Some people actively strive for success and happiness in life. Others consciously give up, and resort to the bare minimum or even outright destruction.
Most default somewhere in between. Their subconscious or conscious mental state is, “It would be nice to succeed and be happy. But that’s probably not possible or realistic for me. I’ll do the best I can.”
It’s the same with a society. A society is a large number of individuals — hundreds of millions, in the case of American society. Although there is no “collective identity” apart from individuals themselves, it’s valid to refer to the dominant attitude in a society. How to figure out the dominant attitude? Movies, popular television shows, literature, educational standards/outcome, and, of course, politics.
Most people are not especially interested in politics as an abstract subject, any more than than most are interested in literature or television, movies — as an abstract subject. Nevertheless, their response to political and other cultural issues tells you a lot about where they are, as individuals. Politics — particularly presidential politics — provides an opportunity to evaluate the dominant trends, especially every four years.
Right now, if polls are to be believed, the dominant attitude of most Americans is, “We’re doing good enough. Or at least, it’s the best that can be expected.” Partisan leftist Democrats blame the current state of affairs on Bush, Republicans and (the non-existent) laissez-faire capitalism which they believe plagues us all. I actually consider such people in the self-destructive minority, life-haters who want to make everyone else miserable as well. Probably more of the Obama supporters are people who feel, “Well, we’re doing the best we can. This is probably as good as it gets. Obama isn’t helping much, but neither could anyone or anything else. Let’s just do what we can to get by.”
This attitude rests on a very faulty and highly lethal premise. I see it all the time in the psychotherapy office, and I believe I’m now seeing it as a major (even dominant) trend among citizens of American society. The lethal premise is: Things don’t change. They can be frozen in time, and one can therefore settle for good enough.
Of course, it’s not possible. Things cannot stand still. If you fail to live a life of continuous pursuit or achievement of values — tangible or intangible, material or not, love or money — then by definition you’re going to stagnate and decline. Stagnation and decline are inevitably woven together. Once you embrace the first, the second soon follows.
If you woke up tomorrow and concluded, “That’s it. This is good enough. I’m stopping right here. I certainly don’t want anything to worsen. But I’m not going to strive for anything either.” What would happen? You’d simply stand still. You might ask yourself, “Do I still go to my job, or not?” Well, if you really mean what you say — that you’re not going to move forward any longer — than what’s the point of a job, much less a career? If life has reached its apex, what’s the point of trying to continue achieving in your chosen career or passion? And if life has reached its apex, there’s certainly no point in going to a boring, dreary job any longer. The whole point of keeping a job you don’t like is to maintain an income, so you can continue to survive and flourish in life.
Short of an unexpected landslide win for Romney on Tuesday — which would say less about Romney than about a widespread, massive rejection of Obama’s “good enough” mentality — it’s pretty clear that many if not most of Americans are in the state of mind I’m describing. They might or might not apply this dreary state of expectation to their daily lives, but they’re certainly applying it to their politics — which means they’re applying it to their overall view of life, and what they expect out of life.
Much has been written about the desire of more and more Americans — whether they be millionaire bankers or auto dealers seeking handouts from the federal government, or ordinary everyday people seeking or even demanding a federal pittance — to simply hold on to what they have. Doctors reportedly oppose Obamacare but they roll over for the abuse out of inertia and fear of rocking the boat. Obama transmits and represents the message: “What you have is good enough. Be content. And those bad guys will take away your pittance if I’m not here to defend it.”
A population dominated by healthy, achievement-oriented people would be repulsed by this implied (and sometimes explicitly stated) attitude of Obama and his regime’s defenders. There would be no question about a devastating electoral defeat facing Obama on Tuesday. Yet this isn’t the case. Every indication is that about half of the population are going to vote for Obama — and by implication, this attitude — on Tuesday. Maybe Romney will eke out a victory, or maybe not. Maybe there will be a tie. (That won’t be pretty.) Either way, the verdict already seems clear that as many Americans as not are defaulting to the mediocre in principle, not merely in practice.
Some have called this “the new American normal.” Such commentators are really on to something. The politics of a culture — just like its literature, movies, and educational models — ultimately reflect the mainstream attitude of the dominant numbers. Even in a society where the majority lived mediocre lives, they still might aspire to greatness, or hero-worship, in their movies, their literature, or their politics. For the most part, in this election as well as elsewhere, we see just the opposite. “Protect me, take care of me, and don’t let anything change.”
It’s ironic that the candidate of the never-defined “change” — Barack Obama — ultimately led (a compliant) America to a state of stagnant default to nothingness. It seems that “change” and “transformation” of America ultimately meant a transition to this new normal of mediocrity. Of course, Obama is not smart or powerful enough to engineer this. He never was. He only rose to — and seems poised to stay in — the power he has attained because of the fear and powerlessness over existence that now seems to inhabit the psyches (I suspect) of more Americans than not.
Perhaps Obama will narrowly lose on Tuesday, or perhaps he will eke out a tiny victory. Perhaps Obama will win decisively, an ugly surprise that will expand and reinforce what I’m suggesting here. Regardless, Americans — huge numbers of them at least — are in desperate need of a fresh awakening of rational, self-responsible idealism. Neither the inspiration of Thomas Paine nor the courage of Jefferson and Washington could get most of these couch potatoes out of their Obama-like passive mental haze, not in 2012 at least. Yet without a rejection of the stagnation Obama endorses and “inspires,” this society will not last — at least, not as anything worthwhile — for long.
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