I saw an essay called “Just Curious: What Made Americans so Fearful and Stupid as They Are Today,” and it struck a chord. I first began to ask questions about why and how societies survive, succeed and then disappear when I signed up for an anthropology class in 1972. Eventually, I drifted into a history master’s program looking for answers specific to the U.S. There are lots of theories about the rise and fall of civilizations. There’s the “great leader” theory. There’s the “weakness within” theory. And, of course, there is the over-extension of resources and reaching the limits of what is possible.
I read a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business by Neil Postman back in the 90’s. Maybe I shouldn’t have read it, because it has influenced how I see everything that has happened in our country since then. Maybe I’m seeing through “corrective lenses” when I say this, but I remember being proud of working hard and rewarding myself only after getting the job done. Maybe it was the WW II work ethic. We felt part of something bigger than ourselves when we all pitched in. I can’t imagine a president today asking anything of us. It seems today’s culture is all about personal happiness, enjoying ourselves, shopping, consuming, and spending insane amounts of money on sports tickets.
What do you think? I know the world has changed and we are part of a global economy now. But can’t we at least find a way to work together to fix those things we all share and need?
My hope lies in the younger generation. They see climate change for the danger it is. They aren’t hypnotized by distorted views on social issues. They are connected by social media to friends all over the world. They travel more than we ever did. And that’s a good thing.
I just wish we could pass on a society that will make them part of something larger than themselves.