I suspect that many Americans are currently living in a state of bewilderment. I don’t know if someone who is thirty is as affected as someone in their fifties or older. For myself (in the second age group), the nation in which I am now living bears scant relationship to that in which I grew up. This is certainly true from the technological perspective, but that has been the case for almost every generation that has participated in the American experience.
The primary cause of this bewilderment is the state of the American psyche. The closest analogy that I can come up with is that we began experiencing a sort of cultural nervous breakdown in the 1990s followed by a profound schizophrenic break after 9/11. Of course I’m not here discussing the state of each individual’s psyche. Rather, it’s the general cultural milieu that presses in upon our individual psyches, pressuring them to move in specific directions. Thus, this definition of schizophrenia (Google Dictionary) for an individual also applies well to our contemporary collective behavior as a political culture.
a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.
We are currently a nation splintered into contending groups who appear to have lost the ability to communicate, let alone cooperate, with each other. These groups can often (there are numerous exceptions) be be roughly divided into two primary camps.
The first is populated by people who tend to define themselves by associations and interests outside the realm of politics. To them, though politics may be an important part of life, other domains like faith, family, neighbors, sports, etc. have clear priority. Although there is no agreed name for this group, I’ll refer to them as the “commoners” This is justified not by any presumption of lower ability or value, but rather by the fact that they see themselves as part of a common heritage and culture. Thus, they have appreciation for the nation and those through whom it was formed and maintained. If there is a central organizing principle for this camp it is opposition to the idea that the nation must be “fundamentally transformed” in order for it to be valued.
The second camp draws in people who see themselves as intellectually, morally and ideologically superior to such an extent that they are the natural leaders of our nation. These people value academic degrees, career success, political power and personal accomplishment above virtually everything else. Although the largest and most vocal component of this group is the Progressives, it is clear that there are also many members of the Conservative intelligentsia and political class who see themselves this way. For obvious reasons I will cal this group the “elite.”
While the elite are by definition much smaller in numbers than are the commoners, many people yet look to the elite as their political guides and/or are influenced by them through various forms of education and media. Thus, the elite wield significant democratic power. They wield overwhelming institutional power, having taken over virtually all educational, entertainment, government bureaucratic, news, legal and international organizations, among others.
One key differentiation between the elite and the commoners is that the elite consciously know who they are and carefully control who gets to be a member. Commoners generally don’t see themselves in terms of group identity, so are far more amorphous.
Much of what I have done in this blog traces back to this distinction between the above described groups. Clearly, I see myself as a member of the commoners (although my high interest in politics is a deviation). One of my goals is to give voice to their issues and perspectives.
However, it is at the personal level that our current cultural disorder creates the greatest pain. For example, when families split or valued relationships are ended over political disagreements. It is also occasionally at the personal level that important insights can be obtained into the psyches of those with whom we disagree. I have had numerous personal interactions with members of the Progressive group that rise to this level, which I will share in following posts.
One final point. The Progressive individuals with whom these interactions occurred were sometimes of a special type. That is, they tended to see themselves as enforcers of Progressive orthodoxy. Therefore, they were far more aggressive and vocal than are most in the elite group. In me they came up against someone who not only rejected their right to enforce, but also aggressively argued for an alternative. Perhaps we are two sides of the same coin. That’s for each reader to decide for themselves. Regardless, I hope that some light will be shed on our current crisis through discussion of these personal interactions.