We have met the enemy, and we are the Me GenerationPosted: Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I’ve been thinking about Sunday’s excellent post on Whiskey Fire about the nature of and trend toward violence and individualism and the American psyche. A lot of people hearken back to The Founders, whether they’re justifying their latest wingnut tea party or just generally popping off about American ruggedness and enterprise. And ruggedness and enterprise are good things, they really are. But Jake T. Snake’s closing comments about our focus on the American individual spirit, rather than the communal spirit, go back as far as cowboy movies, but they truly don’t go back to the Founders. Seems like you can’t espouse a point of view about working for the common good of society and helping your fellow citizen without getting labeled as a socialist, or worse.
But the Founders, for all their focus on freeing themselves from British tyrany and fighting for their right to self-determination, decidedly came down on the side of working for the common good. What the hell is a successful Revolution is you’re going it alone? The spirit of Civic Life was what motivated the Founders, to a point where they scarcely mentioned it, since it was such an obvious and ingrained factet of their lives. It was so ingrained, I’d argue, that they perhaps overcompensated (to our jaundiced, hindsighted eyes) by focusing on the individual.
Even the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is written in the spirit of community and the protection of society, rather than of the individual. The amendment begins: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” says what it says. The right says nothing about protecting oneself, except for protecting this right itself.
Today, would you get enough people together to agree that George Washington would lead our Army? How about a veritable All-Star team convening to create a new Constitution, to create Congress and our system of checks and balances?
Sure, the Founders had their palatial estates, their Monticellos, their Mount Vernons, their Peacefields. But even there, they always seemed to be entertaining guests, engaging in civic discussion, planning the next movement, penning letters and books. They didn’t wall themselves off in their monstrous McMansions and get lost in American Idol and Facebook (ironically, the most social activity many Americans engage in on the Web, and it still amazes me how much Facebook is about talking at people, not with them; and I’m as guilty of this as the next Facebooker).
Even Washington, who, after the Revolution, just seemed to want to retire to his estate and be left alone, knew his duty lay with the people, for the betterment of society.
We’re a long way from there. We’ve collectively become a 130-year-old Me Generation.