From The New Republic:
When did you last read a book or an essay or a post that claimed America, or modern civilization, or “the West,” was in decline, or that the United States had “lost” its innocence, or that it was “falling behind” in its educational standards, or that comity has tragically disappeared from a partisan and polarized Washington, whereas once upon a time representatives came to the capital only to do the “people's business”? Not too long ago, I suspect. But one may read exactly such laments from fifteen or thirty or even eighty years ago. Earlier prophets of doom were humming the same rueful tune. Maybe doom is just a trope. And yet the staleness of American punditry from one generation to the next is disturbing. It numbs our language, and blinds us to the ways in which our institutions are changing, or even disappearing.
In 1978, in England, Arianna Stassinopoulos published her second book, called After Reason. In it she proclaimed that modernity had failed us. The world was overflowing with spiritual yearnings that our trivial and materialistic society could not satisfy. Who, or what, was responsible for the malaise? A part of the blame was laid at the feet of a craven and soulless media. “For the first time in history,” Stassinopoulos portentously began, “an opinion on everything has become an indispensible accessory of modern living, and everybody goes about in the cast off clothing of the latest media gurus.” After approvingly quoting Kierkegaard, she continued:
The world is reduced into flat, surveyable, two-dimensional world events; and we can all enjoy the illusion that we know exactly what has happened in the last twenty-four hours and what precisely to think about what has happened. Except that the meaning and significance that even the most averse to thought among us need, remain lost. The news and opinions, the perishable, ephemeral and valueless facts with which alone we are bombarded is as much of a substitute for the truths we long for, as a telephone number is for its subscriber. So it is not so much that we know more and more about less and less, but that we know more and more about the less and less important; and the more the precision of our knowledge increases, the more trivial the questions we seek to answer.