Over the past few days I have read two blog posts which have led me to think about contemporary Western culture, and those thoughts have not been particularly pleasing. The first related to the shameful lack of true investigative journalism by the American press, and the second to Ann Coulter’s childish diatribe over the American president-elect’s middle name.
At first, I was a bit embarrassed to be an American. After all, despite my usually positive outlook on the world I do remove those rose-tinted shades periodically and look around me. I don’t have to look far; there are manipulative, crude and inconsiderate people all around me.
But then I recalled the Italian reality television show, Perfect Bride, where a mother picks a wife for her son. I remember my trip in Europe last summer, where we encountered the requisite number of vapid, shallow people. No, it’s not America. It’s Western culture. Or worse, perhaps it is human nature.
Throughout history, we have been thrilled by bloody victories over our adversaries. We have been fascinated and enthralled by the failings of others; we have been the ambulance chasers, seeking the satisfaction of knowing the gory details of someone else’s misery. We toss people from islands, and we laugh when someone cries in pain. We engage in torture, and we feel a sense of injustice when we see another succeed.
Education is not respected, and hard work is not admired. If I use a big word I am branded as a snob rather than a person who is attempting to describe something succinctly. Those who put in good hours at work and accomplish a lot are branded as brown nosers or suck-ups who believe they are superior.
Throughout my life I have tried to avoid seeing the world in this way. I have read books, been involved in music, written poetry, and tried to build a perfect and serene life. This is not a simple task for many reasons, and inevitably, reality intrudes. It disrupts my balance; I trip and fall. And so the world is black and ruthless, and I’m tossed about like all the rest of the world’s restless souls.
This reality disturbs me greatly, simply because I know we are capable of better.
When I look at the UN, for example, I see great potential. The Food and Agriculture Organization in particular has a fantastic opportunity to influence the world in wonderful ways, by introducing sustainable techniques and site-appropriate crops and technologies. Sadly we see predators like Monsanto descend on developing countries promising riches and sustainable agriculture, while in reality killing the soil and devastating the genetic diversity of food crops nearly beyond repair.
The answers seem so simple, really: we take care of ourselves first, and when we create a system of plenty we are then in a position to help others.