Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2012 How was the sense of responsibility lost?

By Charles Peters

Last year I traced the explosion of greed and selfishness since the 1980s to the self-indulgence that developed out of the gradual morphing of the 1950s and early-1960s movement for group rights into an assertion of personal rights. Kurt Andersen, in a July op-ed in the New York Times, seems to join in this analysis:

“Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself.” If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.

What is remarkable about this almost identical thought is that I’m sure Andersen’s thoughts are his own. I doubt that he even reads this column, a result that we pretty much assured by publishing an article making fun of the snobbish tendencies of Spy, a magazine he cofounded.

So I hope mine and Andersen’s is like the agreement between Murray and Brooks in suggesting that we are at last beginning to come together to figure out what’s gone wrong with this country.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.