Very interesting NY Times piece by David Brooks on the immodesty/pomposity/lack of restraint of our day (exemplified publicly, in recent days, by Kayne West’s opinionated interruption of an award-winner’s speech, Serena Williams’ vulgarity-laced verbal, threat-filled assault of a line judge, and Michael Jordan’s egotistical, long-winded Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech) in contrast to the humility and restraint of war veterans (and, by extension, America as a whole) the day World War II ended.
Over the airwaves that day a passage was read by Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent who had been killed just a few months earlier. In anticipation of the military victory to come, Pyle had written: “I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud.” Brooks observes:
When you glimpse back on those days you see a people — even the rich and famous celebrities — who were overawed by the scope of the events around them. The war produced such monumental effects, and such rivers of blood, that the individual ego seemed petty in comparison.
Speaking of the change from that culture to our own, Brooks writes:
When you look from today back to 1945, you are looking into a different cultural epoch, across a sort of narcissism line. Humility, the sense that nobody is that different from anybody else, was a large part of the culture then.
But that humility came under attack in the ensuing decades. Self-effacement became identified with conformity and self-repression. A different ethos came to the fore, which the sociologists call “expressive individualism.” Instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.
And that, says Brooks, gave rise to the growing acceptability (if not the preference for) immodesty and self-indulgent expression. And so today we boast much about little, and demand recognition or attention for athletic prowess or artistic popularity. Yet Brooks’ last line is powerful:
It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.