In the Opinion section of this past Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, weekly columnist Peggy Noonan, penned an article wondering aloud if nineteen years into the 21st century, America doesn’t resemble to tremulous and ideologically-charged landscape that Mao Zedong’s 1960’s inhabited. One quick swivel of the head around the streets and cellphones of America and it isn’t hard to surmise: she’s right.
Discussions that were once held in the democratic arena of trying to persuade the other side has fallen into the forlorn war-zone of humiliating and publicly eviscerating the opposition, increasingly personal attacks in step with the degradation of traditional values for the new championing of blistering sensationalism, guilty until proven innocent, and the absolute flaming sword of condemnation a pointed finger as become–and it’s all performed before the mirror. No accusation is made in the respectable distance now, it’s lambasted across tabloids and the drear blue light of smartphones–and there in lies the great difference between Mao’s youthful Red Guard and today’s facile youth screaming the edicts of their rent-a-beliefs: technology. In decades of old, even the most diligent propaganda machines (Goebbels’s Nazi campaigns) took time to weave their dark persuasions–technology is such nowadays that the lemming-minded population perform this crucial task of sinister dissemination all by themselves. Take a look at the ludicrous veil of social media–opinions are weaponized and launched back and forth like the advent of the machine gun in WWI, there is no middle, no refuge of rational argument (the word argument itself becoming an extinct species), only “If you’re not with me you’re against me, you’re racist, your a chauvinist, sexist, on and on and on. It is no longer what you believe, but how loudly you believe it.
What we lose in understanding, we lose in ourselves. Rome, to whom America is so often compared, never fell from a foreign foe–Rome fell from within, tore itself apart in the pettiness of power plays and ideological squabbles. Differences of ideology is half of democracy’s equation, the other half is the the willingness to meet in the middle of those two immeasurables. Each new year folding over the West seems to take us further and further from that willingness. Each year we remember less and less, the sins of the East.