American Self-Loathing

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dick Meyer contends that, despite living in a time of national prosperity and relative peace, Americans are morally and existentially tired. In Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, he diagnoses the problem and offers suggestions on how we can turn the tide of self-hate.


Dick Meyer

Comments [42]

international professors project from Vermont, International

Wondering if there is evidence that suggests that after WW2, we came out of it as both a confident and optimistic country. The best we may have today is confidence, temporarily suspended?

The frequent mention, therefore, that we are an optimistic people, may be largely unfounded, and may have been diminishing for decades?

This possible loss of confidence perhaps contributes to whatever degree of self-loathing we possess, you think?

Thanks for this timely speculation.

International Professors Project

Aug. 11 2008 09:39 AM
Dana MacKenzie from New York

The book sounds very interesting, and the conversation was good. I have to take some issue though with Meyer's claim that the press tries to tell both sides of the story. Can't help noticing that the press is not covering the John Edwards story. Also, President Bush was hugely and well received in Korea, and only the BBC seemed to cover it. The press tells what they want to tell, and even then, not always fully. I think the Edwards story is salacious, but the truth is, if he were a a republican, the press would be all over it. That is not really right.

Aug. 06 2008 01:21 PM

i agree with the author to some extent. i think it's a lot of things. not simply the lack of community but also the lack of proper parenting... probably the 60s children raising their kids poorly with lack of discipline... i think it come down mostly to parenting because i know plenty of americans who have that sense of community and manners and most of them have good parents.

also, nice conversation and guest!

Aug. 05 2008 11:52 PM
Barry Gerwinn from Ridgewood

When do conspiracy "nuts" actually become vindicated when what they were saying is proven true?

Aug. 05 2008 12:51 PM
Barry Gerwinn from Ridgewood

Hey can you ask this man what he thinks about the Anthrax news?

Aug. 05 2008 12:51 PM

You should read Lucas Conley's "OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder." It's about how marketing (as Mel Brooks put it in his epic "Spaceballs", 'it's the schwarz! marketing!') has overtaken actual product innovation and development.

Aug. 05 2008 12:45 PM

#29, Terri:
I agree. And not capitalism, but the extreme bastardized capitalism we practice.

Aug. 05 2008 12:42 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

#21 and #25, I think you’re both being extremist and alarmist while missing the point. There was a book on marketing and consumerism called the Paradox of Choice that makes a similar argument. His shampoo example was classic. Here’s another example of choice. If you read any article on child conception, birth, and rearing you’d be amazed humans were ever able to breed and survived for the tens of thousands of years preceding the year 2000. When times were simpler… you got pregnant, had the child (at home mind you) and raised him or her. This process produced everyone from Mozart to Mdm. Curie, George Washington and George Bush (take that as you may.) Now people can’t even seem to conceive—well, at least the ones with money and the choice it brings—unless their birthing coach, psychiatrist, soothsayer, and witch doctor are involved. The nation has devolved into quantity over quality and common sense.

Aug. 05 2008 12:42 PM
ab from nyc


Apparently it has to do with the 60's and the availability of choice for people. Apparently there was no rudeness before the 60's

Aug. 05 2008 12:42 PM

Every generation complains that the new kids are rude.
They are rude.
Because they're kids. Anyway, I agree with taher and ab. This idealized past never existed. It's a necessary dream that we'll never live up to, but somehow need. On the other hand, I agree with the guest - botox is bad, and "extreme makeover" is "pretty profoundly alienated." And there's no sense in, when dealing with tradition, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Aug. 05 2008 12:40 PM
tom from nyc

The over-arching problem is luxury. We have given our future away as we move away from regular hard work and sacrifice. We won't take regular jobs, so we give way to tens of millios of immigrants, send our factories to China, Korea, Brazil.

Aug. 05 2008 12:39 PM
Scotty Watson from Secaucus NJ

This is a great interview! I would like to make a semantical point. Mr. Meyer said that reporters try to get to...

"BOTH sides of the issue."

I have noticed most English speaking nations, (outside the U.S.), they use the term...

"ALL sides of the issue."

It does seem that we here in the US tend to try to make multifaceted issues and turn them into black and white.

Your thoughts?

Aug. 05 2008 12:39 PM
ab from nyc


I couldn't agree more...Leonard should have you on the that one sentence you said something more concrete and relevant than this guy has said in the last 20

Aug. 05 2008 12:38 PM
Terri from Bed Stuy

So selfishness, isolation, and rudeness is all about politics and the media? Nothing at all to do with our particular version of capitalism. . . .

Aug. 05 2008 12:37 PM
Robert from Manhattan

Leonard and Dick are going around and around on the notion of how hard it is to establish "truth". But there is a much more basic problem. We are now divided into camps that cannot agree on FACTS. If we cannot agree on facts, we'll never come close to being able to coalesce around "truths", which are an even weightier concept.

Aug. 05 2008 12:35 PM
ab from nyc

Define "the middle"

Aug. 05 2008 12:34 PM

Give this guy the hook and get on with Suskind who has something real to say. That's the only reason I showed up today.

Aug. 05 2008 12:32 PM
ab from nyc


Well Taher, according to this guy...that made us happier because people had less choice.

Aug. 05 2008 12:31 PM

OMG, he thinks corp media tries to get at the truth, when they are W admin lapdogs.

Aug. 05 2008 12:29 PM
sw from brooklyn

this is the most boring, broad, vague thing i've heard in a long time. i'm going back to funny cat videos on youtube.

Aug. 05 2008 12:28 PM
ab from nyc

I think part of the culture that makes us unhappy is the fact that every idiot with a stupid half-baked theory (read: opinion) gets air time and makes the rounds on all the "news" and talk shows thus dumbing down our public discourse

Aug. 05 2008 12:28 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

This guy is a reactionary who is dreaming of a past did not that never was. Check out New York City in the 19th Century, child labor, poverty, and exploitation of labor, disease. In the West mass destruction of native cultures. In the south slavery. Yes, and every one said please.
Thanks, but no thanks I do not want to live in that kind of world.

Aug. 05 2008 12:28 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

"The Road to hell is paved with good Intentions". The sixties thought they were doing the right thing, but made a mess.

Choice is not necessarily good. The modern world is Quantity over Quality. 150 TV channels and there is nothing on. What don't you get ab?


Aug. 05 2008 12:27 PM
Barry Gerwinn from Ridgewood

What's wrong with presenting facts based on proof as news?

I am so sick of Americans assuming each story has two sides. Why? FACTS BASED ON PROOF. That is news.

Aug. 05 2008 12:27 PM
jeff hirschorn from nyc

Everything Dick is saying is so true. I must add though that our current economic situation creates the illusion of choice vs real choice which is quiet worse then the confusion of too much choice. We seem to be re-creating the cast system of Europe based on a Reagan/Bush economics model which is perpetrating this illusion of choice and instability with a free market "delus

Aug. 05 2008 12:26 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Whatever his politics, I fully agree with is view on manners. Society has been overly permissive and now people feel that asking them to be part of civilized and polite society by respecting others is somehow dimming their joy and limiting their inner self. The degradation of basic manners leads to a lot of the anger and frustration you see in this city… the biker oblivious to the pedestrian, the driver resentful to sharing the road with bikers… subway behavior from guys sitting spread-eagle or with feet propped up on seats and the person next to you sharing their music with the full car. Just a few examples. Graffiti is another example. We’re going to keep going down fast if people keep expecting everyone to respect them, while they show total disregard for the rest of society.

Aug. 05 2008 12:26 PM
glenn losack md from manhattan

living in the east village
so many ill mannered young people storm into stores talking loudly on their cphones as if noone else is around and we all want to hear their conversation. THERE are no boundaries/manners
anymore. I walk down the street, these young kids
oblivious to others ( me a resident there ) crash into me as they walk. I have to make way for them. NO face contact is made. THis guy is saying what ive been saying for decades. People have lost their sense of propriety manners decorum.
Narcissism at its highest here in the E VILLAGE.
Its easy to say they are angry people but this behaviour seems learned. A new society that lacks manners!

what a terrific show!

Aug. 05 2008 12:25 PM
ab from nyc

Must be a McCain supporter

Aug. 05 2008 12:24 PM

Hey, Leonard, nice snark!

Aug. 05 2008 12:24 PM
Marco from Manhattan

Will someone tell these people that media is the plural of medium.

Aug. 05 2008 12:23 PM
Tricia from Brooklyn

I could not agree more with this guest regarding manners. My husband and I consistently remind our children that having good manners shows respect for others. But I feel like they are constantly surrounded by a world without manners. Having young children at a ball game, or on the sidewalk when school gets out, is a miserable encounter with people cussing and screaming and generally showing no manners whatsoever, which, of course leads you to have no respect for them and only resentment. It is a vicious cycle.

Aug. 05 2008 12:23 PM
Charlie Roberts from Oceanport, NJ

Hi Leonard,

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Meyer!! . . . and would like to join his task force . . . seriously. Where can I sign up?

Aug. 05 2008 12:23 PM
MichaelB from UWS of Manhattan

I think this guy is dead-on! It explains so much that is been overlooked. We throw out ancient traditions in the blink of an eye -- some of these go back to the beginning of history -- and think we are advanced.

We can't outrun our own nature. We need to acknowledge truths about ourselves in our contemporary society and deal with who we are and what we really need.

Aug. 05 2008 12:22 PM
ab from nyc


What pap. the last 8 years of moral erosion (i.e. the american govt being involved in torture practices) has absolutely nothing to do with how we view ourselves.

Yeah, the 60's were so awful and rtuined everything, choice is bad, blah,blah,blah. So should we go back to an apartheid system? is that what he's advocating? Perhaps a caste system including a caste of untochables perhaps?

yeah...choice is just horrible. Only an upper-class idiot wuld make such an argument. Too bad we can't send this guy back to the middle ages to work the fields as a peasant with no other prospects....then we'd see how much he thinks choice is harmful!

Aug. 05 2008 12:22 PM
Steve (the other one) from Manhattan

Manners are neoconservative? Perle, Wolfowitz, and the rest of them didn't apologize for all the dead soldiers and Iraqis caused by their unnecessay war.

Aug. 05 2008 12:20 PM

Yes, Bush is worse than Bin-laden

self-hatred is patriotic

and Hugo Chavez is the Messiah

bla, bla, bla

Aug. 05 2008 12:18 PM
Hugh from Crown Heights

Self-made pioneers. In Franklin's time the self-made pioneers were the poor. They couldn't afford to live in Boston or New York. They went west (to the Berkshires, western New York, and then west west west).

And when those pioneers seeking to be self-made rose up (Shay's Rebellion, and others), Franklin, Hamilton, Hancock and their ilk had them executed.

So where was the respect for strangers and common folk then?

Aug. 05 2008 12:18 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

This guy is great. Tradition is taking a beating at the feet of superficial Modernism. The sixties was the worst thing that ever happened. You can use the example of that era replacing Classical Music with Rock and Roll. Big Mistake.


Aug. 05 2008 12:17 PM
Hugh from Crown Heights

What about George Bush and company. Surely they (no participants in the liberalism of the 60s) are crucial to the toxicity of the US today.

Aug. 05 2008 12:14 PM

Oh, and BTW, funny he should write why we hate us just at the point when the traditionalists have taken over the whole political scene. I'd think he'd relate the phenomenon (if true, which I doubt) to the reestablishment of the fundies.

Aug. 05 2008 12:14 PM

Oh, woe is I (as Patricia T. O'Connor would say). Us poor beleagured Merkuns jest can't keep up with change. This guy must work for McCane.

Aug. 05 2008 12:10 PM
RC from Queens

How much does the lack of contextual reporting and analysis by the U.S. media affect our views. All I seem to see on the liberal blogosphere, right wing talk radio and cable news is hyperbole.

It seems that the media provides too many ways for masses of people to air their opinions drowning out those few with informed and educated opinions.

Its reached the point now where I basically hit maybe one or two websites, read journals and books. And, of course listen to Lenny and Brian ;-D

Aug. 05 2008 12:07 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.