A bunch of selfish, narcissistic asswipes…

What Our Words Tell Us – NYTimes.com.

I like David Brooks. Can’t help it. He, rather consistently, looks at the world around him and says doctrinaire liberals and conservatives are more often wrong than they are right. He flusters people because no one can figure out whose side he’s on.

I’d argue, he’s on the side of trying to figure out how to fix things that are hurting all of us, regardless of which team jersey we’ve decided to wear today.

In his latest column in the New York Times, Brooks suggests that by looking at word choices over the past few hundred years or so you can see how our culture and priorities have shifted, that we’ve become progressively more individualistic and correspondingly less communal. Amateur linguists love this sort of thing. If I had a dime for every time some living room linguist has tried to explain to me that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow because snow is omnipresent in their lives I’d have a whole lot of dimes. The thing is, this isn’t true. Inuits (there really is no such thing as an Eskimo – sort of like how European explorers mistakenly called the natives they encountered in the Americas “Indians” because they thought they were sailing to India, and even though we’ve known for hundreds of years that they are not, in fact, Indians, we still call them that – hat tip to Louis CK), really only have one word that is the Inuit equivalent to the English word, snow. But like any culture they have a lot of words they use to describe their environment, and armchair linguists might be mistaken in believing, simplistically, that these words all just translate to snow.

That said, a culture that progressively talks more about themselves as distinct, separate, independent individuals and less and less about belonging to groups and communal entities is probably changing.

I don’t really need to do research on vast Google databases to know this though.

Yesterday, as I was driving home from the gym there was a young man driving in front of me. He was driving simultaneously in two lanes for about two blocks, then he made a violent and hurried left turn in front of oncoming traffic, and narrowly missed causing what would have been a pretty grim collision. He was talking on his phone. That’s right, phone to his ear the whole time, in spite of this being utterly and completely illegal, not to mention quite obviously foolish and dangerous.

So, why would he do such a thing? Why would this young man drive in a way that made him a danger to others? Why would he ignore the law and risk getting a pretty significant moving violation? Because he doesn’t care. He is the center of the universe with no obligations to anyone or anything but himself and his own convenience and pleasure.

The big government vs. small government argument that Brooks touches on in his column is tied into this, but in a way that he hasn’t mentioned: As we become more and more self-interested and less communal we each become more and more dangerous to others. Why do we have to have a law against talking or texting while driving? Because we don’t think about the consequences of our actions on anyone but ourselves. Same reason we need to have laws against dumping toxic waste and used to have a law against commercial banks and investment banks operating under one roof – when people act solely for their own immediate gain or convenience without thought for how their actions could impact others (or everyone) things go very badly.

The thing is, the more self-interested we are the less and less likely we are to be free from government restriction and oversight. It’s like our society is populated with greater and greater numbers of toddlers. Ask anyone who has ever taught kindergarten, there’s a limited number of little willful children that can be kept in check (and kept safe) by one adult. More toddlers means more nannies.

Don’t like the nannie-state? Stop acting like a toddler.

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