The American Paradox

Yale University Press

David Myers, John Dirk Werkman Prof. of Psychology at Hope College in Michigan

Central Theme
A radical individualism and libertine morality has resulted in material prosperity at the same time as an unparalleled social decline, thus Americans are experiencing a spiritual hunger in an age of plenty.

Paradoxically, It is the best of times and the worst of times for Americans. In the years from 1960 to the present, we have become better paid, better fed, better housed, better educated and healthier than ever before, yet we have slid into a social recession in which the communal fabric has been frayed by an onslaught of corrosive forces. There is hope because mixed with downward trends are corrective forces seeking to redirect Americans back to faith, shared values and a renewed sense of community.

Beliefs num
–It is the best of times and the worst of times.
–The sexual mores of the 60’s resulted in promiscuity, cohabitation and unwanted pregnancies.
–This has contributed to later marriages, an increased divorce rate and higher rates of depression.
–The impact of marital deterioration has been most profound on children who are suffering high rates of abuse, neglect, poverty and violence.
–Though Americans understand money cannot buy happiness they believe a little more money can make them a little happier.
–73% of freshmen entering college said making a lot of money is their number one priority, this despite evidence that the wealthiest Americans are not proportionately happier than the rest of the population.
–Reconstructing America will require a rejection of radical individualism, a renewed commitment to community, a more responsible media, a commitment to character education and a reinvigoration of faith.

Questions Worth Discussing num
–Why have Americans embraced a radical individualism?
–Why do some influential Americans continue to promote the mores that have clearly been destructive to America?
–Why have Americans pursued a consumerist, materialistic path though it is clearly not satisfying?
–Why has the younger generation embraced these same values despite the dissatisfaction it has produced in their parents?
–Do you feel hopeful that America can recover from the devastating social deterioration of the recent decades?

Provocative Quotes byline
–76% of Americans responding to a 1998 survey reported that the countries values and moral beliefs have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track.
==Washington Post, Kaiser Foundation, Harvard University
–We want an America that is not only better off, but better.
==Al Gore
–We are better paid, better fed, better housed, better educated and healthier than ever before¢â‚¬¦yet for 30 years America slid into a deepening social recession¢â‚¬¦
The divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide has tripled, the recorded violent crime rate has quadrupled, the prison population has quintupled, the % of babies born to unmarried parents has sextupled, cohabitation has increased sevenfold and depression has soared to ten times the pre-World War II level, by one estimate.
==David Myers
–Seven social sins that can destroy a nation:
1) Politics without principle
2) Wealth without work
3) Commerce without morality
4) Pleasure without conscience
5) Education without character
6) Science without humanity
7) Worship without sacrifice
–We’re short of money
==Most common answer when University of Michigan asked what hampers quality of life
–More money
==Most common answer when University of Michigan asked what would improve quality of life
–This may be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community
==Martin Luther King Jr. Where Do we go from Here, 1967
–Who will lead us out of this spiritual vacuum?
==Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1993
–At the dawn of a new millennium we stand where two roads diverge. One continues down the well-traveled track of radical individualism and materialism leading toward a deepened cultural crisis. However, there is a less traveled road we are beginning to steer toward.
==David Myers
–When singing about children growing up without fathers, ¢â‚¬Ëœpoliticians on the right, left, and center may not be hitting exactly the same notes, but like sopranos, tenors and baritones, they’re pretty much in harmony.’
==Ellen Goodman

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