Changing American expectations

When I was a child, filling the gas tank was the cheapest part of owning a car.  Houses were also warm.  As long as my father was earning money (which wasn’t always the case), during the winter we heated our house to a comfortable 72 degrees.  Then, in 1974, the first energy crisis heat.  Gasoline got expensive, changing our car buying and our car driving habits.  And during the winter, our house went down to 68 degrees.

Fast forward almost 40 years and, while world leaders are fussing about global warming, ordinary people are contemplating alternative energy cars simply because they can’t afford to spend $120 a week to put gas in their fuel tanks.  We’ve also continued to downgrade our expectations within our homes.  My house is a toasty 62 degrees on this chilly day because the heating bills are too exorbitant otherwise.  We Americans have been scaled down.  Way down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the expectations a nation’s citizens have will affect political structure.  The lower the expectations, the more willing citizens are to accept heavy, top-down control.  I ruminate on that at greater length here:

As is often the case, a great American songwriter nailed it.  Alan Jay Lerner, putting words in Henry Higgins’ mouth in My Fair Lady, had him sing:

An Englishman’s way of speaking
Absolutely classifies him
The moment he talks
He makes some other Englishmen despise him

If you know you’re going to be despised no matter what, you don’t aspire, you just gracefully expire, locked forever into your own low expectations.

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  1. Danny Lemieux says

    An Englishman’s way of speaking
    Absolutely classifies him
    The moment he talks
    He makes some other Englishmen despise him

    — sadly, the same thing occurs here in the U.S. of A. Consider Sarah Palin, with a North Central accent (Wasilla was settled by Midwesterners, I believe) that we in the upper Midwest find quite normal and appealing. Consider how Lefties look down on G.W.’s Texas Twang (but somehow, Bawny Fwank’s and Ted Kennedy’s accents were considered quite acceptable).

    Personally, I find accents fascinating: each one has a story behind it.

  2. says

     I’m currently reading “English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980,” by Martin Weiner. His analysis is focused on the upper and middle-to-upper-middle classes and their hostility to industry, business, and change. Not terribly well-written, but very interesting.
    Very nice voice, BTW.

  3. Indigo Red says

    I’ve labored in three electronics factories where I’ve witnessed to the fall of the industrial revolution numerous times. The r&d, design, prototyping, first runs, trouble shooting, revisions, and subsequent improvements are always exciting. However, when the product moves into the daily manufacturing phase involving simple maintenance of procedure and standards, all excitement is lost and no one cares much anymore. As important as it is, maintenance can’t ever hold a candle to the glory of innovation.

  4. says

    From the book I mentioned above:

    “At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was the home of the industrial revolution, a symbol of material progress to the world…By the nineteen-seventies, falling levels of capital investment raised the specter of outright “de-industrialization”…The emerging culture of industrialism, which in the mid-Victorian years appeared, for good or ill, to be the wave of the future…was itself transformed….the later nineteenth century saw the consolidation of a national elite that, by virtue of its power and prestige, played a central role both in Britain’s modern achievements and its failures. It administered the most extensive empire in human history with reasonable effectiveness and humanity, and it maintained a remarkable degree of political and social stability at home…It also presided over the steady and continued erosion of the nation’s economic position in the world. The standards of value of this new elite of civil servants, professionals, financiers, and landed proprietors, inculcated by a common eduction in public schools and ancient universities and reflected in the literary culture it patronized, permeated by their prestige much of British society beyond the elite itself. Those standards did little to support, and much to discourage, economic dynamism. They threw earlier enthusiams for technology into disrepute, emphasized the social evils brought by the industrial revolution, directed attention to issues of the “quality of life” in preference to the quantitative concerns of production and expansion, and disparaged the restlessness and acquisitiveness of industrial capitalism.”


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