Wow. Before I begin, I would like to say that this article was the most impressive piece of (nonfiction) writing I’ve ever come across. In the last year or so, I’ve come to start thinking a lot about our times and how they fit into History, the World, and Everything, and the way that this article seemed to be able to so clearly elucidate the context and reality of our times within its breadth was deeply impactful. I truly hope that I am able to write like Brooks one day.
Brooks is dead on when he faults societal distrust as a primary contributor to our society’s apparent crisis of social trust (I say apparent because, until reading this, I had not much considered that the “explosive” social distrust of today might be unique to our time). But I think it is necessary to elaborate on some of his points, especially when he highlights periods of “moral convulsion.” He paints the ‘90s under the broad stroke of general prosperity, both in actual indicators of societal well-being, and in perceptions of that well-being. However, one has to wonder—while we can accept that the ‘90s might have been a more prosperous period than today, did those good perceptions originate completely from the actual welfare of the economy, politics, and institutions, or did some great part of them stem from a lack of awareness of and consideration for other issues? Gay marriage was not legal in the ‘90s, and sodomy laws still existed in many states. Racism was certainly not at any kind of new low. Was the highly globalized supply chain of free market capitalism somehow less abusive to the workers in less-developed countries than it is now, or than it was beforehand in the ‘80s? Clearly, it was not all sunshine and daisies. Might periods of moral convulsion in the past have been more of an awakening, a stronger awareness of all the aspects of our society, than simply another period of upheaval in the regular intervals of social change and unrest?
We are living through a decline. There is no question about that; I cannot imagine a reason someone would say we are currently living through more of a pivot than a decline. Of course, there is complexity to the question. Brooks makes the entire thing seem more black-and-white than I really think it is: periods aren’t just either pivot and decline, they’re filled with movements and popular sentiments that lean in both directions, and it doesn’t make sense to say we’re only either in one or the other. In this period, however, with the economy poised to sink into a deleterious depression (especially if Congress cannot pass another stimulus package, ahem), with divisions higher than ever, with the pandemic raging as hard as ever, and with distrust and even disdain for authorities and experts proliferating, we are in an unmistakable decline. The good news, I think, is that in the social justice and equality sphere, the seeds have really been planted over the last few months in the Millennial and Gen Z generations that will lead to meaningful reforms over the next decade or more, as they grow in political force and a now-ingrained focus on anti-racism has its effects on policy and more.
Brooks’s praises for America are idealistic. It’s true that America has had great success in many areas: a robust and dominant economy, effective preeminence in the international community, and a history of democracy that, at least in the 19th century, seemed far ahead of many other monarchical or otherwise autocratic nations and empires. Nonetheless, it also has plenty shortcomings which we are all well aware of, like slavery, abuse and decimation of native peoples, and other deeply-entrenched systemic discrimination and oppression. So (especially during this time) it is a bit misguided to end with its “dazzling achievement.” But I disagree with @thesnackthatsmilesback, when they say Brooks is totally wrong and the world is laughing at America. In my opinion, this is conflating America’s current poor leadership and standing with its overall history. For the reasons I’ve listed at the beginning of this paragraph, America is definitely still respected and looked up to throughout the world, even if it is to a lesser extent today, and you can see this in the statements of political leaders, professionals, and others from abroad.
The Age of Disappointment has totally shaped our generation. This section of the article was particularly interesting to read and I think it convincingly argued that Gen Z, knowing nothing else, has become pretty mistrustful of authorities and institutions. And while this is healthy and understandable to a great extent, we have to be able to trust, and utilize, our institutions if we are to maintain and improve the condition of our society. For example, while it might be understandable that a Gen Z-er would express distrust in the efficacy of our voting system due to the electoral college, voter suppression, and disenfranchisement, the only way to actually change that problem is to vote. Thus it is extremely necessary for us to keep our faith in the systems and to keep using them, even while acknowledging their imperfection. This segues into my thoughts on Levin’s comment. While I think the quotation itself is illogical given the reality of how people operate in low-trust periods, its point is a good one. In low-trust periods like these, the emphasis is on both how the system is perceived to be failing, and how people believe they can fix it. The BLM movement and Trump’s unique brand/base have this in common, that they both see a system that is failing them, but also are looking to see what they can do, though in the case of Trump’s brand, “what they can do” seems more than anything keeping Trump and similar conservatives in office and nothing more.
I’d like to lastly add that for people like @thesnackthatsmilesback who see themselves as outsiders to the system- don’t, or at least, try not to. Seeing yourself as an outsider, is, I think, a consequence of a lot of stuff that Brooks talked about, but nonetheless it’s really important to realize that, as a member of society, you are society, you are the system, and that the federal government, while often disgracefully inactive on important issues, is not just in it for The 0.01% Elites and themselves. To begin with, all the congresspeople responsible for the lack of reform are not just sitting on Capitol Hill and deciding which reforms they want to support based on whims. Their actions are based on political calculations that involve what their constituents support, and what suits their agenda. At the moment, the majority of senators apparently do not believe that their constituents are in favor of change, and so the House bill meant to combat police brutality, and more, failed to pass. However, we will see shortly just how accurate that assessment was… and if polls remain as they stand now, it’s just not looking too good for Republicans at the moment. So while initial action failed, there is still hope for more to occur later on. And even then, action does not only happen on a national level. It starts with individuals who use whatever power they have, in club, sports, and extracurricular leadership, for example, to effect change. It occurs on the district, city, county, state, and even international level as well. And so far in 2020, change has definitely occurred on those levels, even if we still have farther to go. I firmly believe that the institutions currently in place do offer hope for change, even if they do not guarantee it.
So so sorry for the genuinely titanic length of this post *insert crying emoji*