An internet safety organization in the UK warns that school children are using AI image generators to create indecent fake images of classmates. Another article was headlined – Kids who use social media are more prone to making dangerous decisions. It was about a study of 1.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 from 1997 to 2022 and found that frequent or daily social media usage increased the probability of alcohol consumption by 48 percent, drug use by 28 percent, and tobacco use by 85 percent, compared to those who used social media infrequently or not on a daily basis.

While many will rightly say “We need more safeguards!”, this overlooks the glaring failure in modern society to appreciate the great need for a personal moral compass. It is about external controls vs internal controls, or Can I do it? vs. Should I do it?

Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya


So, recently I was looking at a news article, and I found it really quite disturbing, and of course, it set off a train of thought that I’d like to share with you.

So, in the news article, there was an internet safety organization in the UK that had received information from teachers in schools—and we’re talking about for young kids, very young kids. And there was this trend now, where they were using AI to generate porn images of their classmates. And of course, because of a huge lack of maturity, the kids don’t have any thought about how devastating it could be for a young girl, for instance, to have her head put upon some other body, a porn image, and for this to be shared amongst her classmates and other people in the school, or even for a boy for that matter. There’s also a real lack of understanding that this is not just, maybe misguided children at work. There are laws that govern this type of activity, related to child pornography, which impose quite heavy penalties for this type of activity. And so, a kid just doing something stupid, can become easily implicated in what is technically child pornography.

The day before I read that article, there was another one that I saw that was headlined, “Kids who use social media are more prone to making dangerous decisions.” And that’s kind of like, wow, that’s a pretty heavy statement. It was a study that was done out of the University of Glasgow, and they found a very direct association between the very regular social media usage and the adoption of various risky and dangerous behaviors by young people, and–this is not a small study. They analysed data from 1.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19. And they did it over a period of, from 1997 to 2022. So that was a 25-year study. And so for them to be able to make such claims, it’s probably very well founded.

So, what they found was that the frequent or daily social media usage increased the probability of that child to use alcohol, consume alcohol. They said the probability was 48%. There was a 28% probability of drug usage and an 85% probability of tobacco usage. And when they compared the difference between regular social media usage and infrequent usage, the difference between no usage or infrequent usage, and daily usage, was what was used to establish these figures, as they tracked people over 25 years.

So, when we hear this kind of thing, people’s normal reaction is, “Oh, we need safeguards. We need to put more safeguards in place.” And while that is true, it sort of opens up a bigger question: Are we failing as a society to adopt, practice, and pass on to other generations, the difference between morally repugnant and actual moral behavior? When I use the word “moral” here, I’m not using it in a strictly religious sense, but the idea of behaviors that are damaging to ourself or damaging to others or damaging to a wider society. There is a tendency to want to shift individual responsibility for life choices into the realm of government and regulation and thinking that that’s really going to make the difference in people.

So, people are really failing to appreciate the great need for a moral compass in one’s life. And as I just mentioned, it really points to the distinction between external controls and internal controls. So, this boils down to this question of: How should I be framing my decision-making? Should it be on the basis of, “Can I do this?” or “Let’s do this,”  versus “Should I do this?” As soon as you say, “Should I do it?” it evokes a moral choice, an ethical choice. It invites us to consider a bigger picture and to engage in what psychologists refer to, or psychiatrists refer to, as consequential thinking.

One of the things that really stood out to me when we run our prison programs is how people are not really trained at all in consequential thinking. The impulse towards short-term gratification has become like—it’s sort of taken over everybody’s life. And so, I become very fixated on a desire that I have, and I impulsively am just going to chase that, rather than engaging in the process of thinking, “Well, what is it going to cost?” And I’m not just talking about money, are there going to be other costs to me, to have this experience or to acquire this thing or to do this? Are there going to be consequences that are going to begin to shape and direct my life, shape and direct how I process and think about things, to undermine a sense of individual responsibility and accountability? And of course, the answer is frequently “Yes.”

We look at the modern era, and when I say the modern era, I’m specifically talking about the last 120 years. But—no, let’s say 100 years, starting from about 1920 up to the current period. Society has largely embraced a message that our highest priorities should be our hedonic impulses. And somebody’s going to go, “Well, hedonic, what’s that?” Well, sometimes you might have heard the word hedonistic; and the dictionary definition of hedonic, it is, “that which is connected with feelings of pleasure, or to be devoted to pleasure,” that one becomes solely focused on this as being one of the primary impulses in their life, to guide them in decision making.

And of course, we all know that you can have short-term gratification and stimulate the body and mind with pleasurable experience and pay a hefty price for that. Just think of the person who is alcohol or drug addicted, especially to a drug that really undermines their life, undermines their free will, and enslaves people. The reason that they do it is because of that the massive dopamine rush that comes from doing it. And so, this is, like this is a really significant example of how when we simply chase pleasurable experience over and above anything and everything else, that it can lead to significant impacts on individuals’ lives.

Of course, we know the history of these things. There was a British documentarian, Adam Curtis, who did a famous BBC documentary which I’ve spoken about quite often called “The Century of the Self,” and he had stated in an interview that, “The idea that has come to dominate our society, it is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”

And so, this, of course, is the consumer message. We’ve created a world that’s filled with paradox. You’ve got everybody freaking out about climate change, but people being unwilling to significantly alter their consumption habits. And the consumption habits are all driven by the hedonic impulse, this hedonistic tendency just to look for that immediate rush. Social media is designed, I mean the little friend button, and the like button, and even all the nasty things that you can do, are all designed to stimulate, negatively or positively, the hedonistic impulse. And we can see how it’s become so influential in moving society.

But what I’m going to do is encourage people to always ask the question, “Is it in my best interest to engage in this course of action? Is it actually in my best interest to do this, to make this choice?” And of course, to answer that, one needs to engage in consequential thinking. What are going to be the consequences or the outcome not just immediately but even further down the road? And there is a need to embrace the truth, the reality, that everything has a price. There is no free ride. There is no free lunch. You pay for everything. It is absolutely unavoidable. Everything! Everything has a cost. You pay, and it happens in so many different ways.

When we engage in behavior that is harmful or hurtful, motivated perhaps by anger or some defense mechanism, we can even think we won the argument or won the situation, but in the course of doing it, we created harm. And that affects our consciousness, and that affects our heart. And it’s going to affect the quality of our own life.

My spiritual teacher, Srila Siddhaswarup, Jagat Guru Siddhaswarup, made a statement one time which is so on point: “It is no surprise that endless consumption and emptiness are the chief characteristics of modern man.” Now just one more time there, “It’s no surprise that endless consumption and emptiness are the chief characteristics of modern man.” And so, we see it in the world, where society has become more and more self-obsessed and devoted to simply seeking sense stimulation, stimulating the senses and the quest for pleasure.

And now more than any time in previous history, even though society is so hellbent on this pathway, we see rates of depression, mental health issues, suicide, a sense of purposelessness, and disconnection. It has become hugely—it is epidemic in proportion—it has become hugely greater than at any time in previous human history, even when people struggled with all types of difficulties.

And it’s largely because people heading down this road, the road of hedonism, of just simply seeking pleasure, are always going to be unaware or oblivious of the fact that this body and this mind which I am seeking to stimulate constantly is not me, that I am the eternal spiritual being residing within this body, and while I am experiencing all these things, they are not fulfilling me. That is why I remain unfulfilled, and therefore unhappy. I can produce instant results. All you’ve got to do is put some cocaine up your nose or glug a glass of alcohol or open a porn site on your device or just any one of a myriad of things, and you get an instant hit, an instant dopamine hit. But that is almost like a mechanical reaction to something that you’re doing. The living being within is, as I said, untouched.

And so, the thing that is going to make it so that people can act more responsibly and make far better choices in life and produce far better outcomes and actually become happier, the thing that’s going to make that possible, more than anything else, is the cultivation of the appreciation of my eternal spiritual nature, that I am an eternal spiritual being. This body, this mind that I am using is not me. And of course, the thing that will make it so that the cultivation of this appreciation becomes deeper and more powerful is going to be the adoption of a regular meditation practice, meditation upon this transcendental sound or spiritual sound.

So, in concluding, I will just play a short video of a kirtan that we had last night, and ask you to rest your heart and your mind in this wonderful spiritual experience that comes from chanting these spiritual sounds.

Thank you very much.