For some time now, the gloom of depression has surrounded American Conservatism. In the echo chamber we call the mainstream media and the streets of the country where mythical alabaster cities used to gleam, Anthony Esolen provides a very thoughtful list of questions of why this culture suddenly seems so lost. The America we knew and came to love seems to have been pushed aside. Why? Well, it’s easy to blame liberalism, but perhaps the answer, if there is more than one, is far more basic.
Manufacturing has disappeared leaving the true middle class to work in service. Again. In the last 50 years, the great triumph of American industry in the 20th century – the assembly line factory where men and women went to work rather than being low paid servants or agricultural workers – has all but disappeared. The reasons why are many (cheaper labor elsewhere, environmental laws, the profits boards of directors sought, corporate tax rates), but the plain and simple reality is that people who work with their hands and on their are now relegated to jobs in a service economy that will shed them as soon as there is an economic downturn for the upper middle class. People with money are not going to spend it if their own fortunes dissipate.
The Innovation Gap is real, it’s wide, it’s getting wider, and no one seems to be getting their faces out of their graphical user interfaces (GUI) to realize it. The irony, of course, being that the GUI was invented when the innovation gap was swung so far in America’s favor, it took decades for some enterprising countries to catch up to where we were then. This phenomenon was outlined in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology paper earlier this year, although they called it an “innovation deficit.” For whatever reason, probably balance sheets in the major corporations that actually developed the primary technology of the cell phone, microchip, GUI, email, etc., and the Bayh-Dole Act, those labs no longer exist. We are not reaching for the stars. As a result, America is falling behind.
Americans seem to lack intellectual curiosity. Naturally, this does not include everyone, but there are significant gaps in what Americans are interested in learning, and knowing. One teacher in California believes that Shakespeare has no relevance for her students even if The Bard’s works are included in Common Core (and happen to be one of the great pillars of western literature). Outside of literature lovers no one seemed to care. Others believe that objective standards of beautiful public art is useless. Michelle Obama famously called museums – most specifically art museums – “white spaces”. This attitude is endemic in the culture. Classical music is routinely called crap and expelled from concert halls and churches in favor of popular groups…and hardly anyone reads. Not even Harry Potter. Forget philosophy unless you are Jonah Goldberg. Some neoconservatives are infatuated with the enlightenment, but even that was a movement meant to displace what went before.
History is left to dusty tomes headed for the dust bin, and is mangled to make political points. One of the great adages of civilized life is that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. This writer happens to take advantage of learning about history whenever possible (the World War II museum in New Orleans is worth the price of admission). Each and every time a piece is posted on the importance of knowing and understanding events of the past that mirror issues of today, conservative commentators pipe up with “I don’t care about what happened a long time ago. I care what it happening now.” Yes, but as Daniel Patrick Moynihan explained in 1965, the same thing keeps happening over and over. And, frankly, if the bald truth of what came before is not unvarnished and treasured it will be rewritten like that of the American south, slavery, and which political party really freed the slaves. (Republicans by a landslide, no matter what Democrats in Congress may claim.)
Gossip trumps front page news unless the front page is about Donald Trump. In the last three months, news of the day for political junkies included one scandal after another about Barack Obama, his consort, and Hillary Clinton, she of the title litany, none of which is her true identity Grifter Extraordinaire. To the people surfing social media and effecting trend lines, the most viewed stories included Tina Fey stripping on David Letterman’s farewell tour, Bruce Jenner and his mangled genitalia, Josh Duggar feeling up his sisters when he was a horny teenager, Rachel Dolezal’s being black delusion, sports figures being bad boys and girl,. yada yada yada. Iran is well on its way to a nuclear weapon and celebrity gossip is what Americans are worried about. Even Senator Claire McCaskill pointed that out when her tweet about Game of Thrones went viral. At least Donald Trump has more Twitter followers than Hillary Clinton. Real ones anyway.
The first amendment is slowly being gutted and Americans are playing along. A healthy free speech society is a place where a true diversity of opinions are welcome and debated. Several commentators have pointed out of late that civil discourse no longer exists in the United States. Political discussions are black and white even if the subject matters are not. “Binary thought” if the reader will (got that from Leroy Huizenga on another topic.) Many of the issues facing us today require deep thought and negotiation before coming to a conclusion that is probably going to be less than satisfying to everyone, and that just isn’t happening. “Hate speech” laws are en vogue. Apologists for the most repressive religion on earth are trying to eliminate all honest criticism of it. And to keep the peace, Americans aren’t speaking up…other than snarky drive-bys on social media.
An agitated war against authority that is getting worse. Every generation thinks that the ones that went before them are stodgy old fogeys and questions why they should heed the words of people who are not hip and socially relevant. This has happened for centuries. However, in the last few years in the United States, there is actually a war going on against established authority. Since August of 2014, the war has taken an increasingly hostile turn, and the people charged with keeping law and order are increasingly under attack. The effort is not organic, and the financing has been traced to one of the most dangerous men in the world. At least some of us think so.
Americans are increasingly unwilling to sacrifice for anyone or anything save their own fortunes. It has been said selfishness is a by-product of success and achievement. The shedding of altruism has been identified as a root cause of the falls of civilizations that have come before. If that is the case, given the number of people who insist that others live for THEIR convenience, and the people who decry the demise of the America (and Christianity) we know and love who limit their generosity in child-rearing when they can easily afford more – when others who would do it in a heartbeat can’t – no wonder we are living only for ourselves. No one else is going to be kind enough to give us the courtesy. This writer may be a dog lover, but when a huge segment of the population has fur babies just to have daily unconditional love in their lives, there’s a real problem. And that doesn’t mention maniacal driving that puts EVERYONE in danger. (The highway system is NOT Talladega, people. Don’t care if you are sober and wearing a seatbelt.)
Family life and culture is diminishing, and the real root cause is not being addressed. When Americans talk about the demise of the family, in general, discussion revolves around the dissolution of the nuclear unit via divorce, out of wedlock births, the state replacing men in the home as breadwinners, among other simplistic causes that are part of a greater whole. However, the true support system for the nuclear family, not an easy vocation by any means, was and is the extended family, and American life is such that extended families can be spread all over the country – and it is not always that people go where the work is. Today, people go where they want to go, and that is farther and farther from tight knit communities where everyone has known everyone else for generations. Plus, Americans are into activities and keeping busy at a rate that hardly anyone is at home.
The “Idiot Box” is ruling many Americans’ lives via brainwashing. If the television craze continues with the present level of programs, we are destined to have a nation of morons. ~Daniel Marsh, 1950 Way back in the beginning of the era of television, an influencer of American culture watched television for about ten minutes and nothing good to say about it. Since then, researchers on human behavior have learned how to manipulate the masses with the medium. Television is used as a control device. Like just about anything else with base appeal, the gossip, stories, images and so forth are captivating and suck people into the little box. It also brainwashes the watcher via repetition of the message. If you hear something often enough, it must be true, right? Want to influence American opinion on, say, gay marriage? Bombard the people with images and stories of good gays and lesbians who just want to marry their soul mates. It didn’t take all that long.
Many a conservative will read through this list and say, “But you left out the most important one! Not putting Jesus Christ at the center of people’s lives and following in his footsteps.” The concept is here, although not in so many words. The themes of greed, giving into temptation, not developing talents, ignoring the greater good through everyday living, complete disdain for the Golden Rule let alone the Greatest Commandment are all there. At the top of this piece, the question of whether or not America is going to hell in a handbasket was the complete work of liberalism or something more basic was posited. Some will say that liberalism IS the manifestation of not following Christ. Maybe so. And maybe it is the appeal to base human desires and instincts by unscrupulous people seeking to influence public behavior that is at fault.
Doesn’t matter. The only way to reverse these trends is for Americans to change themselves in everyday life and accept more difficult roads and paths. That is going to go against the grain of the base human condition, just like living Christianity, actually.