Washed-Up Thinking

by Carl W. Hunt

My wife and I are fortunate to live near the beach. As I’ve described before, we live in Lewes, Delaware, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay meet at Cape Henlopen. The bay and Cape Henlopen were first discovered by Henry Hudson; none other than William Penn, the first governor of the Pennsylvania colony, set aside Cape Henlopen to be a family “park” in the designation of some of the first public lands in America.

We can walk to Lewes Beach on the Delaware Bay side, but have to drive or bike to the Atlantic beach at Cape Henlopen State Sea Glass for Blog Post 45 -1Park. We often find sea glass or pottery from sunken ships washed up on the shore…walking the beaches and looking for these simple treasures are a pleasurable pastime for us as coastal residents. This week we found a piece of well-weathered green sea glass washed up on the bay-side of Cape Henlopen Point. This discovery struck me as symbolic of what my brother Chuck and I have intended to demonstrate with Reconnecting to the American Promise.

In addition to just walking on the beach, bloggers are often inspired to write about news events or commentaries they’ve recently read…sometimes we feel compelled to make our thoughts known relative to our frame of reference. I found a bit of inspiration from that piece of sea glass and a commentary I read this week for work, tilted “The Menace of Menace” by Anna Simons, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The observant reader might note the small seashell trapped in the mouth of the bottle-top of the glass my wife and I found. Perhaps the small creature originally in this shell simply got lodged within the glass by the movement of the water in the bay, or perhaps it sought protection and wedged itself in. In any event, this shell was not going anywhere without being damaged if was removed…it was stuck.

According to Anna Simons, America is stuck in a cycle of thinking and acceptance of being stuck that is damaging our present and dimming our future. This thinking cycle is disconnecting us from the American Promise.

Simons, an anthropologist like our friend Larry Kuznar (author of two posts in this blog), describes our thinking in the context of the “menace” of terror and violence that America and the West have helped to promulgate in the veil of social structures that exist today. “By having helped market to the world the notion that menace is an acceptable lifestyle choice, we have helped make atrocities more rather than less likely” Simons writes.

I had to go back and make sure I knew the dictionary meaning of “menace” to confirm I understood Simons’ use of the word, and in terms of what the social thinking of America and the West in this generation has empowered, she nailed it. We don’t use the word today as much as we have in the past, but the word is appropriate to the current age. Dictionary.com defines menace as “something that threatens to cause evil, harm, injury, etc.; a threat” or “a person whose actions, attitudes, or ideas are considered dangerous or harmful.”

Simons continues “We Americans have come to lionize menace on the big screen, the small screen, and the computer screen, in the music industry, the fashion industry, and the sports industry. Look at how legions of Americans dress, and listen to how they talk—with expletive-laced vitriol…It is not just those who portray menace, but also those who produce and direct menace-as-entertainment.”

I’m old-fashioned…I admit it. I find the “expletive-laced vitriol” as part of everyday language difficult to take. If this and “menace-as-entertainment” have become as mainstream as Simons writes, America is indeed supporting the acceptance of menace as a socially acceptable behavior and it’s pouring over into the rest of the world without our realizing it. This collective social acceptance is not only disconnecting our own people from the American Promise, it’s disconnecting the rest of the world.

There are probably several underlying causes of this social trend in America, but one stands out that’s consistent with this blog’s published philosophies about small towns and community-based living. Simons notes that “one downside to so few of us living in small-scale, face-to-face societies, villages, or communities is that bad social actors used to be objects of withering scorn and thus served as object lessons for how to not behave.” This is really important because it suggests the critical need for communities to be cohesive, be socially responsible and to police themselves.

Behaviors generated from the lower levels upward are the true builders of culture and society. This is right in line with what our friends Wayne Porter and Puck Mykleby have published in the National Strategic Narrative, also a source of blog posts for RAP.

According to Simons, we’ve stopped thinking about our responsibilities in growing good communities and culture in America and have let our society slip away as we accept and even nurture the growth of menace in the world. That’s where we as a nation have drifted in the wrong direction and gotten stuck in the sea glass, as it were.

It’s not too late to get unstuck, Simons writes: “…the only effective way to rescue future generations here and abroad from further innovations in crude violence…is to make less of menace. Otherwise, without doing something about the proliferation of this meme, the menace from menace will only intensify.”

To that, I would add that this acceptance of menace has washed up on our shores, just as that piece of sea glass, and we need to toss it right back into the water and get back to Reconnecting to the American Promise. Let’s not get stuck in washed-up thinking.

Originally posted by Carl W. Hunt, 2/8/2015.

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