Our present era is often tagged as the “Post Modern” era, i.e. following the era of “Modernism” in the 20th century described in one encyclopeia as
to relate to the culture of capitalism as it has developed since the 1960s. In general, the postmodern view is cool, ironic, and accepting of the fragmentation of contemporary existence. It tends to concentrate on surfaces rather than depths, to blur the distinctions between high and low culture, and as a whole to challenge a wide variety of traditional cultural values.
Postmodernism (sometimes abbreviated Pomo) was originally a reaction to modernism (not necessarily “post” in the purely temporal sense of “after”). Largely influenced by the disillusionment induced by the Second World War, postmodernism tends to refer to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, and interconnectedness or interreferentiality.
So, whether you consider the postmodern era to be “post” as in “after” temporally or as a reaction to modernism, that begs the question of the proper appellation for our current era. Neither construct gives this era a tag of its own, so here’s one: PostCivility.
I’ve written separately on the death of statesmanship, but it has occurred to me that it’s not simply statesmanship that has waned and that event is but symptomatic of a larger social disease, that of an era where much that we do in all of our interactions, social, moral and political, is punctuated with — and indeed driven by — a lack of civility.
Individuals lack civility in their personal relationships with spouses, siblings, children, co-workers, and casual acquaintences. Do I have an empirical study to demonstrate this? No, nor do I or you need one — we see it every day. Is this phenomenon worse than in days past, of course it is and we don’t need a $million study to prove it. We see and feel it. We experience it.
Anti-authority outbursts occur from the 3rd grade classroom to the juvenile court and into the criminal justice system. Politicians scream at each other in legislative bodies instead of debating. Assaults on police officers are commonplace.
Blame is sought in every corner for every thing — large or small — that goes wrong in personal lives and in the life of the nation. It seems that at every level of society and government we’ve lost the ability to simply agree to disagree. Instead, we seek to defeat, and even to conquer and vanquish anyone with a differing opinion.
I lay much of this at the feet of the Instant Gratification Generation — unfortunately, it’s a phenomenan that is not limited to one generation but rather afflicts us all. It even explains a lot of the economic woes with which we are now beset. Let me enlarge on that notion.
In all that we do, we want it now. And I mean “right now.” Let’s talk the automobile industry as an example of how this instant gratification has contributed to its downfall. And if not a cause of the downfall, it will certainly have placed roadblocks in its recovery.
Ever drive by a dealership and wonder how they can afford to have so many cars, new cars, just sitting on the lot? Acres of cars. Every model, color, and accessory package you can imagine just waiting for your choosing. The manufacturers and dealers have catered to our need for instant gratification and have spread the table with every possible choice because they know if they don’t have the one you are looking for, a dealer down the road will!
And so the entire system of manufacturing, shipping, stocking at dealers, arranging instant financing and delivering the car is built around our need for instant gratification in making what for many people is the single largest purchase they will ever make. That huge infrastructure (read capital cost and overhead) is geared to serve the large and demanding appetite for instant gratification. I recall when people when to the dealer and ordered the car the way they wanted it, and actually waited with gleeful anticipation for its birthing and delivery.
And now that the economy has tanked, that huge infrastructure cannot be quickly undone and, therefore, we have become victims of this lust for instant gratification.
What does this have to do with civility, and the decline thereof? Whether it’s a car, another purchase, or another thing or act we desire that does not come through — we tend to react with utter incivility to the situation or the person we deem responsible. We want our way, and we want it now, and we can no longer cope with disappointment, even of a minor nature. The future probably portends a lot more of that disappointment and, probably, further decrease in civility.
I’ve use the royal “we” but I include myself on more than a few occasions. Can you own up to the same? Let’s all examine our ability and inclination — yea, even the necessity — to be civil.