Once again I received a marvelous email from a friend asking why I thought the current generation was, as it seemed to them, less capable of serious reflective thought beyond accepting then parroting the sound bites and one-liners from TV or the internet. The implication was that our generation had been better at it.
I had to think about it since mine was the generation the brought us Timothy Leary and Bell Bottoms, not the best indicators of brilliance. But I do remember some of the exchanges, debates, and discussions I had back then and can contrast them with what passes for intellectual commentary now on Facebook or in the halls on campus and perhaps this friend was on to something.
While my/our generation certainly was not monolithic in its conclusions, on giving the question some serious thought, I do believe we put more of our own thinking and reflection into our conclusions than does the current generation, at least the college-age ones of my acquaintance. We did not use the verbal equivalent of clip art to illustrate and inform our discussions except for punctuation. We did not, all that often, simply accept the conclusion of those verbatim, even if we agreed with them and used their pronouncements, if at all, as a jumping off point for our own conclusions.
The email asked if i blamed TV for it. In the 1950s Marshal Mcluhan wrote that unlike every news and entertainment technology to precede it, TV was the first to have the potential of not just being an adjunct to reality, it had the potential of replacing it. I think to a large and unfortunate degree his fear has come true. any advanced technology has the capacity of becoming a double edged sword and used for good or ill. TV has done both with wonderful educational content and pitiful drivel next to each other on the channel selector. By itself I think it is neutral, but I admit it is perhaps more easily missued than not.
I try to use it, along with papers and internet as resources to let me see what the spokesmouths for all sides are saying. From the personal experience of being interviewed a number of times and then reading the article, and from watching a speech and then hearing the commentary, I no longer trust a third party’s reportage of either side including the sides they are openly and sometimes shamefully supporting since they will spin it for or against their champion. I also place little faith anymore in what the actual participants assert and much more in what they have actually done… or not.
I am a stickler for trying as best as i can to fact check those assertions of quantifiable items that allow them to spin one direction or the other. I recently got into a pointless exchange on Facebook calling to account an assertion that was factually in error. Instead of ever addressing the error as it impacted the argument, they simply talked around it by trying to bring up ancillary issues. Thomas Sowell wrote that if, as a politician, you want to help the country then you will tell the truth, but if you want to help yourself, you will tell people what you know they want to hear. it is clear to me that virtually no politician now yammering from either side is doing other than telling their disciples what they want to hear… and I find that frightening. But I do not try to excuse one side by pointing to the errors of the other.
It is especially frightening to me at this precise juncture in time because I see it as a time of great danger for this country and this society. Internally we are taking a trend started way back with Wilson to vear off of the course set by the founding fathers and bring it to a critical tipping point. I wrote in the early 90s that my sense of that trend line was that by the 2016 campaign the U.S. would either be irrevocably on the road to European style national socialism (or worse) or would have turned the corner to try to head back to its beginning philosophies. I see nothing happening to change that opinion at this point except i think the chances of the latter option being more and more remote.
My students see themselves increasingly as entitled and victimized. They believe the government owes them something apparently just for being alive. They do not believe there should be consequences for choices or behaviors; there is no right or wrong for them except for what they wish to have done for them. They wish only to feed at the government trough and receive the same portions as those who are productive and, even so, they do not want to have to wash the dishes. They are more than willing to buy a sense of security (not REAL security as any summary read of history would reveal) by paying for it with freedom. I fear that is a trend that may be unstoppable since it is supported by the entertainment industry that is, to them, the royalty of our country, and is reinforced by a government that seeks more to gain votes by dependency creation than a strong country by supporting independence and self reliance.
History is pretty clear on the outcome since we are far from the first to try this experiment; nor are we the first to weaken ourselves from within. Meantime, as we make our citizens increasingly dependent on the government, encourage them to think the government should control the means of production, and allow our nation to become increasongly dependent on other nations that do not especially like us and cultures whose sacred texts demand int he clearest of terms that they kill us, the danger of our collapse from within is exacerbated by the dangers from without with a decreasing ability to deal with either of them.
So I am pretty much fearful for our future and in some ways a little thankful that at my age I may not live to see us fall apart as I think we will do if we continue on this trend line. I lived to see America at its greatest and that is cool but it makes me sad to see us in decline and heading for what, to me, is an obvious cliff.
I’m not sure, however, that it can all be put at the feet of TV, though that certainly is a part. A lot of it must be laid at the feet of academia. Peopled as it is by folks who have never had to interact in the real world and can live vicariously not on their own actions but on the reading of other people’s ideas (not actions), and who, as Arthur C. Clarke wrote, suffered from having their education surpass their intellect. They preach a warm and fuzzy view of economic and historical pabalum designed precisely to keep the slop in that government trough flowing because, for them, it has to.
Every great autocrat in the last two centuries was helped if not outright ushered into power by the denizens of academia — the intelligentsia, who wished for a savior to protect them from the real world and then were stunned at the results which were quickly and inexplicably ignored by their academic progeny. I have never understood that failure to learn from the past except tp accept that they had left their students in no better position to accurately review the current and historical situation, much less to fend for themselves in the real world, than they were. Yet I see it in action almost every day on campus where, if it were not for the blessings of tenure, more than a few would find themselves out on the street where their level of competence would have consequences they most likely would not enjoy. They have, therefore, a vested interest in maintaining and accelerating this trend to entitlement.
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, government has come to the point where it enhances elections by the incompetent many with the appointments by the corrupt few. Churchill once opined that the best argument against democracy was a five-minute conversation with the average voter. And even Plato characterized democracy as the rule of fools. Benjamin Franklin said he and his companions had given us a Republic… if we could hold on to it. But I think it is slipping through our grasp. And we have allowed that by allowing our so-called representatives to end up representing only themselves and their own interestes and therefore, to bring this back to the early part, telling us not the truth but what we want to hear. The first clue was when they first exempted themselves from some law passed on us. Why that was not a major red flag in the face of the electorate can only be explained by the comments of Churchill and Plato above.
My impact on the situation is limited. I can give my one vote. Since i am not dead and do not live in Chicago, I cannot continue to vote for the democratic candidate a few more times (regardless of who my live personage voted for) so one vote is all I get. Therefore I can only now and then vent and rant about it such as I do here.
But we dying few who would prefer a state of self reliance where Maslow’s idea of Self Actualization was still the highest of our psychological goals, are a shrinking democraphic, happily so in the eyes of most of my students. They will never know the freedoms I knew, the joy of successful productivity I was allowed and even encouraged to experience, or the “rush” of attaining, now and then, that state of self actualization. But not experiencing it they will probably not miss it either. The founders wrote that our system would not survive the point where the citizens realized they could vote themselves goodies from the national treasury, forgetting it was theirs in the first place. We are at that point, our toes are, in my opinion already over that line. A few months will tell us if we will walk totally over it or draw back from it.
I know which I prefer but that is, alas, not what I expect to happen. I am not sure enough of us who are old enough to remember those freedoms and joys are still around to vote, or even care anymore. or if in our antique dottage now we also simply want to play out our days with the youngsters at that same government trough. And we don’t want to do the dishes either.