“The Degradation of a Nation,” Or, “That’s Not How I See It At All”

Name and Place for July 29 (’14)

Last week, we posted a quote from David Wells’ God in the WhirlwindLike his other writings, this book is so good we’re going whirlwindto post a series of his quotes over the next 8 weeks.  Consider it an informal book review….

Now, our national issues are debated on TV. When a nation becomes absorbed in trivia, Neil Postman said (in Amusing Ourselves to Death), when life is reduced to nothing but entertainment, and the public discussion of our nation’s well-being is carried out in the baby talk of small TV sound bites, then we are getting the first whiffs of cultural death.  No longer is there a way to talk about what is good for society, and no longer is there an appetite to talk about any good other than that of private self-interest.

There comes those times in a nation’s life, Os Guinness has written, when its people rise up against the founding principles of their own nation.  This is one of those times in America.  It is far more dangerous than any terrorist attack.  It is, in fact, a “free people’s suicide,” as he puts it in the title of his book.  Why? Because what holds the republic together has never been simply the Constitution and our laws.  The law is an exceedingly blunt instrument when it comes to controlling human behavior.  There are many things that are unethical that are not illegal.  Most lying, for example, is not illegal but it is always unethical.  Ourcriminal and civil laws can control only so much of our behavior.  It is virtue that does the rest.  And that is precisely what is being eroded in this self-oriented, self-consumed culture.

Naval-Gazing: cute when babies do it.  Dumb when you do it.

Naval-Gazing: cute when babies do it. Dumb when you do it.

Here is the acid that is eating away at the nation’s foundations, degrading objective values, uprooting older customs, and leaving people with no clear sense of purpose and, indeed, no purpose at all other than their own self-interest. Under the postmodern sun, everyone has a right to their own version of reality.  When this comes about, any culture loses its ability to renew its own life.  The culture of the past is then converted into superficial formulae that float around the air waves and are passed, person to person, on the Internet.  It is served up again as kitsch, and everyone pretends this is the same, deep old thinking it once was.  It is not.  When this happens, we are in the “twilight of American culture,” as Morris Berman argues.



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