The American Attitude Toward Improvement

Americans were once enthusiastic about improvements of all kinds, including self-improvement. Not any more – and this change in attitude should be carefully noted by our pundits.

Their attitude now seems to be that they are as good as they can be, and any further improvement is unnecessary – and even undesirable. In fact, regression to some point in the past, where things were better, now seems like a good idea.

This is a strange state of affairs, and we should be giving this lots of thought – except for something even stranger: we are no longer thinking.

But I must now carefully differentiate between the several groups I have lumped together when I spoke of “we”. I am speaking of Americans here – and not of Ticos, where I currently reside, in Costa Rica.

We were hit by Television back in the Fifties – and we have never recovered from that blow. We became a nation of watchers, not readers. And as watchers we lost any critical abilities that we had as readers. When we did do a certain amount of thinking.

Compare the Lincoln-Douglas debates (which were fully reported by the newspapers) with the Television debates of today. Are these an improvement?

There is some cogent criticism of what is going on – but it is being done in writing – which uses different parts of the brain than imaging does. The newer parts of the brain.

Any animal has a well-developed ability to see and hear (and smell) its world – and make rapid responses to it – so it doesn’t get eaten up. Humans also have this ability, and for the same reasons. But they also developed something no other animal has – language. And this has made them the dominant species in the world.

Language is a powerful tool – but it has its built-in limitations. People can go crazy – and often do. But when it works right, when it lets us think properly, we are far ahead.

We have not made a careful distinction between these two kinds of awareness. The fast and the slow. Most people want the fast (provided by TV) because thinking is too much work.

Reading and writing take much longer, and a taste for these pleasures has to be carefully nurtured.


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