jeff gardner.

The paranoid American

I had dinner with some friends last night, none of whom are American, and the conversation turned to the funny cultural differences between America and the rest of the world.  It was a fun, light-hearted conversation but since last night I’ve been thinking about some of the points that were made and, to be quite honest, I’m not quite sure I’m happy with what they suggest.

America has become hyper-paranoid.  We have become a nation of gated-community living, pill-popping scaredy-cats that are afraid of not only the rest of the world, but each other.  I’ll bet each and every one of you out there can remember the constant warnings against talking to strangers when you were a kid.  Don’t talk to strangers?  How the hell else are you supposed to meet new people?!  What a crock of shit.  And yes, I know, it serves a purpose.  Keep kids safe from the crazies of the world.  But honesty.  It’s no wonder that we’re all anti-social malcontents when we’re all afraid of what might happen if we were to (gasp!) actually go out and try and meet new people!  

A story to illustrate my point.  My wife’s little sister was on a scout camp (yes, Irish scouts are co-ed).  This scout camp is done once a year, usually in Europe, and the whole premise is that you must get from point A to point B over the course of 2 weeks.  You are only allowed to spend a tiny sum of money per day and you must rely on the kindness of strangers and your own conversational skills to find your way and to find a suitable patch of earth for your tent each night.  This suitable patch is generally someone’s yard or farmland.  Well the year that Gina’s little sister did the camp was the first year that they extended it to America.  All along the way they would talk to people, tell them what they were doing and sometimes ask for permission to use said patch of earth.  Each and every time, the American they were talking to was agape at the fact that two teenagers were being allowed to run around the countryside alone.  "How dangerous!“  Every person, without fail, would comment that it was a good thing that they happened to talk to them because they were nice (of course) but all of the other people in the community were crazy - or dangerous.  Every single one of the them.  That tells you two things.  One, that most people are genuinely good and helpful.  Two, that we’re all afraid of the big bad world that lurks in dark corners and down shady alleys.

I have a feeling that this has been slowly creeping into the American psyche for some time now.  I would venture to guess that it started at roughly the same time that America began to move into the suburbs, away from the community creating barrios and apartment blocks of the big cities.  We began to spread out, to create small closed off squares of land that we papered with NO TRESPASSING signs and we minded our own business.  All the while feeding off the the so-call “news” stories that screamed about doom and gloom.  We told our children that the world was dangerous and that no one could be trusted, and we told ourselves that it is a pity that this is what has become of it, but you have to do what you have to do.  Popular culture has done nothing to help the situation, with parents becoming more and more controlling in children’s lives and schools (especially middle schools) becoming so sanitized and institutionalized that they effectively squash any and all creativity out of students and teachers alike.

It’s time for this to change.  It’s time to stop listening to the news (except NPR), start talking to other human beings, and start meeting new people.  The digital world is wonderful and has brought us many things but it has also added another layer of seperation to an already fragmented society of paranoia.  We’re in this together people!  Do yourself a favor and go meet some new people, borrow some sugar from your neighbors and for God’s sake, go talk to some strangers - you’d be surprised the find that most are great people!

Tagged: rant, america, paranoia, and diatribe
01 October 2008

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