How does one live one’s life with conviction in a cynical society?
We collectively have created a mean world. So many of us see the world as nasty, cruel, unjust. Even much of our humor is mean-spirited. We live in a culture that promotes callousness, short-sightedness & denial. Disenfranchised rage is what mostly passes for civil discourse nowadays. Snarky has become the currency of the realm, and it is hard to have an urban conversation anymore without some necessary bit of irony. Why is that?
Moreover… Our culture promotes learned helplessness: the idea that massive trends — like political corruption, runaway military spending, environmental degradation, climate change, homelessness, poverty, malnutrition & mass extinction — are "too big" for any one of us "to do anything about" at all. We have a cynical culture. Our culture teaches us dis-empowerment. "What can I do?" is generally a helpless statement, not an actual asking.
How does one function with any integrity in such a world?
How does one give life to one’s convictions?
These are valuable questions. These are valuable tools to have in one’s personal arsenal.
An old Ethiopian proverb says that "He who conceals his disease cannot be cured." And thus the naming of things becomes all the more important in the creation of room for growth. Human being ARE social animals. The constructs of society, both the explicit & the implicit, shape & affect our individual ability to move thru that society.
And, conversely, our actions as individuals collectively help shape & affect society.
American culture, however, has come to abandon the commons. Faced with this learned sense of helplessness that "there isn’t anything that I as an individual can do", many Americans have retreated into private realms. For many, it is easier just to deal with a few nuclear family members. The whole predominant meme of "family values" these last 30 years is one expression of this withdrawal from the public sphere. Containing oneself within the confines of one’s chosen nuclear family helps create an illusion of "control" in a world that otherwise may seem confusing, chaotic & dangerous.
At present, Americans have common cultural practice. But they do not tend to it. The commons are a weed patch, and it is more likely to find the American commons strip-mined for private gain nowadays than it is to find them cared for and collectively tended.
Consider how very far the value of holding "ideals" has fallen. Collectively, we have replaced the value of ideals and replaced them with a type of value based solely on economics.
Even the idea of thinking collectively, thinking for the common good, has gone out of fashion in America. The more selfish impulses of retreating into one’s cars & private homes — all the various "gated communities" of America, both real & virtual — that is to say, all the various aspects of "The ‘Me’ Generation” thinking which have dominated our collective discourse these past 30+ years: All of these impulses run counter to the common good.
It has, in fact, almost become “distasteful” to speak in terms of the common good in America and in the world.
And given that "America" is a country founded on AN IDEA, namely one of "The Common Good": It is easy from this perspective to see the ailment, the disease, the cancer that we have let overtake our collective body politic.
So how does one address then such a culture?
How does one move thru it in such a way that both bolsters & grows the blessed contributions of the individual, while at the same time revitalizing & reinvigorating that which we together all hold in common?
How does one begin to disassemble the jaundices of cynicism we unwittingly have let creep into the great American experiment. How does one begin to reverse the retreat we have made into the helpless & balkanized spheres of the purely private realms.
The acid tongue of a cynical society is quick to sear the sincere.
But it is equally naive to think that the beast that shames us cannot itself be tamed.
I am an American thru-&-thru. But…
But I have difficulty understanding not the appeal of, but the entrenchment of tribal thinking against Reason. I am having difficulty understanding the "MY way, right or wrong" current attitude of many of my fellow countrymen.
Then again, trying to talk sense with someone who has turned off their rational mind is like giving medicine to a dead man.
John F. Szwed