A recent Gallup Poll indicates that over half of us are no longer confident that the next generation of Americans have the opportunity to be better off than we are today. “Nearly six in 10 Americans are currently dissatisfied with the opportunity for the next generation of Americans to live better than their parents. Older Americans are particularly unhappy on this question, but on balance, the majority of young adults are negative as well. The idea of America as a place where citizens can rise above their economic position at birth depends partly on an economic system that rewards people based on effort and merit — not race, class, title, or other social barriers — and partly on Americans’ willingness to make a serious effort to succeed. Americans themselves currently have doubts about both aspects of that equation.” (http://www.gallup.com/poll/155021/Majority-Dissatisfied-Next-Generation-Prospects.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=syndication&utm_content=morelink&utm_term=All%20Gallup%20Headlines%20-%20Politics)
This certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone; at least not anyone who reads this blog. (http://sensiblethought.com/2011/lower-incomes-kill-people). I have been observing this phonomenon for some time now (http://sensiblethought.com/2011/impact-of-economic-downturn-on-children). The question is: Why don’t we care?
Of course, the attention span of the American public continues to shrink, as we are bombarded with more and more information, fed to us in near “real time” by e-mails, tweets, streaming audio and video, and so on. And as we are inundated with more, in order to keep our attention, major media channels have dubbed anything they come across as “breaking news” in order to arrest our attention. This, of course, means that it’s often difficult to immediately distinguish between truly important news such as the Challenger distaster, and celebrity focused noise such as a verdict in trial of the late Michael Jackson’s medical doctor. As this occurs, our ability to filter this sea of information and triage it, in order to focus adequately on the truly important is impaired from sheer overload, and from the trivializing of previous markers such as the term “breaking news.” As a result, some of the time Americans simply don’t recognize the importance of what we see and hear.
Another problem is that – especially in America – we are becoming increasingly and incredibly self-centered. We care, basically, only about those things that we perceive to have a possible near-term impact on us personally. In the case of the Gallup Poll mentioned above, it becomes obvious that our apathy now prevents us from taking meaningful action even when the economic well being of our children is at stake.
A number of studies have been conducted around this situation. As a recent article in Discover Magazine points out, “the results are significant and consistent across the different studies. Together, they paint a picture of an America where the choices that people hold dear can turn them away from attempts to solve important social problems, or weaken their empathy towards others in need.” (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/05/09/not-my-concern-%E2%80%93-how-choice-can-make-us-more-selfish/) Indeed, a number of books are being written about the growing selfishness of American society, and courses are being taught at American colleges and universities these days in how to become less selfish. (http://academic.udayton.edu/jackbauer/TSI%20book.html) Still, it’s especially difficult to understand how American adults can care so little about the future and the welfare of their progeny. Some insight comes from understanding that 564,765 children suffered from neglect, including medical neglect (USDHHS, 2007). I suppose that if Americans can directly neglect their own children in their youngest and most helpless stage of development, the less direct and less temporally relevant stages of their lives are logically even more suseptible.
So what should be done? What do you think?