by Jay Eshelman
In a review of Polish American political thinker Zbigniew Janowski’s latest book, Homo Americanus – The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America, Paul Gottfried characterizes ‘America’s once strong constitutional institutions’ as now ‘oscillating between moral arrogance and ritualized self-abasement.’ The country ‘can never quite decide whether it’s the salvation or bane of humanity, and which remains fixated on equality as the highest ideal.’
And we can debate, until the cows come home, whether or not ‘equality’ should, or even can, be achieved. Janowski thinks ‘Equality in democracy leads to a homogenizing process that destroys the individuality that democracy claims to defend’. As I’ve written before, Inequality is the Engine of Prosperity. And, for those of us living, at least, no one has yet to figure out how to create equality, let alone sustain it.
But it’s Gottfried’s verbalization of the phenomenon I find intriguing: ‘oscillating between moral arrogance and ritualized self-abasement’… a combination, it seems to me, of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia brought on by the stress of crowding and the frustration of never being able to achieve perfection, whatever that ideal may be. And while stress is a normal part of life, it does become debilitating from time to time.
With our ever-increasing communication technology, coupled with the prospect of physical ‘lock-downs’, comes the risk of increased stress. Physical space is secondary to social space. We can alleviate physical crowding architecturally. On the other hand, and as the name implies, on Facebook, we’re always in each other’s faces. On ‘Instagram’ social crowding is ‘instant’.
As one researcher concluded, “when people experience crowding, their social interactions change. Two results are common: They withdraw from others, creating more psychological space when physical space is limited, and they become more irritable and potentially aggressive.”
Welcome to the world of today. Understanding why and how we tick will better help us cope with our stress, and the stress of others. Our success depends on the choices we make, and, most importantly, it depends on whether or not we can actually make choices at all.
In that regard, yet again: Beware ‘The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America’.