January 5, 2009
America has evolved into two broad cultures. This was observed in the 1950s by sociologists like C. Wright Mills and David Riesman. In recent years the gap between the two cultures has intensified. The two cultures might be called traditional and other-directed. I included in traditional the intermediate type that Riesman discusses, inner-directed, in part because it is difficult to distinguish between other-directed people with goals or achievement orientation that David McClelland discusses in his book, written in the 1960s, the Achieving Society, and people for whom inner-direction and achievement orientation predominate. It may be impossible to distinguish the types with sufficient specificity. Also, the discussion has been muddled by the eschatological or teleological character of much twentieth century social science. Marx reinvented messianism for the other-directed mass, and social scientists have been prone to inject a degree of Marxist mysticism into almost all of their work. That is, they assume that other-direction involves evolution or "progress" beyond inner direction or tradition or that the propagandistic term "progressive" is more than vacuous of meaning.
The reassertion of religious values in America, particularly in the states that were christened "red" in the millennial election, is evidence of a serious breach in the values of the two Americas. This was not new in 2000, because by the 1950s Riesman had already noted that urban, higher income Americans had devolved from the inner direction or goal orient of the nineteenth century into a group-concerned "other direction" that in many ways was similar to the tribal traditionalism of primitive cultures but in other ways was different. It was different because it was dependent upon mass media and culture to define its values. However, both Riesman and Mills fixated on urban mass culture and did not explore the differences between rural Americans and the urban ones whom they emphasized.
It took Americans about two generations, between 1932 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected and 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected to reject the New Deal policies that were associated with the mass media and other-directed trends. However, this rejection was far from consistent. In the "blue states" most people disliked Reagan, and disliked the Republican ascendancy between 1980 and 2006. The balance was almost equal, with the margin of difference depending on the ebb and flow of the economy and incumbents' corruption.
The differences between the two cultures, the inner and other directed intensified because the other-directed resented their displacement. The other-directed never resolved the key social problems that their experts claimed qualified to resolve. Issues concerning poverty, the economy, international relations, urban planning, even warfare (as represented by the tragi-comic Robert McNamara) were hardly resolved by the other-directed or "liberal" media-based elites. Indeed, the more they tried, the worse the problems seemed to become. It is even arguable that the Great Depression, the bugaboo of the other-directed "liberal" culture, was in fact a product of that culture's inability to grasp fundamental monetary issues and its groupthink-based emphasis on governmental solutions and high taxes (during the FDR administration and later) that blocked normal economic recovery.
In short, the other-directed culture has been short-sighted, narrow minded and arrogant. At the same time, many Americans have rejected this other-directed culture in favor of a rediscovery of traditional and religious values. This rediscovery is resented by the other-directed, who sense that it represents a rejection of the fundamental structure of their culture. They should not be surprised, however, because their culture has not proven to produce results. Nor should they be surprised that many Americans continue to have faith.
C. Wright Mills, a left-wing sociologist, identified the role of media in the inculcation of mass psychology in what is now called the blue states back in 1956 in his book The Power Elite. Mills identifies mass communication as the source of elite power. Therefore, the evolution of evangelical television broadcasts, cable television, the Internet, and other alternative communication methods would seem to have presented the other-directed power elite with a threat to its control. These technological changes had the unpredictable effect of enhancing traditional values and culture in the red states and among those who are still inner-directed or traditional in value orientation and so able to think for themselves.
Mills writes of a modern mass media, which is now a thing of the past. Media is no longer centrally controlled, and it is becoming less so. The newspapers and broadcast television stations of the 1950s are now being replaced by Internet bloggers, cable and Internet-based television stations that are not centrally controlled and so facilitate a sharing or equalization of culture. Thus, the modern tendency toward other-direction is thwarted by the sheer number of choices of information outlets. This in turn facilitates reliance on traditional values rather than the babel of alternative information sources as a basis. Information overload permits tradition to reassert itself, and the Godly values of traditional America have benefited.
There is a reversal of the trend that Mills described in 1956:
"there is a movement from widely scattered little powers to concentrated powers and the attempt at monopoly control from the powerful centers, which, being partially hidden, are centers of manipulation as well as authority. The small shop serving the neighborhood is replaced by the anonymity of the national corporation; mas advertisement replaces the personal influence of opinion between merchant and customer. The political leader hooks up his speech to a national network...in the mass society of media markets, competition if any goes on between the manipulators with their mass media on the one hand, and the people receiving their propaganda on the other. Under such conditions, it is not surprising that there should arise a conception of public opinion as a mere reaction--we cannot say 'response' to the content of mass media. In this view, the public is merely the collectivity of individuals each rather passively exposed to the mass media and rather helplessly opened up to the suggestions and manipulations that flow from these media. The fact of manipulation from centralized points of control constitutes, as it were, an expropriation of the old multitude of little opinion producers and consumers operating in a free and balanced market."
Riesman emphasizes that other-directedness, which he considers to be characteristic of the modern world, is predominantly associated with urban professionals.
Neither Mills nor Riesman (nor anyone else of the 1950s) could have anticipated the evolution of telecommunication methods that dissolve central dominance of the power elite, i.e., the marketers of other-directedness and "liberal" ideology. This has led to the unthinkable: a reassertion of individualism and traditional belief in the heartland of America.
This is not to say that the urban, other-directed culture has disappeared. Rather, that it no longer predominates to the degree it once did, even with the aid of left-dominated universities and an education system that sees its role as the inculcation of ideology in the form of "social justice learning" and political correctness. Not only are many Americans beginning to question the value of public education and to engage in home schooling, but also are questioning the cultural hegemony of universities and supposed experts: cancer experts who cannot cure cancer; economics experts who bungle the economy; psychological experts who cannot cure mental illness or who define it and redefine it in absurd ways; and sociological experts who claim to cure poverty but whose cures precede massive drug addiction, intensification of segregated northern cities and entrenched poverty.
The reaction of the "liberal" other-directed culture has been to intensify its ideological and cultural commitment to "liberal" solutions and other-directedness. The hostitility toward George W. Bush and Sarah Palin exemplify the intensification of anger and hostility toward those who look to tradition, to inner direction and specifically American values. This hostility is likely to increase as information sources continue to fragment. America is becoming a multi-cultural nation, and the cultures are at loggerheads. The conflict will become more overt.