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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

Morality Marches On

This column was published April 6, 2024 in the Manhattan Mercury.

 

Every March, my wife and I take a few days off and meet some dear friends from Nebraska in Kansas City for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament. Three Wildcats and a Husker. (Yes, kids, there was actually a time when Nebraska and K-State were in the same conference, that’s how long we’ve been doing this). This year, they couldn’t make it. We went anyway.

 

It wasn’t the same. We missed our annual re-connection with our friends and the whole tourney vibe just felt different.

 

We got stuck in front of a loudmouth in the Cats’ quarterfinal matchup with Iowa State. This guy had placed a bet on the Cyclones to cover the spread and felt compelled to share with those of us within earshot, regardless of whether we cared. We didn’t. He had no allegiance to Iowa State, the coaches or players on the team, just his sportsbook app.

 

There was no unspoken ‘Big 12-land grant-middle of the country-farmageddon-you’re hogs and corn-we’re cattle and wheat’ camaraderie we’ve come to expect. Just a blowhard and his bet.

 

He was not alone.

 

Closer to home, Manhattan cops will tell you horror stories about Fake Patty’s Day. In describing some of the goings-on in and around Ratone Street, I have heard the word “depravity” used. I didn’t see it personally, I just used my imagination.

 

There’s no doubt the Fake Patty’s behavior was alcohol-fueled and while ‘young people will be young people’ is a powerful sentiment that seems to transcend generations, words have meaning, and depravity is a pretty strong one.

 

Health care and emergency response officials shared similar stories during the conversation last year about bringing back Country Stampede. The message from our first responders? Good riddance.


 

I have never considered myself a prude or a handwringer. But I have considered myself to be a young person, especially when I actually was a young person and engaged in my share of what older people would have considered immoral at the time. Back then, the speed kept me up at night, but the risks or consequences to society of my actions and behavior did not.  

Next door in Colorado, I can boogie into a recreational marijuana shop, plunk down my hard-earned bread and book outa there with a dime bag of the erstwhile illegal gateway drug. To catch a buzz, I need only fend off those who would Bogart my doobie.

 

I’m not sure it’s an erosion of moral values. It may be more of an evolution of our society. Part of it is generational, part of it demographic. I think and act differently than my father did. My son thinks and acts differently than do I. Each generation is influenced by their surroundings and environment. 

       

It doesn’t take long before this conversation circles back to personal responsibility, public health, and the role of government, whether through prevention, mitigation or regulation.

 

The normalization of that which was once forbidden can undermine moral values such as self-discipline and moderation. The loosening of temperance may lead to increased societal acceptance of these behaviors, exacerbating social woes related to addiction, substance abuse, and compulsive gambling.

 

These days, the lines between acceptable and harmful behavior seem blurry. The morality spectrum is shifting. What once was taboo is now mainstream.

 

Loudmouths at basketball games have been around since Naismith. But when I hear the word depravity associated with actions here in Manhattan, I begin to wonder if that will become the norm. And if it does, what does that say about us as a community?

 

These events and circumstances challenge traditional notions of right and wrong and a complex interplay arises. Can we find the sweet spot between personal autonomy, public safety, and the broader societal impacts of partying hearty?

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