Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mathew Gross has a post up about Jimmy Carter's values book & speech. I was moved to comment and in doing so figured I had more to say about the subject than would rightly fit in a comments section.

What I wrote there was that the values of this country have shifted over a long time. To wit, over the 20th century:

-Industrialists established monopolies.

-WWII boosted fortunes mostly of least scrupulous within social institutions.

-Advertising strategies and mass media plus 1990's "conservative" putsch= PR/media groupthink that formally enshrines dominance as virtue.

Beyond this I would like to add that this seems like a typical shift of values within an empire. Of course as force becomes more and more the mode of shaping external relations of a culture the more it will be found as a value within that culture as well.

What we have today is a culture where winning is seen to be a value unto itself. By my lights this really does stretch back to the early 20th c. industrialists. There were social upheavals relating to what was a relatively explicit shift in values at the time, culminating with the turbulent 1930's. WWII did not so much cure the ills of the depression, however, as it reestablished the social order based on force and dominance that had been emerging prior to the depression.

Now, after Monica and Florida 2000, there is little other than winning available to appeal to. And frankly, other than a few isolated incidences of outcry (e.g. "greatest gen" highbrow types on TV after Abu Ghraib) there has been no clear enunciation of these values. And that doesn't count for much.

In fact, there has been very little in the way of any clear enunciation of classical liberal values within popular culture for a very long time. And check it, it has to be within popular culture, because as long as we still vote for our leaders, that's where the values approved by our elections are going to be first established.

I think that these values were strongly reinforced within our educational system after the horrors of WWII drove many to question some long held assumptions about human nature, but since then there've been some problems: Free Love, 1970's revolutionaries and the earnest, disasterous attempt in the late 80's to codify cultural respect known as Political Correctness. And for each of these movements, the power elite became more alarmed and antagonistic towards classical libreral values.

This antagonism has been expressed in many ways, but mostly it has been within the sphere of politics and public rhetoric. As anyone who has read this report knows, there has been a great deal of energy put into dominating rhetoric, and in order to reinforce , but also to rationalize that dominance, dominance itself has had to be glorified.

Of course this is only part of a larger trend. Americans love football and basketball today, not baseball. But it is the ground we are standing on. If today's politicians want to approach this issue... well, I think it will be difficult, but first they will have to win some battles (Alito), no matter how they do it because if they don't, they will have no social standing with which to present the worth of their ideas.

Note: This post has been edited and lengthened for clarity.

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