wonderful people who were working hard at being decent, God-loving, family-friendly and sensible.

It could be that recent signs of end-of-empire decadence are like Miley Cyrus’ grinding and tongue wagging — an act that is all surface. At the level where people live, I think decency is on the rise. So is common sense.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

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