Viewpoint: On the Decline of Good Things


My efforts have usually been aimed at analysis, at understanding, at reaching a rational solution to problems we face. But this time I want to express my feelings. I am no poet and my efforts here have no precedent. But I think that emotions should at times be expressed in public, even by those of us who haven't mastered the ways to do it beautifully.

What I want to express is my immense sadness at the present decline of the quality of our culture. At times it hits me. I get all bunched up inside. I feel terrible sadness, usually at the sight of something simple, forgotten or rarely mentioned. A well-built office building. A superhighway. A great-looking automobile. A hamburger stand or a supermarket. Yes, walking by these or just seeing one on TV gets to me. These are the forgotten things of our culture, ones that no one hails, no one compliments, everyone either seems to take for granted or demeans by fancy ideological hogwash.

I came to America in 1956. I liked what I saw. As I travelled through Europe twice in recent years I could not keep from my mind how great this country I have chosen to live in actually is. How marvelous life here can be. Oh, I know all the shit and horror people can experience in America. But that is not my point now. I am simply crushed at the prospect of destroying all the great but "unremarkable" things we find around us. My car works so well, the gas I put into it is such a benefit. My home is full of items invented by forgotten heroes. Everywhere I go I meet up with these items that some people demean, denigrate, condemn, debase, etc. I feel pain and sometimes indignation when I perceive all the hostility unleashed at the things that make up this great industrial, capitalist, hustling, intense country I have chosen to live in and would not trade, even now, for anything else I know of on the face of the globe.

Don't you sometimes feel this emotion? I do. I swell up with tears. Yes, tears. I feel sadness and anger. I find it incredible that the Galbraiths and Naders of our land hate the things I love so much, or like at least, so often without even noticing them. The movies, songs, cars, gadgetry, science, art, music, and all the rest—nothing anywhere matches the array of "goods and services" that have been produced in the United States. I am overwhelmed at times.

No, this is not a scientific sample. Common sense dictates these observations. And my emotions are responses to what I perceive, helter skelter, off and on, here and there and everywhere. It is just incredible that there are folks who want to destroy it all. But there are such people. They hail other cultures, other values, other styles, other ways. The "American way" is not a precise term but such components as "Yankee ingenuity," "casual confidence," "ambition," "arrogance," "inventiveness," "hustling," and the lot make up a good portion of it. (My wife remarked in Europe that she missed the "clean young executive types" you can see everywhere in America. Whatever the details, I shared the feeling of loss. Especially when we visited Hungary to see my youngest sister. It was drab to the point I would not try to describe.)

Sure, I have my "system" within which I can understand why so many want to do away with the values and results of our distinctive culture. But when I perceive these values and results, when I learn of the vehement attacks upon it, then I am amazed. Why would anyone want to do away with all that? Why are man's products, his great achievements, his minor improvements on life and culture so despised? Why, why would anyone allow himself to work for the destruction of it all? No, I don't think it is a mystery. But I am baffled, in those moments of unreflective perception, about the irrationality, the stupidity, the callousness that must go into such nihilism.

These are outpourings. Not elegant, not even moving outpourings—those take skill in the art of expression. But I do not see much poetry devoted to the theme of my emotions. So I thought it worth expressing them in just the way I am doing it here. To what purpose? I am not sure. Perhaps only to put in on record that a rational person can feel the impact of irrationality around him. I feel sad. At the destruction, the insensitivity, the pointlessness of what is being done to a great culture.

Tibor Machan teaches philosophy at SUNY-Fredonia. Dr. Machan's viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Murray N. Rothbard and David Brudnoy.