A New Hope:
Overcoming American Cynicism
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” – JRR Tolkien
In an era more harshly divided along political and cultural lines than ever, both sides of the spectrum have drifted so far from the center that they are beginning to wrap around and meet on the other side.
The plague of thoughtless American Cynicism is growing daily all around us; the most dangerous factions of which are hidden within otherwise well meaning individuals who feel as though they need to be edgy and different. Or rather subscribe to an altogether “different” form of intellectualism. These are people we know. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, family members, close friends, classmates and they are poisoning us just as fast as the bigots the xenophobes and the misogynists/misandrists. It is not only the obvious conservative hate mongers, but the jeering bandwagon leftists that are pulling us apart.
Far too often we hear the cries of citizens who wonder “what happened to my America?” Or professing that they just “want their country back”. Some even claim that America is lower now that it has ever been in terms of morality, intellect, economics, and culture. These are people who are usually doing nothing to help us move forward. For some reason in this country it has become “cool” to be a cynic. It has become “cool” to despair over all of humanity until you border on misanthropy. We’re doomed, we’re unrecoverable, we’re dumb, the list drags on forever with more false endings than a James Brown concert.
These individuals are the type of people who see Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo and decide that we are completely and utterly fucked as a nation. There is a sneering, hipster-like criterion that one must meet in order to avoid judgment in their eyes. If you can meet this bizarrely specific criterion, then you are an acceptable human being.
- You must be Liberal, but not too left leaning. Lest you be judged as a hippie.
- You must be well schooled, but not “overeducated”. Lest you be judged as “elitist”.
- You must not under any circumstances use urban or southern slang or any other regional vernacular without the most abject ironic intentions. Lest you be judged as “White Trash” or “Ghetto”
- Your music tastes may never be commercial, lest you be a sheep of the corporate record industry. They must also not venture too far into the obscure, lest you be judged as pretentious.
- You must dress in a way that is presentable, but nowhere near approaching stylish. That would mean you are trying too hard. You must also never be loud or brash in terms of fashion, lest you be judged as “trashy”.
- You must toe the line between prude and whore with surgical precision. Sex can be talked about, joked about, and referenced in movies, but never actually practiced. Lest you be judged as a whore, slut, skank, strumpet, bimbo, floozy, tramp, trollop, hussy or tart.
These rules silently penetrate our social interactions every day, and this idiocy is passed off as some sort of cultural wisdom. As if any of it actually matters in any sort of grand scheme of things. I cannot understand how hating a group of people for hating another group of people and making broad generalizations about them because they do the same makes you any better. It’s cyclical and petty; it never ends and no one wins. Whether it’s pointing to fat consumers of all things corporate, sagging pants, or Justin Bieber…None of these things mean that America is dead. None of these things mean we are somehow in a lower point than we have ever been.
Have these people forgotten where we live and in what time? We landed a car-sized rover on Mars last August! We have more young people graduating with college degrees than ever before. Over the course of the past decade, Americans have given over $298 Billion to various charities. Immigrants still desire to come to this country where they can become a citizen capable of building a company from nothing at all into something like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which docked its own private shuttle (Dragon) at the International Space Station last May. Just this past winter we successfully used prosthetics that can be operated by thought! A woman in Pittsburgh was able to feed herself using a prosthetic arm that was controlled by her own brain. Other scientists are working on prosthetics that can feel; giving hope to so many disabled veterans returning home maimed by combat and looking for a second chance.
Culturally speaking television is in a renaissance. For each highly rated and idiotic reality television program, you have something crafted in solid gold like Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Californication, Homeland, How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, or Community. In other words, if you’re watching bad television, it is completely your fault.
Most of these things seem frivolous though. People lament for America because of school shootings, or mindless street violence, or sex crimes and scandal. I saw again today how many people’s faith in humanity was shaken to its very foundation. Around 2:50pm today two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon sending shrapnel and debris hurtling through the air and into a stunned and terrified crowd. 130 wounded and three dead by nightfall with no sign whatsoever of a culprit. Madness and death hung over the city like a dark cloud as speculation grew as to whom exactly could have done this.
Social media flooded with concern, sympathy and disbelief as it does in times of tragedy and people all over the country began to make similar statements. Most of them were about abandoning hope in humanity or talking about how America, or in fact the world had gone straight to Hell because of this and instances like it. It’s not hard to see where these people are coming from, but it takes a great deal more to persevere in the face of these tragedies. These things may be heavy on all of our hearts, but we have to understand that this is not the end, nor the start of some great decline. I know better than most that darkness and despair is an inevitable part of this life. I also know that out of darkness rises strength and endurance. Hope.
As soon as the blasts rang out there were non-emergency personnel rushing to the wounded to give them help. These were total strangers sprinting in the direction of the explosion to help their fellow man. Robert Watling and Kelli Johnston were married in Boston Common today in spite of the bombs and the blood. Many runners finished their 26 miles and continued running to Massachusetts General in order to give blood to the wounded. A few hours later the Red Cross announced that they had more than surpassed the levels of blood needed to tend to the victims.
This has happened to us before, and it is more than likely to happen again. We can’t try to put the blame on Muslims or other religious extremists, but the individuals responsible. There is no reason to let them bring us down. We are Americans. We survive, we endure through dark times and we come together when unseen forces try to tear us apart. The American Dream isn’t about the white picket fence or the house in the suburbs. It’s not about 2.5 kids an SUV and a dog. It’s about hope. It’s about the inextinguishable fire in our bellies the pushes us to greatness even in the face of great adversity. The fact of the matter is we are a nation made up of more lovers than killers, more people willing to build than destroy. In times like these we come together despite our differences, we always do. What we should learn is how to do this without a tragedy to push us. As divided as we may be, there are still more things that unite us than divide us. We have so much in common, and the powers that be cannot change that no matter how hard they try to tear us apart. Cynicism has no place in a country built on hope and a vision for the future. Not if we intend on moving forward.