Saturday, March 29, 2014

Trying To Be Civilized In 21st Century America

I like to think of myself as a fairly civilized person. I speak with proper grammar, use good table manners, and make an effort to keep my kitchen clean. I've been known to read works of classic literature that weren't assigned to me by a professor and I've occasionally been spotted in art museums. Sometimes, if you listen carefully, you might even hear Mozart or Bach playing at my house.

But I'm not nearly as civilized as I would like to be. I partly blame lack of money, as teachers in Texas don't exactly rake in the dough. I also blame simply lack of time and energy, as raising a year-old daughter takes a great deal of both. For all that, though, the real reason I am not as civilized as I would like to be is that it's very difficult to live a civilized life in 21st Century America.

For all its wonderful advances in the fields of medicine, science and technology, the age in which we live is a very uncivilized one. It is an age of ubiquitous, unavoidable advertising, which plays on our worst fears and insecurities to manipulate us into buying useless and even demeaning products. It is an age of frivolous popular culture, which focuses more on the personal lives on untalented people rather than the actual artistry of serious actors and musicians. It is an age that celebrates crass people acting out in order to gain fifteen minutes of fame, rather than people of genuine virtue or achievement.

I can think of no better demonstration of how uncivilized America is in the early 21st Century than what one sees while checking out at a typical grocery store. On one side is a magazine rack stuffed with celebrity gossip rags, their covers proclaiming which untalented singers and movie stars are pregnant, getting married, getting divorced, or whatnot. On the other side are rows and rows of candy bars, bubble gum packs, and other assorted collections of chemicals. It's as if someone is trying to simultaneously rot my brain and make me fat. When I finally pay for my groceries and escape out the other end, I always feel a desperate need to wash my hands.

Another case in point in scanning the programs available for viewing on cable every night. Finding even a single program that is not crass, vulgar, demeaning, or just plain stupid can be a difficult task. Almost everything on television these days is either hyper-sexualized or unnecessarily violent. Comedy is usually uncouth and simply gross, with little of the crisp, witty humor that is the hallmark of a refined sensibility. Then FCC chairman Newton Minow proclaimed television "a vast wasteland" more than half a century ago; it is worse today by several orders of magnitude.

Feel free to call me a snob if you wish. I shall take that as your acknowledgement that my standards are higher than yours.

What can an individual who wishes to be refined and civilized do in this day and age? There is a military tactic known as the "hedgehog defense", in which the defending force essentially creates a series of small fortified positions that face outwards in every direction. The attacking force may succeed in penetrating between them, but so long as each individual position remains intact and continues fighting, the defense as a whole will not fail. In 21st Century America, anyone who wants to live a civilized life must make themselves into a hedgehog, keeping at bay the inanity and triviality that characterizes so much of modern society.

It's simple. To live a civilized life in the 21st Century, you need to build a shield around yourself and keep out the unwholesome, demeaning, and vulgar trash that is swamping our society. Avoid the bad movies and watch the more refined films instead. Turn off the television and open a book. Cook something at home rather than running through the fast food drive through. It's not that difficult. It doesn't require any organization. It's just a choice each of us needs to make.

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