Modern America and the diminishing individual.

Author:Cooper, Peter J.
Position:American Thought

The impudence, indifference, and self-centeredness evidenced by some Americans are symptomatic of a contemporary national malaise. This behavior largely is attributable to social change brought about by the combination of physical circumstances and recent history. There are greater numbers of people engaging in more diverse hyperactivity than ever before. The dream of a better life has become confused with one that merely is more complicated. Cyberspace provides a compelling escape for millions to a simulated environment over which they can impose a measure of order and control. Indeed, modern life sometimes seems to resemble an unpleasant, mindless video game.

Individual significance in society commonly diminishes in direct proportion to the number of people. A fundamental problem in contemporary America is lack of regard for the individual. This is obvious in the way many treat each other, on a social basis and in business dealings. Although this has been true to a greater or lesser extent throughout history, it particularly is evident in the U.S. today. Its most common manifestations are the ubiquitous rudeness, impatience, noise, road rage, and lack of personal attention and consideration that we are forced to endure each day. With so many people to attend to--and exacerbated by perpetual cost-cutting--availability and quality of services as well as the affability of those who provide them typically decrease. Wouldn't it be grand if we could be compensated monetarily for all the time we have been kept waiting for services or to communicate with a human being face to face or on the telephone? People increasingly complain of being reduced to a number. They are not even that if the army of information handlers does not access and process their records correctly.

On occasion, individuals have the identity and history of another bestowed upon them. The 2000 census counted 285,000,000 people. Despite the average number of children in the American family decreasing from 3.7 during the post-World War II baby boom to 2.0 at present, our population has not yet peaked. It should stabilize in 50 or 60 years. Since the current birthrate is below the replacement reproduction figure of 2.1, our population then would begin to drop. However, these calculations do not consider immigration, which accounts for more than 90% of population growth. Some immigrants continue the tradition of large families, as do some socially conservative Americans. Human...

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