The Cheapening of America’s Polarized Culture

As this hellishly long election process grinds painfully to its conclusion I, for one, am both disgusted and exhausted by the process!  Not only has it already been underway for more than a year but the overall atmosphere of the campaign continues to mine new levels of repugnance and revulsion.  Civility is nowhere to be found nor is a substantive discussion of truly pertinent topics like the economy, terrorism, immigration and entitlement reform.  Instead, the candidates of both parties would rather sling mud and bait each other with abhorrent personal attacks; in addition said attacks are now targeting family members!  Just what has happened to the concept of gathering to discuss issues employing decorum and respect?  Apparently this approach has been discarded in favor of rancor and vitriol.

Without question there’s plenty of blame to go around starting with the candidates themselves.  Somewhere along this process the need to be truthful in one’s dealings fell by the wayside; indeed, the need to be truthful at all seems a lost concept.  Apparently it is much more important to make a large impression with one’s ego and bravado than be truthful.  And the lame-stream media fuels this fire by affording the most coverage to the most outrageous actions and comments.  In a culture where few have an attention span longer than 30 seconds and most want information spoon fed to them along with how and what they should think the media willingly panders to such guilelessness as it generates ratings.

But neither of the aforementioned are honestly the root cause of this heinous situation; no, sadly the main reason we’re seeing such coarse and childish behavior is ‘we the people’ want it.  Over the past sixty years there’s been a steady decline in morals and values within the American culture all in the name of ‘social progress’.  Progressives point to this with pride as examples of the advancement of the American people while all the while continuing to willing chip away at so many of the virtues which allowed this country to both grow and prosper.  They view conservatives as Luddites clinging to past behaviors rather than embracing new social miens.  Yet without continued social development and growth our culture will definitely become stagnant and eventually fail.  Conservatives all too often view progressives (aka ‘liberals’) as crazed, morally bankrupt maniac’s hell bent on destroying anything ‘good’.  Those of a more conservative bent will not at least consider, let alone embrace, the idea that as we evolve we must continue to adapt and that implies change.

So our culture has reached a point at which we are fundamentally polarized to extremes.  Neither faction appears willing to just try to undertake a civilized dialog with the other regarding even the most basic of concepts like immigration.  This, by itself, is a recipe for deadlock and thus we find ourselves embroiled in our current situation.  Far too many people have embraced the ultimate lunacy of ‘political correctness’ which is a guaranteed killer of honest, open communication at a time when we truly need clear, concise conversation.  But there’s more as well; it seems that with the advent of electronic communication in the form of email, tweeting and similar we lost the notion of civilized communication.  It’s almost as if because we do not have to face someone we feel we are free to say anything regardless of how disgusting or vile.  Just visit virtually any chat room or forum and you can see endless examples of a total lack of common courtesies and civility.  Apparently many folks have taken the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me’ to a new and despicable low.

Given all this I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise we have candidates willing to stoop to crass, bathroom humor and insults the likes of which most of us left behind on the grade school playground.  In a very real sense we are getting exactly what we asked for or at least what the majority of Americans appear to desire.  But does this do anything constructive for our political process let alone our culture?  In a sense it really does seem to be one of the polar opposites that defines today’s America; we have this willingness to forgo all aspects of civility and politeness in favor of crass, boorish behavior juxtaposed against the prim and proper miasma of political correctness.  And this is but one example of how polarized American culture has become.  At this point I have to ask; “Is this the kind of ‘social progress’ we desire as a nation?”.

My sense is most folks would prefer not to continue down this path but are either unsure how to redirect our ‘advancement’ or are too overwhelmed by what it takes to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle to care.  But regardless, we are experiencing the unfolding of this situation so we shouldn’t be surprised when our political race turns into an all-out free for all with the candidate most willing to plumb the lowest depths of acrimony and rancor most likely to get the most media attention and, hence, come out a victor.  Yet there is a relatively simple ‘fix’ for this situation; if ‘we the people’ refused to sit enchanted in front of our media source of choice vapidly soaking up such behavior the media outlets would soon stop running the imagery on an almost 24/7 basis.  If we all chose, instead, to read about the campaign from the outlet of our choice as versed with being spoon fed the mindless video superimposed with some equally mindless talking head providing foolish and irrelevant commentary we could affect an eventual change for the better.  But for most people this would mean unplugging from the continual information bombardment of our technological time and instead investing in reading and making up our own minds.

With respect to the larger issue of a dramatically polarized population the answers are not so forthcoming.  Obviously we need compromise but this cannot happen until we are amenable to conversing in a civilized and cultured manner.  And we must put aside past issues and grievances!  History can and will be an important part of any such discussions but a desire to dwell on perceived past wrongs and/or injustices will only poison the well of good intentions.  But perhaps most importantly we must communicate in an open and honest fashion and this means dropping any use of political correctness.  It is far too important to resolve this issue rather than allow such efforts to be torpedoed by concern for a few people’s overly sensitive perceptions.  We have the power and means to begin bridging this polarization but we really need the will!

Why Shouldn’t I Be Fed Up..??

A totally unforeseen effect of my semi-rural Alaskan relocation has slowly been growing and festering within my existence. While I now understand I recognized the beginnings of this ‘effect’ upon my psyche a couple years back only in the last six to nine months has the fallout become so very clear. In conjunction with my growing recognition of this situation has come a slowly simmering anger at its intrusion into my otherwise calm and serene existence. And I suspect my anger will only increase if I allow this to continue unchecked; in this sense I’m hoping that just writing about this situation may prove cathartic.

Because living in semi-rural Alaska does leave one somewhat remote and hence out of touch with world events and current history I developed methods of ‘keeping up’ mainly via internet news sites and satellite TV. But herein were the seeds of my current dissatisfaction; as I tried to stay ‘up to date’ regarding local, federal and world happenings I began to notice a definite increase in my stress levels. At first I assumed I was just showing the signs of age in that I was becoming curmudgeonly based on being set in my ways but with time I began to realize there was more going on. Indeed, I was just beginning to react negatively to so much of what I read about and saw happening across the planet. Sadly this has continued to grow and chafe at my sensibilities until it reached its current level.

Why shouldn’t I be fed up? I played by ‘the rules’ all my life; I paid my taxes, generally stayed out of trouble, broke very few laws, worked as steadily as I could and saved money for my retirement. In doing so I forced myself to work for companies I came to abhor and in darker moments would refer to myself as a ‘corporate whore’. I attempted to climb company ladders in search of more responsibilities along with more money; when I couldn’t make this happen within some firm I would seek out and start another job. From the time I graduated college in 1978 until I settled here in 2013 I relocated 14 times which figures down to a move once every two and a half years and pretty much insures one will lack any ‘roots’. I recognize these were, for the most part, my choices and I am willing to live with the consequences.

But while sacrificing so much to follow the American Dream I did not expect that once I reached that point in my life when I could supposedly reap the benefits the game’s rules had shifted. Obamacare was thrust upon the population with virtually no opportunity to really review and understand what it involved. It canceled my existing medical policy at the end of 2014. And my choices were Draconian at best; my original policy cost me $510/month but the cheapest I could locate in Alaska during November and December of 2014 would run $860/month for the same insurance. Because I was unwilling to pay that differential I decided to go without medical coverage until October of 2015 when I could start receiving my social security pay outs which would cover the increased costs. Fine, I made a decision to take this path. When I fell and severely fractured my left radius and ulna in March of 2015 and ultimately ended up spending almost $48,000 for orthopedic surgery and all the associated I understood I had made a decision to gamble and failed. So be it; I believe in accepting responsibilities for one’s actions. But to this day I cannot escape the fact that I wouldn’t have been in the position of having to make such a decision if the rules hadn’t been changed. So I must ask again; why shouldn’t I be fed up?

The more I read – I’ve given up on video newscasts as all are biased in some direction and unabashedly pushing their own agendas – the more frustrated I have become. Our once proud and strong country’s soul has been sacrificed on the dystopian altar of ‘political correctness’. While I eschew the nonsense sweeping colleges regarding censoring literature if it contains anything someone might find offensive and rewriting history if it is at all controversial I also see the roots of said ‘nonsense’ in the political correctness wave which really started back in the late 80’s. What a surprise we raised a generation terrified of offending anyone or anything; if I lived like that I’d need a ‘safe space’ on a regular basis as well! Of course one might wonder why all this censorship is acceptable in the first place but then one would have to be able to think critically and have a sense of history; our higher education system has worked diligently to insure these abilities are not taught to the masses. Once again; why shouldn’t I be fed up?

Truth no longer has any merit and for this we can largely thank the deviants we’ve allowed to hijack our political and legal systems. Everyone has seen some politician suddenly take a stand wildly divergent from something they stood for in the past yet they will deny it even when there is video tape of them saying or doing it. And we can thank the morally bankrupt lawyers for allowing spin (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman..!”) and falsifications (‘the attack on our Libyan embassy was the result of an anti-Muslim movie just released’) to become acceptable in courts or in explaining their client’s aberrant behavior. But wait..! Ultimately ‘we the people’ have somehow embraced the concept of unaccountability; if some CEO or politician bald-face lies to the public as a group we’re okay with not holding them accountable..?!? When Obama said ‘you can keep your current doctor’ during the Obamacare debacle and then we discovered this was known to be false even before he publicly claimed this to be the case why didn’t we rise up and demand accountability? Because we’ve swallowed the whole ‘everyone makes mistakes’ line of reasoning, which is completely true, but in so doing we’ve taken it to a new low. Sure, we are all human and we do make mistakes but the vital foundation to this concept we’ve discarded are the need for us to take responsibility for our actions and learn from our errors. Given this why shouldn’t I be fed up?

Sadly I could continue this litany for days but I believe I’ve made my points. As a world we’re awash in this ill-conceived and downright dangerous concept of political correctness, as a country we’ve lost the ability to think critically, to remember and learn from our history and to separate right from wrong. This does not bode well for our collective futures. As a race humans have so very much in common; why, then, is it so hard to find even just a few of these commonalities in today’s world? Could it be there are a multitude of power bases that do not want this to happen because polarized, divided people are more easily controlled and manipulated? Some will say this is just paranoid conspiracy drivel and I most certainly cannot count this interpretation out but I’m also not convinced it can be so easily dismissed. In fact, I could make a case that I’m just an aging American who cannot keep up with all the ongoing changes and feels threatened by the ‘New World Order’. But herein lies something important that is largely missing from so many of our perceptions; at least I’m willing to think critically about what is happening around me, to compare the lessons of history to our present situations and to wonder at the causes and solutions. Yes, it can be frustrating and it does take time and effort but given the current desperate times this seems like the only intelligent effort one can make. Because in a world gone barmy with ISIS openly killing ‘infidels’, with ‘social justice’ running roughshod over the Constitution and individual’s rights, with major world powers sizing up a weakened America and taking actions to benefit themselves we cannot afford to get our next steps wrong. Or maybe these are just the railings of an elderly man bewildered by all the change surrounding him. Regardless…why shouldn’t I be fed up?

Truth In The Age of Instant Messaging And The Twenty Four Hour News Cycle

I guess the enormous spaces that separate my beloved Alaska from the rest of the US might account for some of the cultural differences I’ve noted regarding people and lifestyles in ‘The Great Land’ versus those in the lower 48. It’s also obvious that because living in this magnificent state requires more of a commitment with respect to some facets of living like being aware of the natural world around one’s self and a willingness to be more self-sufficient the locals are bound to be a bit ‘different’ regarding those in the lower 48. Yet we remain Americans and we share a passion for our personal freedoms and a lot of proven technologies. One of said ‘proven technologies’ is the explosion of broadband communications and its associated cellular communications. Like so many such technologies it is indeed a dual edged sword; more and more rural people can now be in touch with family and friends and can call for assistance when required. As such they are ‘connected’ and this is generally a good thing. However, there are some definite negatives and as we’ve seen in recent incidents in the lower 48 there is a whole new mindset and understanding that must come about regarding instant messaging and nearly instantaneous broadband connectivity. Without such recognition and understanding this tool can become extremely dangerous.

No one would argue that more timely communication is a bad thing; having quicker access to information is generally important and being able to contact authorities when in need of assistance can be a life saver. But when digesting almost ‘real-time’ information regarding some situation we, as a culture, need to understand some basic concepts about such information. First and foremost we must come to realize that it is simply that: information. As such there is no guarantee as to its validity; in fact because of its very nature – being the initial output regarding some situation – we should treat it with a high degree of skepticism. Secondly we must remember that every story has at least two sides and more often than not there are even more perspectives; therefore, to react to just one side – and the first side which as mentioned earlier is most likely incomplete if not downright incorrect – is to react and form opinions and judgments without all the information. It is human nature to form some of our most lasting opinions based upon first impressions; so many times we’ve learned to our regret our first impressions were just plain wrong. This should serve as a huge warning bell to anyone building firm judgments based upon a single, virtually real time tweet or ‘breaking news story’ on some website. Thirdly we must recognize that so many situations and incidents are complex and cannot be dissected and fully understood in a matter of a few minutes. We’ve become a nation of information junkies hungering after the next 20 second explanation fix; the death of the print news media illustrates we really do not want to take the time to get any in-depth analysis or understanding of events. And lastly it is critical to recognize there are many groups out there with their own ideas, beliefs and agendas and most will gladly take some news story and use it to support their ideology or agenda regardless of how much the truth needs to be twisted or spun. Sadly this is the classic ‘the ends justifies the means’ argument which has been at the core of some of the most heinous and vile choices made during humanity’s reign.

Yes, it does take time to dissect many situations and often competing views or perspectives may require days if not longer to come to light. Then it may require weeks or even months for in-depth analysis to be made and facts to be checked and rechecked; that’s just how it is nowadays. There is often just no way to get an accurate and thoughtful analysis of something without the investment of time and effort. The fact that we seem to eschew such common sense says to me we really have become a culture that needs ‘satisfaction’ within minutes or at most hours; if we don’t get it by then we seem okay with either running with the incomplete half-truths we have or just dropping it all together and moving on to the next sensationalized issue or situation. Either response is far short of what is required to make sound judgments based upon facts.

Indeed, as we’ve seen with some of the most recent incidents involving white police interacting with’ people of color’ many of those demonstrating against the police do not want to hear the facts lest they become confused. Now that’s certainly a most sound and intelligent method to make a decision or form a judgment upon..!? In so many of these situations people allow their own emotions, agendas and perceptions to over-ride any need for factual information; this is not only unwise but downright dangerous. What has happened that we’ve become okay with making snap judgments based on incomplete information because we happen to agree with the initial analyses and perspectives? I see this as a multi-causal breakdown in a number of areas of our culture:

1. We’ve become a culture that doesn’t believe in personal responsibility; we hold few accountable for their actions. With this kind of perspective there is no value regarding personal integrity so say or do whatever you want; in the end it’s not your ‘fault’ and there will be no accounting.
2. We’ve seen the slow erosion of schools teaching critical thinking; now it’s more about being ‘sensitive’ and having a ‘world view’ than about being able to look at a set of observations or a situation and start breaking it down analytically.
3. We’ve become a society that cannot maintain a focus on any situation or issue for more than a few days at best. We become bored with things that ‘drag on and on’ and we look for the next exciting or new thing.
4. We’ve seen the traditional family breaking apart under so many strains and direct attacks I cannot even begin to name them. With this disintegration we are seeing the fruits of raising children with no moral compass and no appreciation of ethics or empathy when dealing with other human beings or life forms. Such individuals are loath to invest time in analytical thinking and are prone to being driven by emotion even in the face of the truth.

There are many more probable influences but the above list shows what I believe are some of the really influential shifts that have generated some very negative outcomes.

Without question we as a culture need to become aware of the impact almost instantaneous communication is having upon our society be it in this country or the world. I see no ‘value’ regarding the technology; tweeting and constantly being ‘in touch’ on phones or computers are neither good nor bad, they just are. How ‘We the People’ use these technologies is where we are seeing the positive and negative attributes. There exists a certain degree of responsibility that goes with utilizing these technologies although I’d wager very few people even recognize this let alone understand why this should be the case.

In my mind this still goes back to the concept of personal responsibility; if more people accepted the importance of being responsible whether because they had been brought up understanding and valuing this virtue or they were afraid of being held accountable for not being socially responsible then I suspect we’d see fewer people willing to say or do almost anything so long as it agreed with their beliefs or agendas. Oh Yes, there would also be a lot fewer folks ‘confused by the facts’ as well…