Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 20, 2017
We’re in danger of being inundated by a force that apparently cannot be resisted — ourselves.
Whether the subject is love, hunger, health care, catastrophe or politics, everywhere we turn for exchange of information seems dominated these days by the single concern about our own personal well-being. That behavior seems especially weird because so many people seem to lack any usable sense of self-awareness as to how they come across to others.
With the easy availability and ever-present-ness of social media posts to tell others what we personally are feeling, eating, meeting, what we are observing, what we are demanding that others agree to, we are using digital citizenry to project the story of Me. My daily slog through social media posts is a walk through the living rooms of others who seem to be looking in the mirror, apparently in hopes or expectations of finding the approval of others, even If it comes as a Like that may mean liking the post’s subject, not necessarily the take on it.
I’ve been trying to write about the Trump presidency, of course, not about the inner-self, but in that arena, too, the dominant use of social media is to reflect Me-ness. The posts too often are not aimed at persuading so much as announcing that this is My Opinion. And most of My Opinion is about how issue X will affect Me.
What happened to caring about others? What has so changed our focus about living in the world as to eliminate the world part? We seem to care less and less about looking outward for how issues affect the people around us, and more and more about looking inwards to say this issue matters to Me.
What keeps me awake in the middle of the night, he said about himself in the spirit of the rest of this column, is how we’re making things much more difficult for those less well-off than ourselves, about how the emerging generations are going to be left with problems we refused to resolve, about how the arts and books and words that I think has helped shape our generation are giving way to easier and easier answers, to 140-character analyses, to pictures about our lunch today.
In the end, of course, expressing concern for others, even focusing on others, most certainly affects us directly; it may impel action, for example, or at least boil one’s emotions about the state of the world.
But as I graze the daily news, I see more and more evidence of me-first orientation dominating. The Me-too movement is ostensibly about many Me stories, but at heart it is really a set of stories about how those in power find their need to satisfy their own needs more important than they do any thought about the person who may feel assaulted or offended. The insistence on winning at all costs in politics is more about my side faring better than the foe that any necessary research, logic or reason in proposed legislation be set aside. How else to explain congressional bills that will take away health care from millions or that raise taxes on middle class folks to pay for corporate tax cuts?
The verbal sniping between our president and the leader of North Korea is all about Me on both sides, not on seeking out ways to make sure we don’t drop nuclear weapons on one another. The America-first thinking that now defines the Trump Doctrine is a direct extension of caring about Me first, my family first, my country first. That this president does not even recognize world hunger as an issue, or American hunger for that matter, that he does not see climate change as world-changing, that he cannot find sufficient empathy to share with loads of catastrophes that do not mesh with his very specific Trump-first views is simply a shame for the White House and for us.
Hey, over the weekend, the president even attacked by tweet the father of one of the UCLA students on whose behalf Trump had intervened with China to secure their release. The attack: The father had not sufficiently thanked Trump, which prompted the president to say perhaps he should have left them in a Chinese jail. You don’t give a gift only so that you can hear yourself be thanked, do you?
You can see it on the subway, where people cannot wait for riders to exit before pushing into the car, you can see it in relationships, in religion, in merchandizing and commerce. The idea of community has been pushed to the back of the stage to put Me and Mine out front. Ask any CEO why their top salaries must be 50 times or more the amount of worker wages, or why mergers that eliminate jobs rather than invest in communities are the dominant business headlines. Ask why we need to post a picture of our heaping plates of food rather than taking the moment to consider those who have too little.
This week is Thanksgiving. Perhaps we should consider the spirit of the holiday.