So many people lament these days about something missing in our culture, something lost, something perhaps never to be retrieved. We seem to be wandering around a bit bewildered. We seem to be carrying around a map of reality that no longer points out where we are or where we should be going. Something happened, to use Joseph Heller’s phrase of a few decades ago. Something changed, quite dramatically, and we worry about that. We yearn for something different, something old and good.
Now I know this can sound like nostalgia for a past that didn’t exist in the first place. Or perhaps it is just the perennial whining of an older generation that longs for the good old days. Maybe we simply need to move on, embrace change, accept what we have become.
In a Saturday Wall Street Journal column a week ago, Peggy Noonan says that “pretty much everyone over 50 in America feels on some level like a refugee. That’s because they were born in one place — the old America — and live now in another.”
Of course we have to ask, is there really an “old America” that is somehow more healthy, more decent, more mannered, more devoted to the common good, more hopeful? We know the old times were full of all kinds of dark realities. We think of the scourge of racism run rampant and deep in the culture, for example. Things were not perfect, to be sure.
But still there is “a certain cultural longing now,” Noonan says. We “hear the new culture out of the radio, the TV, the billboard, the movie, the talk show. It is so violent, so sexualized, so politicized, so rough.” People often feel they “miss the old America . . . .” They “fear, deep down, that this new culture, the one their children live in, isn’t going to make it.”
“In essence,” Noonan says, we live in “an assaultive culture, from the pop music coming out of the rental car radio to the TSA agent with her hands on your kids’ buttocks. We are increasingly strangers here, and we fear for the future.”
What do you think? Do you share these feelings? I’d love to know what you feel about the way things are these days in our country, perhaps across the world. Have we lost something good, something never to be retrieved? Do we feel that powerless to lead change toward something better? Do we feel that hopeless?