Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

The Death of Innocence

DCup at The American Street has figured out conservatives. She wonders if she’s a little late to the party (she is) but nevertheless has an interesting insight: Americans are conservative because it’s easy.

Conservatism doesn’t require you to change any of your beliefs or habits. It doesn’t ask you to consider anything different than what you already know. It doesn’t trust that you’ll think beyond the little circle you stand in. It doesn’t encourage you to care about the commons or your fellow human beings. Conservatism says it’s okay, no it’s preferable if you are exclusionary. It allows you to draw the tiniest circle possible around you so that you only have to care about your family and yourself.

It’s a good point. America is about being lazy – intellectually lazy. We’ve always prided ourselves on our ignorance, bragged about it. Which is why when George W sticks his nose in the air to tell us he doesn’t bother to read books, we applaud. He’s one of us, no damn egghead.

Conservatism applauds right along with us. As Kevin pointed out in his comment, “T[h]at also explains why so many hate actual knowledge. Knowledge and reason threaten biases and distorted or perverse ethics.” They like that we’re ignorant and naïve and want to stay that way. It makes us easy targets, makes us easy to manipulate.

This is important not because her insight is so blindingly original – it isn’t – but because she has put her finger on the challenge – the real challenge – that the entire country will face very soon: the loss of our innocence.

We hate that. We hate the whole idea. Our national identity has been built on our innocence, our generosity, our perpetual youth. Without it, we are groundless, undefined, a people floating in a void. This is a “melting pot” where people of vastly different cultures and ethnic backgrounds have merged into a single simple identity. They gave up much of their identifying heritage (it takes 3-4 generations but they’ve all done it) in order to become naïve, ignorant, generous Americans who don’t have the age-old problems that stifle, even choke, the rest of the world.

Yet we have now reached a point in our development where the innocence and naiveté we prize so highly has actually begun to threaten our survival. No matter how much in love with it we are, we’re going to have to give it up. Have to. And it isn’t going to be easy.

We are more or less equivalent to a 16-yr-old who is facing adulthood but doesn’t want to let go of the safety and familiarity of childhood, who wants the responsibility to make his/her own decisions but also wants to continue to be protected by parents and family. And that adolescent is spoiled. Rotten.


America, to be blunt about it, has built itself on the uniquely American Dream that you can have it ALL.

Well, you can’t. And that may be the hardest lesson we ever have to learn. But if we don’t, our nation – or what’s left of it after Bush – is going to wind up joining the rest of the would-be imperiums in the planet’s hitorical junkbin. We MUST wake up. We MUST learn things we don’t want to learn, like how to deal with complexity.