Uncommon Culture


Seems the older I get, the more I’m aware of our increasingly fragmented culture. Once upon a time, everyone you spoke with knew the latest hit song, watched the same television shows and movies, and had the same frame of references. Now we have become so divided as a people that we don’t even honor the same God anymore (if we honor a God at all). We used to all agree on what constituted good values, what was right and wrong. We all understood that The Ten Commandments was the bulwark of decency in our society. We can’t even agree on that anymore.

Our country’s motto, E pluribus unum (from many, to one), has been turned on its head thanks to multiculturalism. We are no longer one united people; we are many groups of people who just happen to be living in the same place. It used to be desirable and honorable for an immigrant coming to America to assimilate into society; today it is considered insensitive to expect someone coming from another country to meld into our culture. No longer a melting pot, we have become an international food court.

Along with multiculturalism, the idea of egalitarianism is routinely taught in our public schools today. That is the idea that America is no better than any other country in the world. All cultures are equally wonderful. When President Obama was asked if he believes in American exceptionalism he said yes, but he was sure that the British and the Belgians also believed in their countries’ exceptionalism. He didn’t want to come right out and say that America was the best. Why not? I don’t know about you, but I want my president to be a strong champion of American ideals and values. Unapologetically patriotic.

Abraham Lincoln had strong faith in America; in his second message to Congress he coined the phrase, “the last best hope of earth.” President Reagan quoted that line many times when speaking of our country. President Kennedy said Americans were “the watchmen on the walls of freedom.” He echoed President George Washington, who thought the American people had been given the unique opportunity to tend “the sacred fire of liberty.”

The proliferation of multicultural and egalitarian thought in our society is not the only reason we are experiencing a fragmented culture. The famous term, “generation gap,” first heard in the 1960s, is growing wider all the time. People in their early twenties have less in common with people in their early forties and fifties than they had in generations past. We literally speak a different language. The explosion of new electronic technology is part of it, but so is fashion.

It is my contention that fashion has contributed to the breakdown of the common culture as much or maybe more than any other single factor. It may be difficult for us to grasp what life was like before fashion began, but there was a time when fashion was not as important as it is now. Today’s young people have new things exposed to them on an ongoing basis; cultural changes happen practically every week, or so it seems.

With each succeeding generation, a new culture comes about to make the old one obsolete and old-fashioned. It wasn’t always this way. There once was a time that young people actually dressed the same way that older people did, they listened to the same music, they spoke using the same words and phrases, and they had the same virtues. Young and old alike valued the same things. But you’d have to go back more than 100 years — well before the Industrial Revolution — to live in a time totally devoid of fashion in everyday life.

Everything is subject to fashion now, everything. Beyond clothing, hairstyles and other aspects of personal grooming, automobiles, electronic gadgets, music, movies, food, even speech, are all driven by fashion trends. It goes back to the cockeyed idea that change is always better. It doesn’t matter what the change is, as long as it is different from what was. I never went along with this thinking. To me a change must be for the better, or else I’ll keep what I have, thank you.

This is why I listen to classical music. This is why I dress in well tailored clothes when going out. This is why I watch old movies. The new stuff — the fashionable stuff — just isn’t any better. Matter of fact, it’s worse. But this is what’s happening with lots of people in our culture: they are finding their own things, because there are no more common threads among us as there once were.

I don’t know how a country can exist without a common culture to hold it together. We are what we are because of the people who founded this nation. Those people had a common link, something that does not exist here anymore. One thing is for sure: what made America what it was is disappearing fast. America is changing. Will the change be for the better? From what I’ve seen so far, my guess is not at all. Not even close.

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