J.R. Slosar is angry about today's culture. And for good reason. Exorbitant CEO salaries and pointless bailouts, a suffering public education system, self-indulgent digital fantasies, not to mention ridiculously long sports seasons.
Slosar covers these topics and more (global warming, health care, narcissism, even psychology) in The Culture of Excess. It is a bit of a rant, with some out-of-left-field (and politically left-leaning) references and a few difficult to follow passages, but it is, on the whole, a well-written outline of his beliefs about the problems in our society.
He also presents thoughtful solutions, advocating that we shift from Generation Me to Generation We. This would entail adopting a more community-based lifestyle, complete with quantitative thinking, mood regulation and media reform, and defining new measurements of success. All good things.
However, I think Slosar is exhibiting a bit of "chronological snobbery" (except he is considering our culture as inferior to earlier ones, rather than vice versa). I am always skeptical when people put forth the idea that these times are the worst that have ever been. History tells us this is just not so. Meanwhile, yes, things are changing--our culture, attitudes, even our brain chemistry--but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Consider, for example, the digital world, which Slosar often equates with fantasy, talking about the problems that arise when people who overuse digital media must return to "real-life" responsibilities. Perhaps this is true if people are only playing Farmtown 12 hours a day, but what about those whose work is online? Or the networks of bloggers who have formed substantial relationships via the Internet?
I also took issue with Slosar's complaints that our culture fails to think quantitatively and that the media and others misuse statistics. However, he misuses some statistics of his own, citing ample evidence for global warming, but neglecting to mention the recent disclosure that researchers who were promoting the idea of global warming manipulated data about the earth's temperature. Also, he uses America's comparatively high infant mortality rates as a reason that we need a government-provided health care system, but he doesn't explain that America measures infant mortality differently than many other countries do (counting as infant deaths what others count as miscarriages, for example).
I don't want to sound too harsh because I did enjoy the book, but there are holes in Slosar's arguments. Are there problems in our culture that need to be fixed? Absolutely. Does Slosar offer some good solutions to these problems? Sure. But I would have found his arguments and, subsequently, his solutions much more compelling and persuading if his book had been a bit more objective.
The age of excess creates powerful forces that are gradually changing human development. The psychological damage caused by these forces is most evident in an impulsive society that has had a breakdown in self-control. This means that we take in more than we need, or engage in behavior without thinking it through, behavior that has undesirable consequences. Our boundaries for regulation and self-control get stretched and even collapse, leading to rampant impulsivity.Nothing reflects the culture of excess more than our spending...Eventually, we need relief or some sort of self-preservation to avoid a complete breakdown in self-control and a collapse.
A National Health Care Plan would stimulate and improve the economy. It would do this by creating jobs, promoting business expansion, lowering prices, reducing the budget deficit and increasing our global competitiveness...Nothing would be a stronger antidote to living in a culture of excess than the decision as a society to have a universal health care system.
We now struggle to develop our identity in a complex and overwhelming environment, and we struggle to protect it too...Identity attainment and achievement is complex in today's technological society...The prevailing attitude about developing identity is that of going through a buffet line and picking what you want in whatever amount you want.
The American public has been whacked. They are shocked and attentive. By now the financial impact of a culture of excess has hit full force. The financial failure and downturn have been coming for a long time as Americans have lost self-control and lived way beyond their means.
It seems that today we have thought so far "out of the box" that we no longer know where the box is. Efforts for immediate answers and creative solutions take precedence over thorough analysis. In this regard, traditional quantitative thinking is even considered old-fashioned and unnecessary. What is fashionable is to think quickly and to be different.