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Meanness: It’s the new American way

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Mean people suck.

— NOFX

We live in the richest nation in the world, probably in the Top 5 all-time, and there are opportunities here for any person — yes, any person, or at least any person willing to get off his or her couch and work — to achieve well beyond any doubter’s expectations.

With all this largesse, you’d think we’d be a generally happy population. Sure, we have our own unique set of worries, but by and large there exists a general knowledge that there aren’t too many things we can’t overcome.

But we’re not happy. Beneath the surface in most Americans, there seems to be a smoldering resentment that has made us mean.

Oh, we’ll pitch in in the event of a flood or a hurricane or some other such natural disaster. But we do it almost grudgingly, wondering if the people who lost everything to the winds or the rains really deserve our time and effort. After all, we think, what about me?

That’s probably the primary concern we harbor: Why does this person deserve anyone’s attention when I’m a much better human being?

We have no problem with our military personnel using inhumane means to extract information from captured enemy, yet we cry foul if one of our own is so treated. And we dismiss the killing of women, children and the elderly in the lands of our enemy as “collateral damage,” then call said enemy barbaric in their efforts to protect their homeland.

In business, it’s not enough for us to succeed. We want to see our competitors suffer. And not just lose customers or cash flow, but left in ruins.

We revel in the pain of groups whose ideologies differ from ours, trumpet as good news the collapse of a business whose sales rep didn’t show us the proper amount of respect when we visited their establishment, offer a smug “I told you so” when a presumed rival’s reputation is marred even the slightest and secretly celebrate the death of leaders we never knew but whose cultural background differed from our own.

We wish ruin on foreign countries we’ve never visited, pray for the downfall of religions whose beliefs we find strange and celebrate the failures of famous people who have the temerity to be successful.

Even in the seemingly innocent world of sports, we’ve stopped cheering for our team to win, choosing instead to celebrate our rivals’ failures. It’s not enough for our favorite — and overpaid! — athletes to do well, they must be perfect or endure our wrath. And if the star of an opposing team is caught up in a scandal or is injured seriously enough to jeopardize his or her career, that’s cause for fanfare.

The desire to “destroy” any opponent — real or perceived — has trickled out of the boardrooms of corporate America and flooded virtually every aspect of our society. And we’ve developed a severe case of “Little League-parent syndrome” in which we teach our youngsters not just to play well but to win at all costs, even if we have to bend the rules a bit.

I guess the meanness that pervades in this country shouldn’t be that great a surprise. After all, we were settled by people who fought each other over the way they worshipped the same God, systematically killed and destroyed the culture of people indigenous to the land we took and utilized the forced labor of bought and sold human beings to widen our empire and enrich ourselves.

I guess bemoaning the meanness that’s become so prevalent in America is the wrong approach. Maybe it’s the people who are actually nice to one another who are our real weirdos.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.