Writing with thoughtful intelligence and keen insight, Dick Meyer, author of Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, is sincerely haunted by several questions regarding our country’s current malaise: Why are so many of us lonely? Why are so many of us depressed and angry? Why are so many of us defensive and paranoid? Why are so many of us distrustful of everyone? Why are we so willing to accept phoniness and ineptness from others, including our government? Why have so many of us surrendered to a condition of learned helplessness and apathy in which not only do we not know what questions we should be asking to solve our depression, we don’t even have anyone to confide in should we know the questions we should be asking.
To answer these questions about our country’s collective low-self-esteem and paralyzing depression, Meyer tells us a story about ourselves. The story is about a country that has lost common, shared values and virtues, a country that having lost community has replaced communal bonds with fierce tribes and clans that aggrandize themselves while demonizing their “opponents.”
The beginning of this story is for Meyer, “Phase One,” the Aquarian Promise of Free Love during the 1960s in which there were no boundaries to the freedom, the ego, the sense of self. This Unlimited Freedom without a moral roadmap resulted in hedonism, egotism, and ultimately narcissism.
Instead of maturing into responsible adults who give and take from a healthy community and family, we have become a bunch of whining, materialistic egotists, our inflated expectations of “selfhood” inevitably being dashed and resulting in greater and greater discontent, bitterness, and resentment.
The 1960s was the beginning of “The Great Me Project,” which resulted in little islands competing against each other rather than a healthy community, which could provide the only source of our sanity—“social capital”—the sense of belonging, intimacy, and authenticity that healthy communities provide.
Absent this belonging, intimacy, and authenticity, we fear we are battling against forces by ourselves and we must also be on guard, living defensively against predators, market scams, phony politicians, and the slew of B.S. that has become so ubiquitous.
To compound our disaffected, isolated selves, our brains have become overwhelmed in the face of “Phase Two,” the Technology Revolution that dizzies us with so many contraptions and messages that we have lost our grounding, our core, our focus. We don’t know if we’re coming or going and we feel we’re about to explode.
His call for community, less materialism, and more courageous standards for moral absolutes might be too late, but at least he is still kicking and fighting.
While much of the book's material about narcissism and nihilism was familiar to me from other books, including Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld by Thomas S. Hibbs and while his book addresses an overwhelming checklist of causes to account for our collective depression and low self-esteem, Meyer succeeds at telling us a cohesive narrative about our popular culture to show us the trajectory leading to our current condition of learned helplessness, loneliness, partisan humbug, and mistrust.