Sunday, May 07, 2006

Don't Be Self-Hatin'

I've been thinking a lot about why I hear and read so much the-world-is-ending doom and gloom nonsense lately. In almost every way life is better now than it ever has been. The technologies that have made it so develop faster and faster as time passes, and the ugliness of industrialization is increasingly manageable. The average person has never been safer, healthier or wealthier, and he or she has never has such personal power to learn, create, produce, and otherwise change the world.

But to hear some people talk(particularly liberals, frankly) we are bound for disaster, invariably because of the evil United States and its racist, greedy imperialism. Decades ago it was DDT, now it's Global Warming, and people who feel stongly about The Environment can rarely be reasoned with. Nor can those who think we provoked Islamic terrorism. And it's one thing to be worried about worst-case scenarios, but entirely another to think you can appease people who only respect strength.

I like the way Bob at One Cosmos puts it:

I suppose one of the frustrating things about the day and age in which we live is that all of the answers, for the first time in history, are present and available, but it doesn’t seem to matter. For example, we finally understand how wealth is created. Furthermore, we’ve pretty much tamed the boom-or-bust business cycle, so we don’t have the sorts of major economic upheavals we did 75 years ago. We know how to conquer most diseases. There’s more than enough food. We understand the vital importance of early attachment, and how bad parenting leads to adult psychopathology. Higher education is available to everyone, to such an extent that the majority of people in college probably don’t even belong there. We live longer than ever, and air and water have never been cleaner. All of the greatest art, literature, music, and thought that has ever been produced by mankind is literally at our fingertips.

And yet, none of this is enough for most people. How can something like 70% of the population think we’re on the wrong track, when they’ve never had it so good? Why, just because gasoline, adjusted for inflation, is almost as expensive as it was in 1981? True, part of the reason is that people are completely ahistorical, and seem to have no idea how hard it was for previous generations just to put food on the table. But apparently, this is the default position of mankind. Whatever we have, we feel we are entitled to it, and then we just want more. Not only that, but this default attitude of entitlement can be infinitely aggravated and made worse by envy. The envious imagination is truly infinite in its demonic capacity to devalue what we have and to want what someone else has.

On the one hand it is a conceit to suggest that history has labored for lo these thousands of years to produce our privileged generation. And yet, from a certain point of view, if you think teleologically, it is surely true. For just as your present life is the result of thousands and thousands of little choices you made in the past, the present state of humanity is the result of countless choices that were all aiming at our present state of affairs. In other words, we are the goal. This miraculous way of life that we enjoy was simply an unattainable dream for past generations. But for us, the dream has come true.

And yet, few people seem to appreciate that. Indeed, many people seem to think that we’re in some kind of nightmare, even more so than when human beings really were in a nightmare (which it has been for virtually all of history). For example, you would probably be hard-pressed to find rhetoric from the height of the Great Depression any more bitter and angry than what you can find everyday on dailykos. In considering the minds of such individuals, one suspects that politics is simply a means for them to externalize a hellish and unhappy internal world. The external world changes and evolves, but mankind’s internal world is comparatively fixed. Politics is simply a symbolic system for people to articulate their existential misery.

Ace found something similar by Ray Midge, which Ace calls "the exquisite decadence of self-loathing":

Actually, of course, this isn't a case of self-loathing so much as loathing of the civilization to which one belongs; liberals and lefties are quite fond of themselves. It's the America government, our national history, Western values, and their fellow countrymen they despise.

True dat.

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