I wish to urge you to secede — not politically from the union, but from the culture, which is, after all, decadent and nutty.

Recently I flipped on CNN Headline News. The first story was about educators and students complaining that it takes too long to take the SAT (three hours and 45 minutes). Given how many functional illiterates graduate from college, I’d say the test is not long enough. It has been watered down through the years.

The second major story on the national news show was a complaint by a spokeswoman for a whore’s union about dangerous working conditions. It was not clear if she wanted police to escort the whores to their motel rooms or if she wanted the FBI to run background checks on the johns. At any rate, the folks at CNN thought this was a most important story to share with the American people.

As I said, our society is decadent and nutty. We all have to do what we have to do to make a living, but beyond that, we have a great deal of freedom to live our lives by our own values. For example, if you don’t approve of gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay person; if you disapprove of abortion, don’t get one; if you dislike drugs and tobacco, don’t use them; if you are opposed to war, don’t participate in it; if you are against gambling, don’t bet.

It’s my observation that most of what people vociferously complain about are not things they are forced to do, but things that other people choose to do. A favorite phrase of my father — "None of your business" — seems to have become obsolete in our busybody society. The government is a busybody, its supporters are busybodies, and its opponents are busybodies, making it a conflict among busybodies as to which aspects of people’s private lives the government should regulate.

The government should not regulate people’s private lives at all. It should protect them from force, fraud, usury, foreign attacks and the rape of our share of the planet. Other than those, if some people wish to self-destruct, it’s nobody else’s business, least of all the government’s.

Most of today’s polluted culture comes into our homes via television and the Internet. Neither is a necessity. Both are easily controlled by thoughtful people. Nobody forces us to watch or read anything. Nobody forces us to buy anything or to spend more than we earn. Blaming our bad habits on advertising or the entertainment industry is just passing the buck. We can turn off and discard those aspects of modern culture we find offensive.

We should realize that the cultural messages found in advertising and entertainment are the products of a very thin slice of the population, centered mostly in New York City and Los Angeles, two of the least-typical megalopolises in the U.S. A majority of writers and producers are cynical hedonists we wouldn’t invite into our homes. Since their work products reflect their values, which are foreign to most of us and certainly to traditional American values, we ought to keep their work products out of our homes and minds. We don’t need the government to do it. We can use the on/off button.

We have plenty of freedom, but too often we cede it to commercial interests, which tell us to watch this, do that, buy this, go here or go there. We can, however, by active concentration lead a quiet, thoughtful life free from the clamoring crowd.

Buddhists sometimes say that people seeking enlightenment are like thirsty people surrounded by water. By that they mean what is sought is easily at hand if we only recognize it and reach out and take it. The solution to all of the ills of our nutty culture lies not in Washington but in the hearts and minds of the American people. The culture is really us; therefore, by changing ourselves, we can change the culture. We just have to learn to say "No."

Secularism, hedonism and nihilism, which characterize today’s culture, spell the death of any civilization. It may well be that Western civilization has already committed suicide, as some have argued. That means it is all the more important for the remnants who still believe in ideals to preserve themselves and provide the seeds for a new and better civilization.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.