Greenwich Gossip

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Is Happening To Our Civil Society?

Your scribe has been under all kinds of pressure recently to take up his pen and write another blog. But why blog if one has nothing to say? was the standard reply. Until now. 

Suddenly it is becoming apparent that the political scene as we approach the elections has rarely if ever been so raucously contentious at any previous time in our national history. Party labels are becoming everything; informed discussion and rational discourse are out the window. "You're not voting for Obama?! Never speak to me again!" Or, "Do you really think this country can afford another four years like the ones we've just been through? Don't you have any brains at all?!"

More and more, dear reader, that seems to be the level of political discussion that one is hearing these days. It's all about labels rather than issues and positions. "We" are good; "they" are evil. Don't even try to stand on the middle ground: you will be overwhelmed by the zealots on both sides.

This is not the America our forebears envisaged, or even the America in which most of us grew up. We were taught to respect dissent and the opinions of others (however wrong-headed we knew them to be),  and to deal with each other as rational and civilized folk. What is happening to us? Or, worse yet, what has happened to us?

Many writers over the ages have suggested that "civilization" is a veneer, one that can be stripped away when circumstances turn adverse. William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" is a classic example of the genre. Are we, then, beginning to experience such powerful disruptions in our society that its very fabric is starting to fray at the edges, just like the tempers of so many candidates and commentators?

That, gentle reader, may be the real question of what is happening here. The contentiousness of the present political scene may be merely a symptom of a far deeper societal malaise. And if that is the case, harsh words and shrill rhetoric are the last things we need to try to correct and repair the situation.