Thursday, November 28, 2019

America's Gratitude Deficit

Naturally, even on Thanksgiving, it is impossible to ignore the graceless whining of the identity politics crowd. No longer are we allowed to celebrate a national holiday without hearing an army of scolds remind us of how badly we treated indigenous peoples.

Giving thanks for our blessings, giving thanks to God for an abundant harvest … these no longer matter as much as having the chance to self-flagellate for our ancestors’ sins.

Given how obsessed we are with our Selves, we refuse to accept the generosity offered by others, and certainly not the generosity offered by God. We are no longer grateful because we no longer want to feel that we depend on anyone but our Selves. We are so independent and autonomous, so thoroughly atomized, that we refuse to enter into the most elementary transactions with other people. We trust no one. We rely on no one. And we cannot figure out why we are so isolated.

David DeSteno explains the force of gratitude in the New York Times:

Research by the psychologist Sara Algoe has shown that when we feel grateful for other people’s thoughtfulness, we consider that they might be worth getting to know a little better. Gratitude pushes us to take the first steps in forming relationships with new people. And once we know people better, continued feelings of gratitude strengthen our ties to them. Feeling grateful to one person for a favor also makes us more likely to “pay forward” favors to others we don’t know — a phenomenon identified by the psychologist Monica Bartlett — which, in turn, can lead them to want to get to know us.

As for our loss of social connection, Joel Kotkin lays out the sad story in a recent column. Evidently, the loss is most evident in the young:

Most Americans, according to a Templeton Foundation survey, feel they receive little gratitude at home or the office. The feeling of gratitude appears to drop with age. Today’s millennials are the least grateful. This is not surprising given the new generations’ low levels of interest in the very things we are likely to feel grateful for, such as family, religion or America itself.

It is a symptom of a society that is fragmenting, where citizens are at war with other citizens. We have lost our sense of togetherness. Feeling more alone, we are also more vulnerable:

This loss of gratefulness, not unique to this country, is tied to the decline of critical social conventions that long held society together. The religious nature of the Thanksgiving was self-evident to the Puritans who settled New England, but it was also deeply communal, a shared experience between family, neighbors and congregants. “We must delight in each other, make others’ own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together,” as colonial leader John Winthrop put it.

We have lost religion. Since religion turns isolated individuals into a community, losing it is hardly inconsequential.

Religion, for all its undoubted spurs to divisiveness, underpinned their sense of gratitude that extended well beyond the Puritans. It later inspired even outsiders, such as Jews, Latinos and African Americans, to celebrate the New England experience. As Americans, we all embraced the notion that we were all fortunate for the blessings of home and family, even when paltry, that divinity bequeathed to us.

With the decline in religious observance, Thanksgiving, not surprisingly, seems to have lost its spiritual essence. It is a holiday now more identified with football and gluttony than anything of spiritual value.

Mary Eberstadt has analyzed the problem. Kotkin explains her analysis, whereby the loss of patriotic loyalty has forced people to cling to factions, to identity groups, based on victimhood and grievance:

With family and community ties weakened, Eberstadt notes, more people, again particularly the young, seek to embrace not the overall community, but an “identity” group. These are often based on grievance ideology built around sexual preference, race, gender identity or physical disability. Such identarian ideology is particularly common in our key intellectual centers such as Manhattan, where a majority of households are single. The hotbeds of identity politics — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston — all have among the lowest rates of family formation in the nation.

At root, Americans have lost their patriotism. They have lost their national pride. That loss became particularly marked during the Obama years. Would you be surprised to read that leftist students and Obamaphile Democrats were leading the march to deconstruct American love of country and American pride in country?

This loss of faith is particularly marked among the young. Nearly 40 percent of young Americans, for example, think the country lacks “a history to be proud of,” less than half the average for boomers. One-third of young Americans, according to one recent survey, have a favorable view of communism and most seem ready to jettison the market system essential to America’s evolution.

Kotkin issues a wake-up call:

If the Puritans, freezing in the New England fall and simply relieved not to be starving, could feel gratitude about the world, perhaps we, living in unimaginable physical comfort and freedom, should take the hint and emulate them.


Event Horizon said...

To quote Orwell:

"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control,' they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink.'"

More evident today than ever.

sestamibi said...

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha'olam, shehecheyanu, v'kimanu, v'higyanu, lazman hazeh.

sestamibi said...

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha'olam, shehecheyanu, v'kimanu, v'higyanu, lazman hazeh.

Happy Thanksgiving!

UbuMaccabee said...

Never in the history of the world have people been given so much as modern Americans have. My wife and I are solidly middle-class, but we live like Roman kings, I just received a full hip replacement and now have 100% mobility and no further pain. I eat Spanish almonds while drinking South African wines, with access to a library larger than Alexandria at my fingertips. Tiberius couldn’t dream of the life I lead.

I pray our gratitude is sufficient to warrant our blessings.

trigger warning said...

"these no longer matter as much as having the chance to self-flagellate for our ancestors’ sins."

Candidly, I enjoy watching the Left self-flagellate. I bask in their pain.