Saturday, November 21, 2015

American Ennui

A kind of listlessness  has descended on the American populace. There was a time when we stood for something, when we called our leaders to account, when stuff mattered, when we thought critically, when we made our voices heard. But those days are long gone. We seem not to care anymore. We have locked ourselves in a provincial bubble and just seem to be coasting along. Nothing matters, and this attitude is not born out of some sense of nihilism but more from a certain sense of self-satisfaction or just plain apathy. Knowing or the acquisition of knowledge, seems to have become of little importance to us. We appear not to care for the things taking place beyond our immediate sphere of existence, as so engulfed in our own bubble we have become. 

Critical thinking (paid lip-service to in schools but, unfortunately, not actually taught) is eschewed or avoided altogether because it has become too cumbersome or difficult. We want our ideas pre-packaged, requiring the minimum of thought. The task of thinking we have given over to the pundits, the experts, and the analysts on our news media. We prefer entertainment. Even things that are serious or of moment we want presented as entertainment. We have lost that wary skepticism, that willingness to scrutinize carefully, to demand the evidence, to question things, the ability to identify and test assumptions, to determine relevance and significance, and to examine the relationship among things. We accept everything and anything. We embrace new fads and trends today and throw them off for tomorrow's fads and trends. 

Our feelings rather than our reason often dictate our response to things. We can barely speak articulately. Our public debates are no debate at all. No one answers questions plainly and clearly anymore (especially not our politicians), and no one is called to account when this occurs. And it is precisely because of this kind of apathy that the democracy we fought so hard for is being threatened. Not threatened by outsiders, but threatened  by our unwillingness to broaden our awareness, to think for ourselves, and to make our voices heard. The very foundation of our freedom, our democracy is our awareness of things, our holding of shared human values, our ability to think critically, and our ability to speak/write clearly and thoughtfully. It's time to shake off the apathy.

[photo art by Ric Couchman]