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VERN’S VIEW: Spinning the moral compass

Recently reminiscing about our long lives, my wife and I shared stories we heard from our grandparents about their lives in America. We compared our degree of luxury and freedom from want to theirs’ and the relative effort, both physical and intellectual, we invested.

We ventured into larger scopes of history and the events that spanned three generations: Going from covered wagons to comfortable cars and from hand-dug wells to machine-dug ones.

It made me think about the first oil well drilled in Pennsylvania in the mid-19th century. Today’s grandchildren will likely see the exhaustion of oil in the entire world during their lifetimes. What took nearly 300 million years to make will be used up in 300 years by a species that has only lived for 300,000. That is reflective of our rapaciousness.

I recently read an article that estimated $32 trillion of American-made money sits in banks around the world. This money was accrued over several decades as the result of a relatively few very wealthy people hiding their money to avoid paying taxes to the government that allowed them the freedoms and the opportunities to accrue that wealth in the first place. I thought it was an obscene amount of money to be serving no purpose except to make a few hundred people even richer — at least in terms of dollars and cents. These people’s moral compasses only point to themselves.

The Sermon on the Mount set many moral standards for adherents of all faiths, yet there are those adherents who maintain that letting “those people” eat cake while they eat steak is how the world is ordered and how God ordained it. The richest country is among the poorest at taking care of its citizens considering available resources.

The moral compass in America is spinning due to greed, selfishness, hypocrisy and wastefulness. Why aren’t the advocates of those astoundingly simple human survival standards and morals practicing them to the benefit of all? Are the standards false? Do we deny our community spirit whenever it suits us and let the others go to rot?

The politically charged topic of illegal labor in this country should not be about economic hardship. These people work whenever and wherever they can and do jobs most Americans won’t touch. They send 75 percent of their below-minimum wage salaries home to their families in poorer countries. Why can’t we residents in the land of silk and money realize how many billions of dollars illegal workers are saving our businesses who hire them outside the law? The compass spins …

The real question for me in my twilight years is, what will my generation’s legacy be? Have we done enough of the right things to say we fulfilled our moral obligations to our country, our fellow citizens and whatever else we believe in? Each of us must make that final inventory some day. The sum of those inventories will report to history as long as there are those who can read it.

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. His books are available on "Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status" and "A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools." He can be reached by email at