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Friday, March 03, 2006

The Down Side of Flower Power

Something insidious has been happening in our society. It's been going on for a long, long time, but I just put my finger on it the other day when listening to President Bush's speech in India.

Neither Benny or I are big fans of President Bush or the Iraq war. Having grown up in the Viet Nam era, it makes me feel so sad that we're back at it with a new generation of young people after so long. But when President Bush said, "Don't fall for the assumption that people are satisfied with the status quo of tyranny and abuse in their countries - rather, side with the rebels and the forces of freedom, and give them the opportunity to make their own choice," it made me think.

In fact I turned to Benny and said, "No matter how poorly it sifts down to the people at the bottom of the caste system whether here or in India, those are noble ideals."

"It's just talk," Benny replied, "The problem with freedom is that companies have too much freedom to abuse and misuse people."

I knew instantly what he was referring to, because we have both lost our jobs and know many other good and qualified people who have lost theirs while the rest of the world goes its merry way untouched, seemingly unaware of inherent unfairnesses such as "at will employment," job outsourcing, companies moving out of the country, and the proliferation of low-wage, part-time jobs, with no benefits that are hitting hard at the middle class and at all levels of education and work experience in this country.

But that's not really my point here. My point is that in his speech, President Bush made a well-reasoned argument that caused Benny and me to engage in a bit of thoughtful conversation about things that frustrate us - a rare occurrence for us during his six years in office. We usually just tune him and the media out. It's just easier sometimes to pretend they don't exist.

I have to think back to my youth to figure out when things started to get out of hand. I came of age in the flower power generation. I saw the inhibitions of the '50's give way to the new-found freedoms of the '60's, and it seemed to me then that the sky was the limit. But somewhere in the 70's and 80's, punk rock replaced folk rock, journalism went "Geraldo," the ERA got tabled, unions started to decline, movies went action-adventure, and The Silent Majority, that vast faceless entity which we all assumed evened out the extremes across varied groups of society and helped common sense to prevail in the way we live and govern, was replaced by The Moral Majority which at first glance appeared to be the same thing, but which subsequently pulled the lid off a new Pandora's box of extremisms.

We need to pay more attention to phrases in this country. Consider the following:

War on Poverty
War on Drugs
War on Terror

The first thought that comes to my mind when regarding these phrases is that we haven't eliminated poverty. We haven't eliminated crime. What does that say about our chances of eliminating terrorism by war? Hopefully we won't eliminate more of our freedoms while trying to fight it. Anyway, whole worlds of meaning can be lost in the subtle shift of a phrase, and sometimes turn it into a wolf in sheep's clothing.

But neither is all that my point. What I started out to write about (great - she's FINALLY getting to the point) is a slowly emerging pattern of short-circuiting cognition and rationality in our culture. As just noted, this has been happening for a long time, and I believe it's the reason that we are so polarized at present, right against left, conservative against liberal, right to choice against right to life, and a host of other divides that many of you could add to this list. We hear so little of reasoned argument and well-applied rhetoric - the voices we need to make us go "Hmmm..."

Instead of reason, we get the irate, the rude, the sensational, and the outrageous. As a result, we often get pissed off and turned off before we ever get a decent chance to hear and absorb the point that would give us pause. To use our cognition.

We used to look toward public platforms of speech and communication to model and uphold the rational, responsible, and thoughtful conversation so necessary to our democracy. But more often than not we now get political smear campaigns instead of some semblance of intelligent debate. We get abrasive commentary by talk show hosts that makes a finger nail scraping down a blackboard sound like music to your ears by contrast. And instead of the myriad every day human predicaments in "Leave it to Beaver" that celebrate and explore the ordinary, we get programming that exceeds all bounds of reason, common sense, and good taste on "reality" TV.

Don't get me wrong. I'm aware that's it's always been the fashion to be outrageous. Perhaps the roots lie in how we mature in modern society. Each generation takes their turn rebelling against the status quo and staking out their own identity. But somewhere in this process we seem to have shorted out logic and cognition, more often than not by rudeness, bad manners, and lack of respect, courtesy, and consideration. This is our new role model and our new export to the world. How sad.

Which brings me back to a rhetorical question, "What ever happened to The Silent Majority," that vast nameless entity that seemed to balance out our extremism? Well, perhaps some generation in the not too distant future will rebel once again and this time re-discover the discarded gifts of self-regulation and reason. We can only hope. In the meantime maybe blogs can finally tell us what The Silent Majority really thinks. :)

So Blog on, America!


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