Before anyone rips my head off for deeming the world unloving (although such an attack may help to prove my point rather than to refute it), I should say that I don’t consider society at large to be cold-hearted. And I know that in the midst of tragedy, people have a tendency to bond together and help those in need. I know this happens, and I don’t question the motives behind this apparent altruism. But on a day-to-day basis, I think it’s quite clear that many people—and perhaps the overwhelming majority of people—offer very little love to those around them. At the very least, people are much more selfish than we’d typically like to admit.
It saddens me when I look at our society (by which I mean American society) and recognize just how little patience, and even tolerance, people have for each other. It seems there is no such thing as civilized disagreement. While the current presidential campaign did not originally enter into my thoughts on this matter, it is a prime example of what I’m talking about. I’m so fed up with the political diatribes posted incessantly to Facebook. From what I can see, Obama supporters do little other than berate Romney and paint him as an idiot. Romney supporters do the same in return. Nobody that I’ve seen tries to address issues in a meaningful or productive way. And while I do not wish to dwell on politics, it provides a perfect example of what I’m talking about. People love to hate each other. And that’s not love.
Underlying this problem, I think, is the arrogance and self-ascribed superiority that our culture touts as virtues. Confidence is great, but that’s not the value instilled in us by modern society. Instead, our current culture tells us that, as individuals, each of us should be able to say, “I’m great! So f--- you, you f---ing loser!” I realize that the message isn’t always presented in such an offensive and caustic way. But it’s there. Just watch any half-hour sitcom. How much of the humor is based on insults, derogatory comments, and other forms of degradation? Even when someone isn’t being overtly ridiculed, chances are the laugh track is cued by someone being a buffoon. Granted, this has a long history in comedy. I’m a big fan of the original Pink Panther series, Dumb & Dumber, and many other movies that use dimwitted characters to garner guffaws from the audience. But slapstick, as these films primarily are, strikes me as different from, and less mean-spirited than, situation comedies that seek laughs by showing how the normal, cool person must deal with the inept losers in the world. We’ve seen it a million times. The main character is set up on a blind date, only to have the blind date—egad!—wear glasses and be overweight! The main character must then endure the torture of being polite to an ugly person for thirty minutes! It’s comedy gold!
T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other slogan-based merchandise also demonstrate the kind of unloving attitude that I have in mind. For the purpose of providing some examples, I went to an online t-shirt retailer (Snorg Tees) and briefly perused their wares. Much of the merchandise was innocent enough, but consider the implicit attitude underlying the following t-shirt slogans:
- I can’t hear you over the sound of how epic I am
- Either you like bacon or you’re wrong
- Don’t act like you’re not impressed
- Warning: if zombies chase us I’m tripping you
I know these t-shirt slogans seem relatively harmless. I know that I run the risk of being viewed as an extremist for suggesting there is anything wrong with them. I know that. I’m part of this society. I’m not immune to its failings. I even kind of like the bacon t-shirt. But what attitudes underlie each of these silkscreened slogans? In brief, each of them says, “I am somehow superior to you. If you disagree with me on any matter—yes, even on something as trivial as the taste of bacon—then you are less valuable, you are stupid, and you should be dismissed (if not literally killed).” Again, I know I sound like an alarmist. Perhaps my condemnation of these t-shirts itself seems comical. But I wouldn’t be so disturbed if the arrogant attitudes portrayed by these shirts weren’t so common. Admittedly, there are much worse t-shirts out there—“Your boyfriend wishes I was his girlfriend” and that kind of crap. My only concern is that no matter how smothered in wit and whimsy these messages become, they are still getting out there. They are still embraced. We are still clinging to, accepting, and promulgating them.
Another repository of ill-will is, of course, the Internet itself. Internet anonymity perpetuates mean-spiritedness. I recently read an article on Wall Street Journal about this very thing. In trying to relocate that article for the purpose of linking to it in my post, I stumbled upon this post by a non-professional blogger who makes the point even more succinctly (and in a more personal way—I urge you to read it). Imagine how different things would be if we used the Internet to teach each other, to engage in meaningful dialogues, to learn, and to build each other up. Sure, some people do that. But they are swimming upstream. If we used this technology to better ourselves and not just to entertain ourselves and give ourselves carte blanche in terms of what we say and how we behave, we’d be in the midst of another great renaissance. It’s a shame we’d rather engage in pissing contests than contribute to collective intellectual development.
The thoughts I’ve shared here today were originally inspired, in part, by my reflections on marriage and why so many marriages fail today. I’m not an expert on such matters, and I don’t pretend to be. But I’m amazed at how differently I see my own marriage in comparison to how many others see theirs (at least from what I can tell). It made me wonder if most of society even knows what love is. Most people think they know what love is, but I wonder if they really do. I’m worried many don’t. In this case, I hope I’m wrong.