By Ron Marr
It would be incorrect to say that I’m in a feud with our present culture. That particular word connotes heated passion, a Hatfield-McCoy desire to rectify a host of real or perceived wrongs. The terminology is better suited to those with a sense of righteous—or even self-righteous—indignation.
The more appropriate diagnosis is that I’m too ambivalent to feel apathetic. This civic lethargy may stem from the reality that I recently turned fifty-five. It’s possible that the advancing years have atrophied my interest in jousting with fatuous windmills.
Possible, but doubtful. The real reason is more about pragmatism than creaking joints.
Our current societal paradigm has made it virtually impossible to utter the mildest of critical opinions without being branded hateful, insensitive, intolerant, or insulting. I first noticed this trend two decades ago, in the early mutterings of political correctness; I mistakenly assumed the ridiculous proponents of such an Orwellian ethos would be laughed into obscurity. I’m obviously a dense sort of hillbilly, for around the same time I predicted that the just-emerging internet was so fraught with potential dangers— scammers, perverts, and crooks—that it would never catch on.
This just goes to show that I’m the last person from whom you should ever seek investment advice. We now live in a world where speech that refuses to march in lockstep with the hypersensitive, ultra-tolerant herd is viewed as misanthropic or criminal. Moreover, our lives and commerce are inexorably bound to a system ruled by silicon chips, algorithms, and the aforementioned scammers, perverts, and crooks.
At age thirty-five, I was naïve enough to presume that common sense and the desire for individuality would win the day. At fifty-five, I no longer believe that. In fact, my incredulity that such hallowed traits are viewed with disdain has led me to largely resign from the fray. Offering opinions on specific examples of humanity gone south only results in virally generated, histrionic demands that the speaker be shunned and silenced. Ironically, these tirades inevitably arise from the self-proclaimed advocates of tolerance.
Thus, in the age of the easily offended, I rarely offer my two-bits on issues of the day. Instead, I concentrate on my own life and the lives of those people and animals for whom I care deeply. There is still beauty in the world—there is still love in the world—but these ethereal qualities are not found in the specious sophistry of politicians or false prophets. They’re absent from the scripted ramblings of sanitized pundits and propagandizing reporters. They’re not found in the Twitter pronouncements of pseudo-celebrities or the parrot-like mimicry of Facebook disciples. You find them only by examining your own ethical compass and discerning your own beliefs. You find them in true words, real actions, simple faith, and the authentic manner in which you treat others.
Following this path has always been easier said than done. That’s especially pertinent in 2014, as we have become a culture that widely lacks the desire or capacity for self-reflection. We look outward when we should be looking inward. We look inward ... almost never. It’s much easier to blindly accept the bellicose ideals of a group than to analyze—and judge—for yourself. Mob psychology has its appeal; all it requires is a total abrogation of critical thought.
The cliché is that age brings wisdom. I suspect the author of that dubious maxim was neither old nor wise. At best, age bestows a grudging acceptance that human nature is commodiously intractable. At fifty-five, I finally understand that Mark Twain had it right all along.
“Never argue with a fool,” he wrote. “Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”