Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Christmas Yard Displays - Part 2
In spite of the post-war economic boom, there was still a strong social memory of the Great Depression and World War II in the Middle America of my youth. Extravagance and showiness had not yet generated broad social approval. Personal moderation was considered virtuous and admired. Most Christmas yard displays were characterized by what I suppose you’d call tasteful lighting and restraint.
Until the mid-1960’s there had been something of a consensus regarding where everyone and everything fit into post-war American society. On the positive side of this, the country was pretty steady, its mood was upbeat and there was substantial social stability. On the negative side, people of some backgrounds were not afforded freedom of opportunity to work toward, or achieve, their full, God-given potential.
Social upheaval began to occur rapidly in the late 1960’s. America was divided by the Viet Nam war. Rebellion and the breakdown of social conventions - both those that had probably been useful and those that had clearly not - led to a lot of confusing social experimentation. The consequent unraveling of social cohesion produced wildly unpredictable - sometimes cavalier, sometimes tentative - expectations in social relations.
No longer was it easy to identify where you as an individual fit into your own society. It was natural that people began to experience increasing insecurity and it wasn’t hard for some to withdraw into a more isolated existence.
Clamorous, ideological, agenda-driven interest groups generated increasing social tension and political polarization. The traditions and customs on which secure social relations had previously been built crumbled. By the late 1970’s there was an identifiable “general malaise” affecting the country fed by high energy costs, job losses, inflation with a stagnant economy, loss of purchasing power and one peddled crisis after another. The country didn’t seem to work very well anymore.
Today, our lives increasingly seem to be driven either by political or business interests, with social friendliness, neighborliness and plain old human kindness diminishing, if not producing suspicion.
One particularly notable thing also has happened. Group rights have supplanted individual rights as the social goal of politics. Growing pressure to believe, think, and act in a superficial, politically correct way has become institutionalized policy in many government, educational and business domains. Verbalizing certain observations or expressing personal opinions not in line with the status quo of the new agenda might now draw serious sanctions. Not surprisingly, confidence gives way to caution. Social relations stiffen.
There have been other factors in play, of course, but I believe one particular consequence of the social and political direction the country has moved is of paramount significance:
The value our society places on the individual and his freedom to conduct his own affairs and determine the course of his own destiny resides in a much more vulnerable place than, say, previous to 1965. I think a lot of individuals sense this.
Yes, I am going somewhere with all this. I’ll be back to wrap up in the next post.