Zeitgeist: What A Word!

Well, this particular blog entry may demonstrate my age. I hope you don’t think I am this old guy sitting on the porch making disparaging remarks about the changing world. In my personal life I have a hard time when my schedule changes, but in my professional life I have learned to be flexible and adaptable. So when I state that I am concerned with the Zeitgeist of this age, it is not because I am against change, just concerned with what I see happening around me.

In some respects I am echoing Henry Allen’s comments about his being Ziggy Zeitgeist, Harry Hip. He was saying how he used to be able to feel the essence of an age, and could even predict where our culture was going, but he is now “disquieted. Its not that I see things changing for better or worse, for richer and poorer, or even not changing at all. It’s something else: The most important thing in our culture-sphere isn’t change, but the fact that reality itself is dwindling, fading like sunstruck wallpaper, turning into a silence of the dinner-party sort that leads to a default discussion of movies.” The degeneration of civil dialog and life is becoming a reality.

I love words. The word zeitgeist is one of those words that fascinate me. The definition of this word is “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” Having grown up in 60’s I have an experiential sense of the spirit of that particular age.

From a political sense, the age was defined by the Abbie Hoffman’s, Jerry Ruben’s, and Tom Hayden’s, while the religious culture was demarcated by the Jesus People. The civil rights culture was delineated by the movements of Martin Luther King and John Perkins, while the drug subculture was defined by Timothy Leary. The zeitgeist of that time involved protest and freedom, some of which was good but some of which was very bad.

Previous eras to the 60’s were defined by intellectual engagement, thoughtful dialog, and a growing desire to learn and know. Now our youth is academically falling behind the rest of the world. Shanghai leads the world in reading, South Korea is second, pretty amazing. South Korea has 93% of it youth graduating from high school, while 77% of United States youth are graduating high school. These other countries are hungry, while we twiddle our thumbs playing video games.

My Uncle sent me an email comparing Chinese college students with college students from a major University in the United States. It pictorially demonstrated how Chinese students are winning the fight. They were pictured as stoic and focused. The picture displaying US students had young men smiling and young college girls baring their breasts. Whether these were actual college students or not I don’t know, and I am not saying that all college students in the United States and China fit this stereotype, but I think this does capture the essence of our college students and is generally indicative of how our youth are losing ground with the rest of the world.

Allen says, “Facebook enshrines banality [what a great word – ones that means unimaginative].” He also mentions how our media has “lost authority and audience.” Serious journalism has been replaced by the likes of Limbaugh, Colbert, Stewart, and Maher. “A cultural historian named Warren Susman once said that the 19th century was an age of production, the 20th century an age of consumption.” Allen completes the thought by saying, “Now the line is: If you get things for free on the Internet,  your aren’t the consumer, you’re the product. You are a statistic, a demographic entity that can be sold to advertisers.”

There was a time where we could have hope in improvement of our life. Social mobility was alive and well, but now “Incomes decline, pensions vanish, love dwindles into hooking up.” Our congress is on track to become the most unproductive in the history of our country. And with Henry Allen I say “What is going on?” Even our religion is changing. “ Will organized religion die? I got talking to a girl from an Episcopal youth group in Missouri. Episcopalism is great, she said, you don’t have to believe in anything.” I have a friend who told me he and his wife have the left the Episcopal Church for this very reason.

You know there are so many good things going on in our country I don’t want to give you the impression that I am Debbie downer, but I am concerned. We are losing our fundamental values while we chase the water-downed version of what America is all about. I am for tolerance, inclusion, and diversity of thought, but I am not for undisciplined thinking, being told that I am less than a human being because I do not follow the mainstream, and being told that universalism is the correct way to think.

I am concerned with the zeitgeist of this day and age. It is one that just may lead to the destruction of what we hold dear.

And that is my thought for the day!


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