Last December an Op Ed piece by Arthur C. Brooks ran in the New York Times. Reading and contemplating of it and a little follow-up research could lead to the easing of minds obsessed with grievance. See, The Real Victims of Victimhood. The Op Ed posits that our society has become infantilized by its progressive drift toward embracing promoters of complaint, particularly those who peddle in nothing but complaint. They are not hard to identify provided one retains some degree of objectivity. They offer no solutions or alternative vision. Instead, they capitalize on engendering ‘us vs. them’ mentality. The solution to all of us’ complaints is the destruction of them. A diabolically simple formula to appeal to denialist-inclined minds.
Brooks refers to the 1993 book Culture of Complaint by former Time art critic Robert Hughes that sparked his observations. Hughes warned of what the book’s subtitle called ‘The Fraying of America.’ Hughes broke down the origins of ‘us-as-victim vs. them’ thinking in the U.S. He ably demonstrated how it has been an integral feature of Americanism since the days of the first Puritans. He contended that PC – political correctness of the left and patriotic correctness of the right – was exacerbating the cultural disability to frightening levels of ignorant and irresponsible black-and-white thinking.
That Hughes identified a real problem might have been clear to rational minds within a decade of its publication. By the year 2000 that polar mentality was so prevalent, our future two-term President would play on it without even identifying just who the ‘them’ was:
“When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and you knew exactly who they were. It was us versus them, and it was clear who them was. Today, we are not so sure who they are, but we know they’re there.” (George W. Bush 21 January 2000, on the campaign trail in Iowa)
In less than two years W found ‘them’ and distinguished himself with the rallying cry: “You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy.”
Of course, the 2016 Presidential candidates make Bush look like the model of judicious wisdom by comparison.
An entertaining look at how such dichotomous thinking pervades our culture is contained in Jon Ronson’s book Them: Adventures with Extremists. Ronson’s self-deprecating humor helps to shed light on how the process of polarization works subjectively.