Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Crumbling of Our Culture: An Observation

My friend Lou Bailes, a funny, intelligent, former television news anchor does not suffer fools well, so when a "readie" shows up from her in my e-mail, I read it. This morning I got one that makes so much sense in a dispiriting way that I thought I'd share it in order to feel like I'd done something.

It is a column by a psychologist named Bruce Levine that ran on AlterNet yesterday and the long version is here. Following are some highlights:

A demoralized U.S. population is suffering from "abuse syndrome" and, like a beaten spouse, the more it is abused, the more demoralized and unlikely to strike back it becomes. The victim feels shame and humiliation, which leads to a weakened condition.

Levine quotes Justice John Paul Stevens following the highly-politicized Bush v. Gore decision in 2000: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law." Yet, says Levine, even this provoked few demonstrations. He concludes we "feel helpless to effect change."

When Bush later told one of his supporters at a fat-cat fund-raiser, "What a crowd tonight: the haves and the haves-more. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base," nobody complained, protested, blew up buildings. Nothing.

A study in 2004 showed that we have become so isolated from each other that "25 percent of Americans did not have a single confidant. The government and big business have worked together to create that isolation in a number of ways (union busting, "suburbanization, commuting, electronic entertainment, time and money pressures and other variables created by governmental-corporate policies").

As a nation, we have been "broken by socializing institutions that alienate us from our basic humanity." For example, students "learn to comply to authorities for whom they often have no respect, and to regurgitate material they often find meaningless. " College degrees have become "badges of compliance for corporate employers -- in exchange for learning to accept bureaucratic domination and enslaving debt.

Big Pharma sees to it that "increasing numbers of people in the U.S. who do not comply with authority are being diagnosed with mental illnesses and medicated with psychiatric drugs." Something called "Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is an increasingly popular diagnosis for children and teenagers. The official symptoms of ODD include, 'often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,' and 'often argues with adults.'" This sounds like a 1950s science fiction movie.

Levin notes that the Soviet Union crumbled in a "passive-aggressive revolution by simply getting depressed, staying drunk, and not doing anything."

Television has an enormous influened because it "(1) occupies people so that they don't know ... what a human being is; (2) separates people from one another; (3) creates sensory deprivation; (4) occupies the mind and fills the brain with prearranged experience and thought; (5) encourages drug use to dampen dissatisfaction ; (6) centralizes knowledge and information; (7) eliminates [comparisons to other cultures]; and (8) redefines happiness and the meaning of life."

And there's this one that we may all recognize from the recent season of material indulgence: "Consumerism breaks people by devaluing human connectedness, socializing self-absorption, obliterating self-reliance, alienating people from normal human emotional reactions, and by selling the idea that purchased products -- not themselves and their community -- are their salvation."

In order to break these chains, he says, stay away from mental health professionals: "The talents required are a fearlessness around image, spontaneity, and definitely anti-authoritarianism. But these are not the traits that medical schools or [that] graduate schools select for or encourage."

Levine suggests a few simple steps toward recovery, and concludes: "the immobilized need a shot of morale."

It's a long piece, well worth your time. If you have enough strength left to care.


  1. Good stuff Dan. For me, it serves as an important reminder. I've been spending some time lately thinking the point and purpose of the Greater Raleigh Court Civic Leagues, since I'll be President starting in May.

    I think community building will continue to be the important work of the next decade, and local groups like GRCCL are an important fabric in this work. How to achieving this goal? Well...more to come.

  2. Chad, I'd like to meet you :)...
    and Dan, thanks again.

  3. Chad and Eldon: You boys get together. You have a lot to talk about. Dan