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American Culture: How to Reconcile the Brutal and the Effete?

August 25th, 2013 - 6:24 am

I’m deeply confused about American culture. Let me cite two incidents as examples and then talk about some attitudes I hear about from my son’s reports on visits with friends. Perhaps readers can explain this contradiction between the effete and the brutal.

 

Arriving in the United States, I go to the nearby Trader Joe’s food store. It is of course very PC. At the checkout counter, the clerk asks, “Have you returned anything?” I did a double-take. Is this a bid for higher taxes? A taunt to the 1 percent who shop there?

 

No, he explains that they have some kind of program about bringing back bags. “The people in Bethesda,” he smugly asserts, “are the smartest!”

 

By coincidence, I had just heard some article saying that using returned bags is potentially dangerous since there can be some food remnants that rot and may breed bacteria. (I certainly don’t know what is true scientifically.) Unable to resist, and out of curiosity, I said, “Maybe they are not the smartest,” and explained my concern.

 

Instantly, he changed his attitude, snarled and said, “They’re the smartest!” No contradiction would be tolerated. Anyway, he started it. But given all the waste involved in a supermarket business–let’s start with the packaging–the small but highly right-thinking-people gesture of reused bags strikes me as a laughable symbol. Not to mention the fact that Trader Joe’s isn’t giving out food to the poor or opening stores to take big losses in what Michelle Obama calls, “food deserts.”

 

Is this salvation on the cheap, like those in wealthy California coastal cities that take away the farmers’ water to save some obscure fish and then congratulate themselves on their enlightenment?

 

About the same time, I sit in a sandwich place and a song comes on the radio. My jaw drops. A female singer repeats the lyric, “I said drive, bitch,” apparently it’s a car-jacking?  She just keeps going over and over again in a very aggressive tone. At the end, the sound effect indicates that the female driver has been shot and fell down dead.

 

I sat there speechless. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If there is a “war on women” isn’t it actually waged most vigorously in certain sectors of popular music? The same could be said of the music of the much honored Jay-Z or many others.

 

Now perhaps this is a silly taking of two extreme phenomena, and I’ll accept that verdict if that’s what you think. But it symbolizes perhaps a bigger thing. On one hand, American culture today (should I say popular culture?) is one of watch your language,  goody-goody, we are just so virtuous. There is rap music and the message given to children in Politically Correct lessons.

 

On the other hand, though, on film, television, literature, music, and public discourse it is intolerant and at times proudly brutal. Is that a valid observation? And if so how is this tension reconciled?

 

During a visit to the United States, conversations among young teenage boys, who in school were subjected to intense indoctrination,  run like this:

 

–They make fun of alleged gays among them, flinging the charge as insulting but then quickly adding, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

 

–They show very vile disrespect toward girls of their age. It doesn’t seem that there is any change over the decades, but there certainly isn’t a reduction of “sexist” attitudes. They discuss them far more openly. The concept of gentleman or even restrained behavior is gone, perhaps in conjunction with the musical examples. Attitudes that would once have been derided as “low-class” by the elite have now become common place. So how is there then an elite setting a good example?

 

–They use far more racial epithets and negative stereotypes of others than my generation, though it is covered by frequent accusations that this or that is racist. Dubbing of something as racism is used as a weapon, a description of something one doesn’t like.

 

–They see themselves as part of some downtrodden class even though they are financially well-off. For example, they talk about rich white people but when pointed out that they live in big houses, they say the houses are bigger in some other neighborhoods.

 

–They assume that nobody could possibly consider not voting for Obama.

 

–They said that “rednecks” and “racists” should be sent to fight in Iraq, not recognizing any merit in the military or in the people who serve in it, whom they look down on. A baby is punishment, as Obama (punished with a baby) memorably explained and so is serving one’s country, as Kerry did (drop out of school, end up in Iraq). What does that serve but producing deep cynicism; 50 million abortions and no service?

 

–Since I don’t want to reveal who they are, two left-wing Democrats in private shocked me by saying bigoted statements against ethnic groups. I have never heard this before. One told someone else that a certain child should not speak audibly in criticism of Obama in public.

 

Whether this is typical, I have no idea, but it repeats the contradiction of giving lip service to all sorts of PC ideas but really not truly accepting them at all. I think it is possible that this high school generation may actually be more homophobic, racist, and sexist than predecessors because they are so cynical about these things.

 

As I said, I don’t say these are typical, and I’d like to hear more views. And of course the country is quite big and things differ in various places. Still, I wonder if there is such a thing as vast amounts of unseen indoctrination when I hear of a 14-year old who explaining that his parents sold their house and moved, explained “with a sneer that “a rich white couple” bought it.

 

He may see himself as an oppressed Hispanic, but his ancestors come from Italy and both of his parents are senior officials at a large bank.

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Top Rated Comments   
There's a name which comes out of the past, both brutal and effete: Elagabalus.

That's where the U.S. stands now. As corrupt as the worst of Rome.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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Broadly I would say that America has been so rich so long that it has lost it's grip on reality. The particular dynamic I see in operation here is what psychologists call the shadow. We suppress all the inner voices and impulses that contradict our self image and project it on others unconsciously. So good people knows that all the bad people live in Israel and Texas. The longer it goes on the more split off the denied negative side, which we all have, become autonomous. Hence the brutality in the midst of too good to be true behaviour. This is not hypocrisy, because the behaviour is too unconscious.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
About the bag bit: apparently the Trader Joe's you shopped at is in Montgomery County, Maryland, where we have a five cent tax per plastic bag and a five cent credit if you bring your own bag. So the clerk had to ask the bag question so he could ring up your tab properly.

The tax was introduced to reduce the litter of empty plastic bags flying all over the place. The measure is both annoying and effective.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here's another way of explaining it:

When an idea long held becomes increasingly hard to maintain in light of the changing world, there are two possible responses: throw it away, or cling to it with redoubled fanaticism. Something like that has been happening to the entire Western culture. That's why primitive barbarism and extreme liberalism seem to exist side by side.

Only seem to exist: because the liberalism is not deeply rooted. It's the sort of extremism that might suddenly change into its opposite, like the mechanical image of the pendulum.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the politically correct, ultra goody-goody, exhibits itself not just in America, but throughout the western world. In Toronto, Canada their city hall deemed plastic bags as evil and wanted to ban all plastic bags. It was a ridiculous notion. It's Leftist PC. (I think it bears resemblance to the anti-science anti vaccination movement, the over 40 communities in Canada which now ban fluoride in water, the global warmists, and the re-primitivism of the anti-industrialists -- these individuals insist that everyone (except themselves) should live like a 19 century pioneer (sans electricity, running water or central heating). So in Canada we have our environmentalist (dubbed Saint Suzuki) who owns three mansions and is beloved by the Leftist media and who preaches extreme austerity for average Canadians. (It's elevated to a religion). So I don't think it's unique to America (?). But that other extreme? The brutal one? A month or so ago I had the tv on during the afternoon (typically I never watch tv in the afternoon). And I saw, to my horror, a CBS program called "The Talk". I could not believe what I saw -- the sheer vulgarity, ignorance -- even calling it " trailer trash" doesn't capture its foulness. At that moment I think I better understood how an American electorate could re-elect a character like Obama to the presidency. (I only visit the States on rare occasions -- I've lost touch -- but today's America is not the America I grew up in).
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
There's a name which comes out of the past, both brutal and effete: Elagabalus.

That's where the U.S. stands now. As corrupt as the worst of Rome.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mike of Mass and JFSanders, I thank you both for your remarks. I have lived 30+ years in Germany, am in many ways Germanized, but in my heart of hearts I retain a love for America, a love inherited particularly from my mother. Oh yes, Mr. Sanders, she came from a farming family, "poor white trash" that migrated from Tennessee after the war (Civil War, that is) to California and through hard farm work made it. I remember as a young boy, 5 or 6 years of age, climbing into a 1938 Chevy in San Diego during the war and undertaking the 8 hour drive north to Chauchilla in the Sacramento Valley, hoping all the time that the engine would not boil over (again). (This was during WW II, my father was somewhere fighting.) Just the arrival at the family farm, the atmosphere, the solidarity, the familial fun. During the big family meals I never dared to say "margerine" (which replaced butter during the war) or else my granddad would, well, have the urge to tan my hide. "Butter", that was the word of a "real" farmer. A fond, fond memory of my mother was harvest time (say, 1910). The family could not do it on its own. Neighbors came and helped, only later to be helped by my mother's family. Sort of like the image one has of the Amish. The mutual cooperation, support and, yet, self-reliance, that kind of sociality impressed itself upon the "rural" character of my mother who retained a willingness to help others her whole life.

My father, on the other hand, was a Navy officier --his battleship, The California, had been sunk at Pearl Harbor. From him I learned to say with pride "yes mam', yes sir" and to stand up with respect whenever a woman entered the room. Discipline, indeed, but not contrary to the rural upbring of my mother, just formalized civlity. That is the America I remember. In 1956 I graduated from High School with much "hope" and "can do" (yes, the future blah-blah propaganda of Obama). I was sure that I would make it and I did.

There was stress and strain between ethnic groups. What the heck, we even thought that Italo-Americans were a bit dark. So it was way back then. Rough at times, but relatively civil (alas, excluding Blacks from our civility--our deep sin). But we lived together with a certain courtesy and harmony that seems to be so absent from today's America. Barry Rubin (an American who has spent a great deal of his life in Israel as I have in Germany) returns home and writes the most dismaying article he has ever written (at least for me) describing his experience. It saddens me. I do not wish to experience it directly, enough through tv.

What have we lost, Mr. Sanders? I will remain here, buy an apartment next to the Rhine River near Remagen (remember the film "The Bridge of Remagen" -the ruins can still be seen). There the community is smaller and, well, gabbier. I guess that is about as rural as one gets in Germany.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a consequence of identity/ethnic politics. We are no longer individuals to be judged by our merits or character but by whatever collective we are assigned. Thus we are derisive and snide to the other collectives.everyone needs someone to feel superior to. This is a more homophobic/racist/antisemitic culture. However, it is expressed cautiously. The great social challenge ( offline) is how to vet others to see if they share your prejudices.
The effort event of language codes to prevent children from insulting each other (retard is now verboten) just leads to more inventive insults. Perhaps this is the true innovation economy. Most teachers I know are sick of the progressive pablum they are force fed. Treating minorities with kid gloves lest their self esteem be punctured,thus risking a charge of racism is the norm. College students and doctoral candidates must regurgitate sixties era ideology rather than provide critical thought with the hindsight of a generation or be failed is the norm.this creates enclaves of thought and a more divisive and derisive social environment
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Go rural young man.

If only because the propaganda tells you that is where the bigots and bitter clingers are. Prof. lw's culture exists in the rural environment. I know because I live here and raised my family here and coexist with a diverse community of like minded people from varied cultures, why we even have a synagogue! We also have some of the same problems as the urban areas, albeit smaller in size but the same in effects.

The rural population makes up an overwhelming majority of our military and most likely always will unless there is a return to conscription. I cannot ever see myself leaving the Southern U.S. for any length of time barring a civil war. I have and will continue to judge a person by the content of their character and adjust my behavior accordingly. As the character in John Wayne's last film said, “I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow, Mr. Rubin! I too am an American, but have lived 30+ years in Germany and have no intention of returning to the US, not even for a visit. There are various reasons of no relation to your experience as so described. There are, however, reasons related to your experience. From here out, American "talk" seems to thrive on a renewed clarion call of "racism". I avidly watch American news, read what the rich (sic) oppressed have to say the "white" 1%, etc. Years ago as I began my stay here I enjoyed Germany just because I was pleased not to hear, as in America, the language of "Miror, miror, on the wall, who is the racist of them all --> color in white." In the wake of the Trevon affair and others, I sense a revived cultural racisim or, better, calling the opponent (usually to the right) a "racist". I simply do not want to return to such a cultural atmosphere. "Racism" is only one factor. Jealousy of the "rich", growth of the "give me my entitlement" culture must be oppressive. I do not return because, in the last analysis, I fear having an experience similar to the one described.

(I do not wish to be misunderstood: In Germany I do not heasr that term "racist" flung at me, unless someone knows that I am an American and, well, "racist" is fasionable insult even in Germany. Even given a certain German revival of neo-nazism and unfriendly experience with foreigners (particularly of Muslim origins, though Americans are not valued highly) and an incipiently revived anti-Jew-ism (cover-up code word "Israelis" who just happen to be Jews), plus a break down in a sane sexuality (some in the Green party are suggesting the legalization of incest and, even, some move towards paedophilia and more). What am I sayng? The CDU gov. has just created a three sex nation. As of next Nov. parents can report their children as male, female or intersex (choice to be determined later by the grown up child). "Trans-gender-ism" is on it sick ascent. All this, as disgusting as it is, does not effect me so oppressively as the type of experience you reported on and that I read, see or hear coming out of the ongoing American (failing) experiment. Chalres Murray in his book "Coming Apart" describes the difference between the American culture of the 1950s and that of today. I am from that 1950s culture and I recognize myself in Murray's description. The description of America today proposed by Murray, one simillar in some ways to your experience, is foreign to me. Alas, my America is dead, as dead as the American Constitution. (I am not joking here as I suggest reading Thomas Woods, jr, "Who Killed the Constitution?". The murder mystry has an interesting solution.)

Thank you for your vivid and candid description. I await with curiosity to reponses to your quest re the accuracy of your description.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"And if so how is this tension reconciled?"

The brutality is real, while the tolerance is simply a form left over from more civilized times.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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