Nameless and troubling
By David Winner
ore than 60 years ago, an Austrian-born American management consultant and business writer named Peter Drucker foresaw the advent of a "nameless era" in which large companies would help ensure social purpose and a sense of community. Managers and not politicians would enable the common good, guided by personal responsibility and self-control. Company leaders and their senior employees would supersede states. Government "sickness" and the rise of technology would eventually make technology, not politics, synonymous with culture. The "heroic age" of lone inventors would give way to more collective forces.
It was a hopeful and capital driven postmodern vision, upheld by the "new is good" morality at the root of American optimism.
In theory, 21st-century America should be well into Drucker's nameless era. It long ago vanquished its leading ideological foe, the Soviet Union. Lone inventors did band together to create a hyper-technological, entrepreneurial society of the kind Drucker and others envisaged, and with it an ostensibly satisfying consumer-friendly existence. All should be well, at least on paper.
But it's not. This quaint preamble has developed messy fissures that tend to confuse even sympathetic foreigners. Many struggle to fathom a presidential soap opera so cruel and crass the headline "Why are Americans so angry?" is all but obligatory.
Several candidates on the right have hinged their early candidacies on a denunciation of the United States in decline because of immorally domestic liberalism and a global failure to impose 19th-century defense of the realm-style initiatives in regard to Russia and Islamic radicals.
All are preachers cleaving to a trend. But religion can't live without acolytes and intimations of malaise. Some feel shortchanged in the workplace and vaguely oppressed over all. Many are righteously convinced they're entitled to more, to better, to a more reassuring sense of national if not intimate purpose, to a near holy something that's been lost or perhaps even taken from them by a bogeyman "they."
Those elsewhere on the political spectrum are busy revolting against angry, often billing their behavior as idiotic if not uneducated. Yet so-called progressives possess a separate but equal rage, with caricatures of corporate malfeasance atop their own righteous ladder of sinners.
This is the muddled swamp in which the once-hopeful nameless era resides. After slaying the dragon of communism, decades of both material and personal prosperity seemed close at hand. Borrowing from Hollywood, "happy days" seemed in the making.
But they were never fully produced.
A squalid presidential sex scandal and a litigiously contested election elicited vitriol of a kind not seen in decades.
Then came a shockingly unexpected terrorist act that pushed an otherwise confident country into obsessively collective paranoia whose reach was widened because of advances in hyper-technology ironically intended to keep society at peace with itself, connected to work and to others, and feed the feel good self-worth associated with consumerism. Once again, however, intentions got the better of their own ambition. Instead of providing a yellow brick interstate to Oz, the unregulated information superhighway slashed through privacy and made skepticism, suspicion and disdain into cornerstones of a new if reactionary kind of critical thinking.
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