(FRIENDS! PLEASE READ THIS IMPORTANT PIECE FROM ONE OF MY FAVORITE AMERICAN THINKERS. DISCUSS!)
. Is our entire culture adolescent? That is the conclusion of the colorful anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille. He has been performing innovative market research for major global companies for 30 years. According to his studies, each country’s culture has a dominant personality. Cultural personalities drive what citizens pay attention to, what consumers buy, and how we treat each other. Every cultural personality has upsides and downsides.
. You wouldn’t be surprised that he views our United States’ personality as largely adolescent, with our iconic hero being the cowboy. In marketing, it means that beer ads, laced with humor and young women, get our attention. Nike ads featuring lone, heroic athletes who “just do it” appeal to a high-testosterone sense of achievement.
. Rapaille claims that Americans in general are motivated by this young, individualistic psyche that gave us rock‘n’roll, muscle cars, and superhero movies. Of course, the downside is that we can be too emotional, moody, ready to blame others, and most unfortunately, violent. Like teenagers, we are convinced that we are special and invincible. Most of all, like any proud 15-year-old, nobody is going to tell us what to do.
. If Rapaille is on to something, it may also explain how we can be cruel to people who are not like us, reluctant to take responsibility for the messes we individually cause, and generally revel in our own self-interest.
. It may explain too why we believe we can spend endless amounts of money on what’s important to us (whether it’s defense or Medicare) without consequence.
. It might explain why we are quick to get into international fights, and then act like it’s no big deal.
. Our adolescent personality may also explain how we insist on being free to have automatic weapons, and pass laws that legalize shooting first and asking questions later.
. Finally, it may explain our current politics of rival gangs who refuse to talk to each other. Our Congress has become junior high school, and our election like a campaign for class president.
The human brain is slow to develop. The last piece of brainware to switch on is our prefrontal lobes, that give us good judgment and empathy. A teenage brain has low impulse control and is intoxicated with selfishness.
. If that’s what’s driving us, it’s time to grow up. We are 230 years old. You’d think we’d learn how to make wise decisions as a nation. You’d think we be committed to practical, concrete solutions. You’d think we’d value both fairness and freedom. You’d think we agree on rules of conduct and commerce that promote both personal innovation as well as civic virtue. You’d think we’d value cooler heads and balanced solutions. But instead it seems we are acting more and more like name-calling teenagers, doing little but causing trouble.
. What’s the point? Our culture is the sum of all of us. Perhaps it’s time to cool our mutual outrages, our blaming and finger-pointing.
. Perhaps, among our own circles of friends and family, we might seek to promote ideals not based on fears or partisan positions, but on an optimistic, 21st century view of how we might build the best possible future for our children.
. The fact that reasonable people will have a harder time being elected… than any other election in my lifetime is sad. This is no time to act like wild teenagers. It’s time to grow up.
© 2012 Will Marre
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
(EDITOR’S NOTE: No shit, Sherlock!)