Monday, May 5, 2014

A Nation of Indolent Herbivores

Naturally, when I saw the title of Frank Bruni’s latest column I thought first about what the therapy culture has wrought.

Perhaps I am alone, but “America the Shrunken” immediately brings to mind the practice of headshrinking.

Obviously, mental health is not at issue. When I label therapy a culture I mean to say that it has been working to transform American culture. If Bruni is to be believed, it has succeeded, but the change has been for the worse.

In his words:

But our slide to No. 2 nonetheless seems inevitable, so much so that most Americans think it has already happened. For the last six years, when the Gallup Poll asked them which country was the world’s “leading economic power,” more answered China than said the United States. This year, the spread was an astonishing 52 to 31 percent. Fewer than one in three Americans puts us on top, even though we actually remain there.

More and more I get the sense that we’ve lost it, and by “it” I mean the optimism that was always the lifeblood of this luminous experiment, the ambition that has been its foundation, the swagger that made us so envied and emulated and reviled.

We’re walking small. And that shift in our gait and our gumption has been palpable for many years, during an unusually sustained period of frustration that has the feel of something more than a temporary dive: a turned corner, the downward arc of a diminished enterprise.

Dare we say that America has lost its manliness? Bruni suggests as much, though he is too polite to put it in those words.

Of course, today's American culture might merely reflect the state of mind of the current occupant of the White House. Few people understand how much the person of the president influences the nation. Once you elevate someone to the role of alpha male, people will emulate both his good and his bad.

Yes, America voted for Barack Obama, so perhaps he reflects America’s sense of itself. After all, if the nation did not know what it was getting the first time, it should have known by the second.

Of course, some people are thrilled by the transformation. They believe that America needed to be diminished, that America’s cowboy ethos needed to be taken down a notch… the better to bring about universal peace.

Those who think such thoughts are not unhappy. For all I know, their happiness depends largely on biochemistry, but they do deserve to have a say. Bruni explains their position:

Less assertiveness could mean less overreach. Less confidence could mean less hubris. And money isn’t everything.

A thoughtful college junior I know told me that while he didn’t envision a richer American economy in his future or a mightier American role in the world, he looked forward to a country with a warmer embrace of diversity, including gay marriage in every state. He itched to be a part of its creation.

As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for….

Unfortunately, the young generation has missed the essential. When you are the world’s alpha culture, when you are the world leader, abrogating your responsibility produces some very bad results.

It’s not very likely that everyone will now live in peace in the new Age of Aquarius. It’s more likely that, while you are contemplating the beauty of nature, other, less enlightened souls will be eating your lunch.

You may choose not to compete, but that does not mean that everyone else will retire from the fray. They will see your failure as an opportunity to gain ground.

Significantly, Bruni notes, when an economy does not keep producing wealth, politics can degenerate into struggles over smaller and smaller slices:

Still, I worry. Can a nation so long defined by its faith in an expansive frontier accept limits so easily? If we become convinced that the pie won’t grow, do our politics degenerate into endless squabbling over the slices? And isn’t pessimism a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Actions have consequences. When you set out to change the culture, to make it kinder and gentler, you might not be happy with the results. Joel Kotkin described the new culture in an article last year:

Rather than seek new worlds to conquer, or even hope to retain the accomplishments of prior generations, contemporary young Americans seem destined to confront a world stamped by ever narrowing opportunity, class distinction, and societal stagnation. Once a nation of competitive omnivores and carnivores, America could be turning more docile—a country of content, grazing herbivores.

If America takes competitive striving to be a negative value and it it demeans virtues associated with manliness  it will surely fall behind. If you are too squeamish to eat a hamburger, you will most likely become a less fearsome competitor.

Kotkin hopes, as we all do, that America will break out of its torpor, that the younger generation will overcome its indolence and insolence.

In his words:

The real issue here is not the declining validity of American aspiration, but overcoming the economic, political and social factors that threaten to suffocate it. Similar challenges—the concentration of wealth of the Gilded Age, the Great Depression, war, and environmental angst—have periodically appeared and were eventually addressed through technological innovation, and critical political and social changes. Rather than accept the shrinkage of the American prospect, we should seek ways to restore it for those who will inherit this republic.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to shrink a head than to unshrink it. A head once shrunk will likely to stay shrunk.


Ares Olympus said...

America is floundering because we can't pick a good Alpha Male like Mitt Romney? The more interesting dynamic to me is how much Obama got the minority vote.

Romney got 59% of the white vote, but only 6% of the black vote, 27% of the Latino vote, and 26% of the Asian vote. Wow!

I suggest this shows a problem, but I don't know what it is. 2016 is going to be an interesting year, if a functional economy still exists by then.

Maybe the GOP will implode by then, and we'll have 4 years of Hillary to finally find a new party to replace the dinosauric GOP that has lost its way.

n.n said...

I'm with the "thoughtful college junior". I envision progressive corruption and ultimately a dysfunctional convergence. There is evidence that a majority of Americans have rejected evolutionary fitness and moral behavior. Expanded liberty (i.e. without accountability) will only server to exacerbate the instability and accelerate its progress.

Let's abort/murder ten million Americans next year. Yes, we can!

Jocker said...

"The America in which I grew up was self-sufficient. Foreign trade was a small part of the economy. When I was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, the US still had a trade surplus except for oil. Offshoring of America’s jobs had not begun, and US earnings on its foreign investments exceeded foreign earnings on US investments. Therefore, America’s earnings abroad covered its energy deficit in its balance of trade.The economic stability achieved during the Reagan administration was shattered by Wall Street greed. Wall Street threatened corporations with takeovers if the corporations did not produce higher profits by relocating their production of goods and services for American markets abroad. The lower labor costs boosted earnings and stock prices and satisfied Wall Street’s cravings for ever more earnings, but brought an end to the rise in US living standards except for the mega-rich. Financial deregulation loaded the economy with the risks of asset bubbles." Maybe You should know this article, and this webpage

Anonymous said...

What's interesting about Bruni's and Kotkin's reflections are that the results are the logical consequences of their own bizarre political philosophy.


Dennis said...

Thanks Tip,

I could not stop laughing, to the point of tears, at the true in your statement. The left ignores history, everything begins to degrade, left finally notices, but cannot believe that their ideas created the problems, then begins the "ain't it awful" meme and then they blame everyone else after which they repeat the sequence never really understanding that if they wanted to know who keeps creating the problems all they would have to do is look in the mirror.
I have often wondered if this isn't HELL where we come to learn and improve our souls, but the vast majority of us just keep making the same mistakes and we wind up having to come back and try it again. It is almost the only thing that makes sense given the overarching stupidity that exists. It is not like we don't have a thousand examples of what works and what does not available to us. Then my optimism takes over again.

Anonymous said...


Who knew? More magical thinking. However, when magic doesn't work, you need a more potent alternative. Denial is a very powerful thing. When one eschews faith, denial is all you have left.

But we all know it's all Bush's fault. He did this!


Anonymous said...

And I'm glad I can always keep you laughing, Dennis. I hope you got that in my sarcasm calling "dangerous" last week.



Dennis said...


One small sentence just about covered it. Enjoyed the sarcasm immensely.

Being on the left means never having to take responsibility for poorly conceived ideas and the incompetence that follows. If one does not see the humor in a lot of this then one is not paying attention.

Anonymous said...

Dennis: I totally get it. I don't care about peoples' intentions, and it is good intentions that the Left claims time after time. I care about results. When supposed intentions trump results, we're doomed. Then again, follow the money, and the results don't work out for Lefties too badly, either. More dependency because of more delusional "caring." Which benefits their friends.


Sam L. said...

As we all know, The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions.

Anonymous said...

One of my best friends is a Boulder CO Liberal. All (or most) of the boxes checked.

I mentioned my entries here re: Islam Civ.

"You shouldn't do that. They might kill you!"

Fear ascendant. American manhood & courage & Liberties in decline.

Is it any wonder our problems seem insoluble? (I include most of our politicians) -- Rich Lara