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The New Hubris

November 20, 2012

Every election year, a mirror is held up to our culture.

A couple of elections ago, anti-gay marriage amendments to state constitutions helped Bush win the Presidency, a fact which now seems from another generation.

Similarly, the “War On Drugs” was extrapolated in the last generation into “Zero Tolerance” at many institutions  Now, after this election, marijuana is going to be viewed with the same level of restriction as Coors in Colorado – and soon many other locales.

“Times change.”  But there seems to be, to me, something deeper going on.

Record numbers of voters four years ago became virtual ambivalence in 2012 despite two billion (with a “b”) dollars being spent to hype enthusiasm on both sides.

It’s hard to imagine that fewer voters voted for Mitt Romney than voted for John McCain, but it’s true.  And six million fewer voters voted for Barack Obama in his second election. These stats happened as the total of eligible voters has climbed in each election.

But even more weirdly, about the same number of voters voted in this election as voted in 2004, when the twin buzzkills of George W. Bush and John Kerry headlined the event.  In 2004 W was only 1.5 million voters shy of 2012 Obama, and they tied in percentage of those voting: 50.73%…

Perhaps the most disturbing and revealing aspect of the current political mentality is that within one week of the election, 650,000 people, in all 50 states, began the official (and completely fruitless)  act of petitioning for their state’s secession from the Union.


There seems to be a dilution of our desire for “larger” social connections – like voting – in favor personal expression. My own ever-tolerant, “Via Media” (inclusively in the middle) Episcopal Church in the US lost 21% of its membership in the last generation, whereas the more pungently projective views of Evangelical Christianity and strident Atheism are on the rise. Whether it’s “Jesus is my personal savior” or “You are a fool if you believe in Jesus” or secession from the United States, its “me” that matters more than “us”.

To me, the common thread in all of this seems to be a waning of deference, humility and circumspection in favor of “me” – a New Hubris. I do not think this is about red state/blue state radicalization, as today’s climate is a hug fest compared to the 1960’s. This is not about ideology, or the Libertarian/Ayn Randian wing of the Republican Party would be ascending, versus falling away. And the often predicted push for a third party never gets out of the cult of personality status of a Ross Perot.

Our cultural attitude seems to slouching into a place of pissed-off narcissism.  The enabler of this ‘tude,  may be the 110,000,000 “smart phones” Americans have acquired in the last decade, making every owner the Info–Master of his or her own Universe. It’s hard to acknowledge fallibility when the wisdom of the world accompanies you 24/7/365.

Going into our fourth year of economic anxiety, personal entitlement should, logically, be on the wane in favor of the Great Depression spirit of shared survival. But social logic seems to be finding solace in a newly empowered “me”, versus comfort in herding. We are turned on by Ultimate Fighting where there are no rules save preventing death. We love Reality TV where each “performer” could easily be “me”.

But that personalization has a cost. When you are the medium and the message, you can be judged pretty harshly – and the anonymity of the cyber world that has created this New Hubris means “flaming” by others who are following their empowered “me” (“trolls”) is reaching exquisite heights of absurdity.

The more defensive you are, the easier it is to be outraged. A time of downward expectations crimps a higher sense of purpose other than individual survival. Whether you railed against the idea that “47%” are “takers”, or “you didn’t build that”, those unscripted quips cut many to the bone in a way I found disturbing. The reactions had no sense of perspective, only deep personal offense at awkward extemporizing.

Not even the “World Wide Web” can seduce us into the sense that most superficial of commonalities, the Internet itself, creates a larger sense of common purpose.  In fact, quite the opposite.  For the first time in recorded history, texting is on the wane.

Think about that.  Despite an ongoing flood of instruments allowing for free access to everyone else in the world, we are feeling less motivated to communicate.

This is maybe why we are feeling less motivated to vote, are losing faith in larger social realities, and are thinking less beyond the here-and-now. Guilt from your peers used to motivate compliance, now it offers up a foil for each of our “specialness”. So billions of dollars of surgical hype strikes by the best and brightest propagandists motivates fewer people to vote, versus ginning up enthusiasm.

This New Hubris fosters a culture where the soloists on American Idol are worshipped as extensions of each of us. More opt for tattoos to be vehicles of our self worth versus beliefs or acts. Being stoic seems foolish when there are so many low or no effort ways to immediately express yourself.  Humility is truly unfashionable when a blog (like this!), a You Tube video or a really cool tatt can flame the world with your awesomeness.

Perhaps the recent loss of enthusiasm with voting is simply because we all want to be candidates ourselves.

The problem is that you cannot listen when you are talking. The loss of the value found in listening in favor of the rush of speaking out may render our culture deaf to the rewards of sacrifice.  “Attention must be paid” can only work when a majority of people shut up long enough to listen.  More and more, it seems like we are talking loudly to ourselves in a crowded room, and I don’t like it.

Technology has spawned ‘new brain’

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2012 8:05 pm

    Haste makes Mitt George and fatigue makes stoners of us all…


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