Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
“Because, for all the good news being published today, here are some other surprising statistics: in the United States, symptoms of depression and anxiety are on an eighty-year upswing among young people and a twenty-year upswing among the adult population. Not only are people experiencing depression in greater numbers, but they’re experiencing it at earlier ages, with each generation. Since 1985, men and women have reported lower levels of life satisfaction. Part of that is probably because stress levels have risen over the past thirty years. Drug overdoses have recently hit an all-time high as the opioid crisis has wrecked much of the United States and Canada. Across the U.S. population, feelings of loneliness and social isolation are up. Nearly half of all Americans now report feeling isolated, left out, or alone in their lives. Social trust is also not only down across the developed world but plummeting, meaning fewer people than ever trust their government, the media, or one another. In the 1980s, when researchers asked survey participants how many people they had discussed important personal matters with over the previous six months, the most common answer was ‘three.’ By 2006, the most common answer was ‘zero.’” — Mark Manson.
In modern America, political discourse now borders on open hatred, mass shootings are on the rise and shockingly our life expectancy is dropping mainly because of drug use and suicide. There are many reasons for these issues, but the biggest one is the toxic culture we’re now all marinating in 24-7. There are a lot of converging, often intertwined, factors that are contributing to this. Starting with…
1) The Decline of Christianity: In the fifties, more than 95% of Americans identified as Christian, while today, only 70% do. Of course, that 70% is an extremely deceptive number because many of those people very seldom show up on Sunday, don’t live their lives according to Christian principles or even stick up for the church in any meaningful way. As the Christian church has lost influence over the culture, what we’ve seen is a widespread embrace of immorality. In fact, calling someone or something immoral or sinful today is usually treated as faintly ridiculous. Not only has this created an enormous decline in morals, but it has also led to people treating manmade causes like fight global warming as a religion substitute designed to give meaning to their increasingly empty lives. Far too many people have turned their backs on decency and morality and we now live in a “hedonistic, anything goes, it’s fine for everyone to write their own rules” culture that makes it much more difficult to respect, trust and have confidence in each other.
2) Social Media: Social media encourages us to follow like-minded people and that often leads to us tuning out those that disagree with us unless they are being insulted as part of an effort to gain new likes and followers, It also amplifies the most divisive voices, revolves around outrage and controversy and encourages people to go along with the crowd instead of doing what’s right. It also creates “pseudo-friendships” that help convince people that they don’t need to make meaningful connections in the real world because they have “followers,” most of which probably wouldn’t notice if they were hit by a bus next week. Now combine that with algorithms that allow handfuls of programmers to directly influence, often in a negative way, what hundreds of millions of Americans see each day and social media has been a disaster for the country.
3) Lack of Gatekeepers: The death of media gatekeepers was a mostly positive thing, but it did lead to at least one extremely negative consequence. In a world where there were a tiny number of television stations and newspapers controlling the information everyone read, there was tremendous pressure on these organizations to have a broad appeal. So, they made a real effort to at least appear fair, get stories right and of course, they largely avoided conspiracy theories that could undermine their reputations. Today, when there are an almost unlimited number of news sources trying to appeal to niche audiences, it’s no longer about broad appeal, there isn’t much of an effort to be or appear fair and conspiracy theories can be a potent source of traffic. This has led to the point where it’s hard for most of us to even agree on the facts, much less debate what we’re going to do about them.
4) Political Parties Have Come to Regard Demonization of Their Opponents as One of Their Most Important Strategy: As Eric Hoffer said, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” If you’re trying to rally your base and convince independents to vote for you, the conventional logic now seems to be that the best way to do that is to demonize your opponents. Additionally, as political parties have become more polarized and less likely to agree, there is less of a need to hold back when attacking your political opponents. Political rhetoric in America has never been gentle, but increasingly, politics is becoming about who Americans hate the least, rather than who they support.
5) Emotion and Motivations are Now Habitually Treated as More Important Than Logic: This is not a new problem, as you can see from this C.S. Lewis quote from 1941, “You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.” However, this has been taken to extremes in our society. Presidential debates are now more about who gets off a great quip than ideas. There is virtually no back and forth discussion of issues between the Left and the Right that doesn’t immediately devolve into name-calling. In fact, liberals, in particular, don’t feel the need to argue for ideas so much as declare that they FEEL something is right and that they should get their way because their opponents are white supremacists and Nazis. Of course, even if that were true, which it isn’t, you should be able to logically refute your opponent’s ideas. That’s no longer something people on the Left believe is necessary and it makes genuine debate between the Left and Right impossible.
6) Too Much Individualization: America’s motto is E Pluribus Unum (“Out of many, one”), but there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort to unify the country anymore beyond occasional empty rhetoric about bipartisanship. Both political parties look to amplify differences between each other, liberals work incessantly to split us into smaller and smaller groups that they encourage to hate the mainstream and our wide variety of media choices and our mediocre public school system has dramatically reduced the number of shared cultural influences we have. If we don’t agree about whether we should love our country, whether we should be capitalist or socialists, whether we should stick to the Constitution or not, whether God exists and we radically disagree about what to do to help fix almost every single serious issue confronting our country, it’s fair to ask what we have in common anymore. If we don’t have anything in common other than we’re all human and we’ve used the products by some of the same corporations, you have to wonder what will hold us all together down the road.
7) America’s Change from a Dignity Culture to a Victim Centered Culture: America used to have a culture centered on dignity, where people cared deeply about their reputations, inherent worthiness and honor. Many people still live that way, but our popular culture is now largely centered around victimhood. It’s no longer about dignity, it’s about who can claim to be the most offended and aggrieved. This leads to people exaggerating or even lying about their grievances, grotesque levels of virtue signaling, attacking others after claiming to be offended on someone else’s behalf and a world where it’s almost impossible to be honest without offending some whiny sliver of the population that may demand that your life be ruined as a result of your thought crime.
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