Tuesday, July 26, 2011

America’s Stony Heart

"America the Stony-Hearted," is the title of a recent column by Neal Gabler, professor, journalist, author, film critic and political commentator. In light of the current political polarization evidenced in budgetary gridlock, his analysis of a "moral revolution" in the U.S. over the past 30 years is of interest. Gabler believes we have become "a different country morally from what we were." He acknowledges that the "U.S. has always had a complex national moral system, one in which Puritanism, rugged individualism, hard work, self-reliance and personal responsibility coexisted with values of community, concern for the common good, charity, compassion and collective responsibility. These two moralities were not mutually exclusive, nor did they simply describe any one political party. Conservatives espoused generosity and compassion, and "liberals valued hard work and individual responsibility."

In his view, this is no longer the case. "The two moral systems that . . . long coexisted, suddenly were also being politicized and polarized . . . they became mutually exclusive, oppositional and finally inseparable. . . ." Today, for conservatives, the term "liberal" connotes being mush-minded, weak, and . . . willing to give taxpayer largesse to the underserving and lazy." And "liberals have come to see the emphasis on the individual and self-reliance as a form of civic irresponsibility and selfishness -- a way to justify rogue economic behavior and enrichment at the expense of the community."

Gabler concludes that this shift in our "moral geography has not only changed our politics and our perception of morality; it has changed us. If compassion is seen as softness, tolerance as a kind of promiscuity, community as a leech on individuals and fairness as another word for scheming, we are a harder nation than we used to be, and arguably a less moral one as well." In short, America and Americans have become stony-hearted. To read the entire article, click here.

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