It is cliché to report that institutions are under a cloud of distrust, in a tilt so far from acceptable and legitimate criticism that the cloud seems to have infused itself into the spring of 2017. Is it just the institutions that have lost their lustre? Or perhaps has the bloom come off the personal ‘rose’ as well?
Our public, and much of our private, discourse is so ugly and contaminated with anger, bitterness, contempt, cynicism and suspicion of everyone and everything that it reminds of a health epidemic, for which we do not have a pill, or even a diagnostic instrument. Amorphous, ethereal, ephemeral, and invisible, without either scent or taste, this attitudinal cloud has to be both named and cleared if we are to move past it.
Oh but….you say….there are still acts of kindness and compassion on every street, in every town and city on the planet. Scientists are still diligently researching cures for major human illnesses; doctors are performing often miraculous measures to both save and to enhance human lives. Nurses, social workers, teachers, and clergy continue their relentless pursuit of raising up those in need of a ‘hand-up’. Police still provide a moderating influence on the body politic, while shopkeepers open their doors to sell their wares, more supplemented by art and artifacts from around the world than ever before in history. Millions of people fly around the world in such statistical safety and security that their car and truck peers can only envy.
We know and integrate more information about healthy living habits, raising the age of death in many countries, and openly and aggressively search for racial and gender equality more deliberately than previously in history.
So, what could be compelling this open and draining boil in the culture?
In solely anecdotal terms, (deemed neither useful nor reliable for social, political and thought leaders) we read, hear and engage in stories about the depravity and the desperation and the seemingly completely insensitive, inhumane, and unbelievable acts by humans against other human beings. Guards in Ontario’s provincial prisons use solitary confinement excessively as a “discipline” for recalcitrant inmates. Speculators so inject the residential real estate market that “housing” has to be publicly asserted as the purpose of a residence, not mere speculation. Major news corporations spend 90% of their air time on the machinations of the most absurd political utterances, and then tuck in a three-minute piece to close about an armless young boy who, after years of rejection on the basketball court, finally joins a school team and pot the winning basket. It is almost as if such stories (On the Road with Tom Hartman, CBS) while commendable, are meant to serve as a sedative to calm the anxiety from the previous 25 minutes. Drug companies buy air-time on national broadcasts to warn the public about the dangerous side-effects of their latest “miracle” pill, cream, drink or injection. Abandoned babies are found dead near an urban church. Alabama mounts an intense “killing” campaign for death row inmates, ‘because the drug they use is about to lose its “best-before” date, while opponents attempt to push back with court injunctions. We know the people who read and comment on the public news better than we know our next-door neighbours. We measure our daily work output in terms of revenue, units produced and cost-cutting suggestions while we remain on-guard for another shoe to drop when we screw up (not if, because we inevitably will screw up!).
We absorb a steady diet of self-congratulations, or self-acquitting rationalizations from our public leaders, without a single instance of acknowledged responsibility, accepted culpability, regret and/or remorse. It is a non-nourishing information flow “engineered” to starve our normal human instincts of both ordinariness and unity, merely to serve the narcissistic needs of survival by the politicians. Insults, even when layered with BS, are still insults! Don’t they get it? And we keep drinking their distorted ‘stories’!
Public policy debates, bereft of the heft of credible information, fall prey to ideological pandering, wanton deception and headline-grabbing tweets, as mature adulthood gives way to a public mentality of pre-adolescence, complete with a heavy and persistent dose of bullying, blaming and deriding…all with the impunity that attends animal-preying by adults on children around the world.
Sounds more than a little “preachey” doesn’t it?
Well, perhaps anger that is directed to a social and cultural dynamic in which we are all participants, has little choice but to sound “preachey”….
And of course “preachey” is counter-productive and counter intuitive given the level of receptivity, respect and engagement we are experiencing.
Let’s start with retail…where customers, in employee training sessions of decades ago, were “always right” and that training today has slid smoothly and silently into the trash-bin. If you know or can find a retail worker who actually operates on that premise, tell him/her how much you really appreciate the respect, the extra effort and the way s/he ‘does business’. Customers too often find something wrong with the service, the product, the price or all three and those working in customer service deserve a medal for their restraint and their repression of the things they really want to say.
Just today, I encountered a jovial satiric and ironic person who blurted, “You have to stop 'p------' people off!”
To which I replied, “I did not know that I was doing that!”
“Well, I sure know how to 'p---' people off; in fact I could teach you lessons on how to do it!” came his rebuttal.
“Sure, I could enroll in the KM Finishing School and get some tips!” I laughed as he walked away.
Proud of his reputation for annoying others, this man seems to fit “hand-in-glove” with the current culture.
As another acquaintance put it, all forms of civility, respect, gratitude and gracefulness seem to have been evaporated out of the heart of the culture. Ironically, at least for Canadians, as the number of fisticuffs in professional hockey has dropped, the frequency of harsh-speak and bitter-tongues has spiked.
Are we suffering from an epidemic of narcissism in a world of significantly diminished expectations of the “material” kind? Or have we reached our “fill” of the latest gadget, fashion and entertainment piece, filling our psychic “guts” with trash and then are we attempting to emulate the raw furiousness we see everywhere around us?
It is not only shame and remorse, regret and civility that have atrophied. It is a sense of shared responsibility for each other, (outside of extremis), for the planet, and for the future of our grandchildren that seems to haunt the cubicles and the retail establishments, including the restaurants at the lower and medium end of the “food chain” if you will pardon the pun.
Children who “bad-mouthed” their parents were rare in the recent past; today they are more frequent, and, in some quarters, similar attitudes take the busses to our schools. Flippancy, paper-thin arrogance as a mask for insecurity may be the phenomenon I am attempting to describe. There is a sauciness and a nastiness in the air that seems to have found both an ear and a mouthpiece in the Oval Office.
Yet, underneath this sauciness and flippancy, sarcasm and venom there is a raging spirit of hate, whether directed to women, immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Jews, or anyone who might be different from the majority. The recent rise of populism, (how ironic is that name, given the exclusivity of its mouth-pieces) is really a political cover for contempt for the former establishment, in another loud and hollow shout from what we used to call the “peanut gallery”….given its vacuity.
It is not that the establishments have really failed us; it is more like the fact that change has overtaken everything, without a concomitant level of regulation, restraint and control by the state, and raw, furious and unleashed individualism of the jungle mentality has reared its ugly and angry voice and the hair on its neck.
It is as if there is unleashed a case of human “rabies” for which we do not have either an antidote or a repressant. The human species might be so frightened and so desperate that whether consciously or unconsciously, we seem to be grabbing everything as if time is running out.
Sad, and unlikely to be tamped down soon.