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As the years roll past, we sink into shallowness

Independence Day, with the attendant flag-waving and fireworks blasting, is here again.

But celebration of two centuries of escape from tyranny likely will be dwarfed by headlines chronicling daily our march toward a new oppression.

It is unlikely that another dungeon will be uncovered next week like the one authorities busted in Thonotosassa this week, equipped to fulfill fantasies with bondage and torture tools, slaves and a large dog.

But there will be some act of sexual depravity discovered in Tampa Bay, probably several.

There is no way of knowing if the Unabomber will mail another threatening or deadly letter as he did this week. But some crackpot will try in his own way to blackmail the country into listening to his message.

There will be numerous accounts of children trying to be adults before they've acquired adult control. There will be stories of adults wreaking havoc because they've combined adult wherewithal with childish thinking.

It will be hard to hear the news this week and not feel that we need to fight another war of independence. It will be hard not to think that our blurred concepts of morality have clouded the meaning of our hard-earned freedom.

And some of us will have to note, with at least a tinge of guilt, that we called the cadence for much of this suicidal march to moral ambiguity.

Many of us bought into all that stuff popularized in the Sixties. I did.

It all sounded so noble, peace and love and flower power, and doing it if it felt good.

I saw no reason anyone should be prohibited from doing anything he wanted so long as he didn't infringe on somebody else's rights.

I believed that the collective consciences of people freed from the artificial restraints imposed by unnecessary laws would guide us all to an elevated plane of existence.

Whatever that means.

A lot of us thought and spoke in terms such as those back then. Others pretended to understand what we meant because they wanted to tag along to the same plane _ or at least to the same parties, where such rambling impressed idealistic college girls.

Thirty years later, our folly is slapping us in the face.

Our campaign was fraught with shallow thinking and too much hedonism. When the notion of uninhibited pursuit of pleasure met with the realities of capitalism, the wreck was not pretty. We found there was a direct link between money and doing the things that feel good. The more money you have, the more of those things you can do.

So we set aside our flowers and peace signs and became the Carl Lewis of buck-chasing generations. And because the whole point of the chase was to fulfill our immediate desires, we became just as proficient at spending the bucks.

When our marriages didn't feel good anymore, we left them. When the solution to an uncomfortable marriage became so easy and so socially acceptable, the decision to enter them became less ponderous, more impulsive.

And the children became property to be mixed into the jumble of assets and liabilities, to be bartered along with the house and cars.

We changed the world with our shallow view of it. Not all of the change was in the wrong direction. Much of what we did and thought remain positive influences in our world. But too often, our ideals _ when juxtaposed with reality _ became extremes, milking the original ideas of their worth. We were right, for instance, to question authority; we are wrong to reject it.

Obviously, we need a change of direction. We find ourselves today racing to accumulate things that we never fully enjoy because we're afraid someone might take them from us. We're afraid of our children and have good reason to be. Home has become little more than a rest stop for a group of people who don't know each other very well even though they are related by birth.

There is one simple, inelegant truth we must acknowledge before we can start to reverse our direction. It is old-fashioned and not at all glamorous or in keeping with doing what feels good.

A strong moral base protects freedom more than a thousand military bases.

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