P O S T E D B Y S A L L Y
I was invited to review a copy of Cydnee Frith’s upcoming book, Nonprofits, Civil Society, and the End of Time, and I simply couldn’t resist. Dr. Frith is Distinguished Professor of Critical Studies at Grand Arches State University. I interviewed her by e-mail.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: In your book you describe a combination of demographic, social, and political factors that you believe signal the “end of Western civilization.” Because your characterization of contemporary American society is so stark, some of your critics have called your book “irresponsible.” Can you describe for our readers how you see these factors manifesting themselves in the United States?
FRITH: We’re a society in steep decline. Abetted by a persistent anti-intellectualism in this country, our adult population has, over time, lost its ability to think critically and question authority. We’re easy prey for televangelists, marketing professionals, and what some observers have called the “illusion of news.” We’re profoundly ignorant of our own history and therefore destined to repeat its mistakes. The worst part of it, is that we’re too sated—too deep in our consumerist trance—to care.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: I assume you don’t get invited to many parties.
FRITH: I call it like I see it.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: I appreciate your honesty. What about the next generation? Do you see any hope there?
FRITH: No, not really. What distinguishes young people from their parents is their zeal, not their goodness, and zealotry is a wind that can blow well or ill. Look at the Islamist fundamentalist student movement in Egypt. Consider the fact that young voters didn’t break for Kerry in overwhelming numbers in the 2004 presidential election—not that that means much. We baby boomers have left them a hell of a mess to clean up.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: What’s the climate like on campuses these days?
FRITH: Young people today are all about pointing and clicking their way to a more comfortable future. They don’t see the value of struggling with great texts anymore. “Entertain me,” my students demand, “Don’t make me think.” A few weeks back, one of them marched into my office and asked me to accommodate his Attention Deficit Disorder. “What makes you think you have A.D.D.?” I asked him. “I find it hard to concentrate on things that don’t interest me,” he answered.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: Must be going around.
FRITH: Yes. A bunch of self-absorbed little f**** doomed to follow in the footsteps of their narcissistic, immigrant-hating parents.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: What do you think people in the nonprofit and foundation sectors can do to reverse these trends?
FRITH: Nothing. It’s over. Most of us are floating in bubbles of self-denial, completely insulated from the corpses our government is producing in Iraq and in secret CIA detention centers. The rest of us—myself included—don’t really give enough of a s*** to do anything about it except grouse. We’re unlikely to stop telling ourselves the lies that preserve the illusions we have of ourselves and our country. It’s all about maximizing the GDP now. So go ahead: watch as much TV as you want. The poor will always be with us. Get used to it and stop complaining.