America the soft

Posted: Aug 27, 2002 12:00 AM
More and more Americans are giving themselves over to the warm decadence of victimhood. Gone are this country's more Republican days, when the working class fashioned a life from the honest friction of their hands against the earth. Now we have machines to do the work for us. We do not strive, we slump on the couch, log onto the Internet and zone out. The closest we come to feeling is dragging ourselves once a week to codependency workshops where we yell and sob at stuffed animals that are supposed to represent our wounded inner children. We are willing cripples, undulating piles of flesh, drones in a broad military industrial complex that has scooped out our sense of individual striving and filled us with warm, gelatinous goo. In fact, if I had to pick a date, I'd say America's ethos of self-creation formally died on July 24, 2002. That's when a group of short, stubby New Yorkers filed suit against McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken for making them fat. "The fast-food industry has wrecked my life," said lead plaintiff Caesar Barber, his fleshy cheeks shaking with indignation. "I was conned. I was fooled. I was tricked," he said. Apparently, Barber had been living in an incredibly wide cave and hadn't heard the news that fast food is bad for you. Never mind that even a cursory glance inside your typical fly-pestered McDonald's franchise reveals the clientele to be less than health conscious. Common sense falls by the wayside of Barber's stubborn insistence that he is a victim. Another victim of vague outside forces is the modern drug addict. Once upon a time, willingly puncturing ones veins with a needle was considered an act of self-destruction. Today, we refer to it as a disease. The label "disease" is misleading insofar as there is no genetic explanation or medical treatment for drug addiction. So why do we call it a disease? For starters, calling addiction a disease takes away the onus of responsibility for the drug user. It makes him a victim. That makes it easier for the addict and his or her loved ones to digest an ugly situation. It also helps society sympathize with - and by extension exhibit a greater willingness to suffer - the addict. It's not Joe's fault he became a junkie and continues to relapse three times a week, says the tender voiced mother. He's just a co dependent with an addictive personality, a wounded inner child and a mean sense of entitlement. The whole family group hugs, and then curls up in the fetal position. Fade to black. This is not to underestimate the seriousness of drug addiction. However, treating addiction like a disease (as opposed to a behavioral condition) does overlook the fact that a whole series of choices preceded the addiction. Denying the importance of these personal and moral choices will only increase the rate of drug addiction because it removes terms like "character" and "personal responsibility" from the cultural dialogue. But alas, America is comfortable with that. Apparently, we are all just drifting along in the currents of our own victim status. This is America's new ethos, one that was perfectly embodied by the American Disabilities Act - a piece of legislation that makes the definition of disability so broad that people with chronic back pain are now lobbying the courts for special consideration. Under the ADA, a Kentucky woman with carpal tunnel syndrome and a mean sense of entitlement successfully sued for the right to be considered disabled. Most recently, Palm Beach resident Edward Law sued his local strip club for not providing easy wheelchair access to its lap dance booths. Never mind that the ADA was intended to help people with legitimate disabilities - like blindness and deafness - secure equal opportunities in the workplace. Law is all like, hey, if claiming disability helps me get lap dances than that's cool. The courts are clogged with similar cases. When it literally pays to become a victim, people will rush to adopt the mantle. This rousing point has not been lost on our civil rights leaders, many of whom now make a living convincing minorities that they are forever victims of slavery. Because of this victim status, the logic goes, they are owed special treatment in the form of reparations, racial quotas, etc. Whereas the civil rights movement once focused on equality, now it concerns itself with retribution. Thus, racism is transformed into a disease over which we have no control. Plainly, this kind of thinking is inherently self-limiting. After all, what need is there for individual striving when it is plainly understood that all of our difficulties are the direct and indisputable result of our shared past? Meanwhile, our society grows ever more crippled by its apprehension toward personal responsibility. No doubt this is the clearest sign that our society is on the decline.