American Culture in 2018: Confusion, the Absurd and the Tragic

Mar 10th, 2018 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

It is difficult in 2018 to know whom to trust, what is accurate and where one should go to obtain reliable information and perspective on the state of things.  In an era of Facebook, Instagram and ?Google-knowledge,? the worlds of politics and Pop culture are inextricably linked, it seems.  As columnist Daniel Henninger observes, ?The culture of social media?a tireless preoccupation with fleeting surface effects?has changed all media.?  Years ago, cultural critic and observer Marshall McLuhan predicted (at the dawn of the TV age) that mass media would engulf everything, for, he argued, ?the medium is the message.?  Our social media culture has enhanced the confusion, the absurd and the tragic in our current culture.  Allow me to explain:

  • One of my favorite columnists is George Will. Recently, he summarized an important study released by the Rand Corporation entitled, Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life, written by Michael D. Rich and Jennifer KavanaghTheir basic thesis is that the public?s mental bandwidth is being stressed by today?s torrent of information?the Internet, social media, cable TV and talk radio.  They further discern four trends inimical to fact-based discourse and policymaking:
  1. Increasing disagreement about facts and the interpretation of them.
  2. The blurring of the line between fact and opinion.
  3. The increasing quantity of opinion relative to facts.
  4. The declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

The result, they argue, is the propensity of Americans to gather in their own silos, seeking and receiving only congenial facts.  In the language of human psychology and sociology, these silos deepen the proclivity for ?confirmation bias? and ?motivated reasoning.?  The result is the ?segregation of the like-minded,? which further produces polarization in the culture.  An additional result is not the facilitation of genuine critical thinking skills but mere confirmation of biases already present.  In a democratic-republic, this is not a healthy development.  As a culture, we have lost the ability to present reasoned arguments about our serious challenges, debate them and then come to some resolution, which usually involves some form of compromise, to solve the problems of our culture.

  • Second, the entitlement culture that developed in the 20th century America has reached a new level of absurdity: The ?emotional-support animal.?  There is little doubt that seeing-eye dogs are necessary and need to be accommodated, even on an airplane.  But columnist George Will informs us that ?The rapid increase of emotional-support animals in airplane cabins is an unanticipated consequence of a federal law passed with the best intentions . . .

In 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development told providers of public housing that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandates ?reasonable accommodations? for people who require ?assistance animals.?  The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 allows access to animals trained to provide emotional support.  Federal guidelines say airlines must allow even emotional-support animals that have a potential to ?offend or annoy? passengers, but that airlines are allowed to?let us not sugarcoat this?discriminate against some ?unusual animals?.?  Therefore, a New York photographer and performance artist named Ventiko recently was denied to board a flight from Newark to Los Angeles with her ?emotional-support peacock,? for which Ventiko had bought a ticket.  Will:  ?In contemporary America, where whims swiftly become necessities en route to becoming government-guaranteed entitlements, it is difficult to draw lines.?  But airlines are now drawing lines:

  1. JetBlue says no ?unusual animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.?
  2. Southwest requires papers from credentialed experts certifying ?a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?4th?
  3. Delta has itemized ?incidents? of animals urinating, defecating, biting, etc. Thus, they say no hedgehogs or creatures with tusks.

Will wisely maintains that ?the proliferation of emotional-support animals suggests that a cult of personal fragility is becoming an aspect of the quest for the coveted status of victim.  The cult is especially rampant at colleges and universities, which increasingly embrace the therapeutic mission of assuaging the anxieties of the emotionally brittle.  There, puppies are deployed to help students cope with otherwise unbearable stresses, such as those caused by final exams or rumors of conservatism.?

  • Finally, the tragic?abortion. A recent book by Katie Watson demonstrates that nearly one in five American pregnancies ends in abortion and that nearly one in four American women will have an abortion in her lifetime.  But it is the late-term abortion that we, as a culture, rarely talk about.  In the poisonous atmosphere of Washington, about a month ago, the US Senate blocked a bill that would have banned most abortions after 20 weeks.  (Exceptions were made?the life of the mother, incest, rape.)  As columnist Peggy Noonan contends, ?Twenty weeks?right up to the start of the sixth month?seemed reasonable.  But Democrats said it was an assault on women?s rights.  So, as far as the Senate is concerned, you can end the life of a 6-to-9 month-old baby that can live outside the womb that is not only human but recognizably and obviously human.?  Between that 6-to-9 month period, a mother feels her baby lurch, but never exclaims ?A conglomeration of cells is making itself manifest.?  No, she shouts, ?my baby just moved!!?

A real thermometer of our culture?s decadence is that we embrace the need for ?emotional-support animals? as an entitlement for some people, but refuse to grant any protection whatsoever for a 6-to-9 month old baby growing in a mother?s womb.  We are a confused and tragic culture with its priorities in shambles and its virtues and values non-existent.  I can think of no better example of the downward spiral of evil than these three items in this Perspective.  We are indeed a nation under judgment.

Comments Closed