From a fairly young age, back to my preteen years, I was pretty indignant and self-righteous. I had a social awareness and a social consciousness. And most of what I saw around me made me sick.
I didn't have the knowledge of sociology that I have now, but I did know a thing or two. I had been raised on tales of the 60s, and I knew that racism, sexism and violence were wrong. And I knew where these things came from: the great masses of stupid, backwards Americans who could not escape their conventional morality to pay attention to what was really going on around them.
As I entered my adolescence, I discovered such things as Nirvana. It may be a cliche, but I learned about angst and alienation. I now understood that rather than just being a function of politics, that the masses of people could not understand the fragility of the human soul.
Of course, it didn't take me long to notice that on the cover of Rolling Stone and screaming on MTV were voices articulating the same rage and disaffection that I felt. "A little group it has always been, and always will, until the end", although a little group that seemed to make quite a few albums go platinum.
Now this could be a matter of my age at the time, but when grunge first came out, it was really a small group of people who embraced this type of music, instead of the pop music that had been popular immediatly before. But soon, everyone was listening to grunge. And those very people seemed to turn away from the true human emotions that (at the time) I had thought that Kurt Cobain had enunciated so well.
Over the years, I took one after another hardcore stance, whether it be luddite, straight edge, hip hop, etc. I had a Native America fascination for a while, hoping for the return of Crazy Horse.
This wasn't a matter of being just disaffected. This was also because I saw myself, and my chosen group of friends, as an elite, people who were at the same time both a persecuted, disenfranchised minority, and as a special group of people that were destined to inherit great things through our innate superiority and put the people who had once shamed us to shame.
I wasn't going to stay a teenager forever, however. I soon learned that not all of youth culture was a member of an insightful departure from tradition and towards true human feeling. Most of it was getting off on coolness and sex. And not all of the established adult culture was a matter of hidebound people blindly accepting what they had been told by television.
The American people that has been roundly criticized as a dumb donkey being led by the carrot of media manipulation doesn't exist. Part of this could be that I tend to know a lot of educated people. But with a few exceptions, whereever I have gone, I have met plenty of people who are willing to question the world around them, who can both formulate and carry out valid systems of value oriented behavior.
I am not going to name names, but I have learned that because someone is pumping gas, that doesn't mean they don't read the Dao De Ching. Because someone is a business student, doesn't mean they don't believe in alternative medicine. An officer in the army can believe in enviromentalism. A day laborer can be an underground artist. A conservative Christian can (and often will) believe in social justice for the homeless. A cab driver watches the flowers bloom. That guy on the bus with the baseball cap speaks Japanese.
The American people (and people everywhere, I would suppose) are not dumb. They are able to transform the world, and question the world around them. This seems to be just as intrinsic a human faculty as the ability to take care of yourself.
Which isn't to say that I always agree with the way people act, or with what they believe. I still question why the American people, perhaps the wealthiest and best educated people ever, allow the amount of starvation, poverty and violence to go on in the world around them; and why they seem to ignore the fact that the world is being slowly poisoned. But rather than merely pigeon holing them as ignorant people who don't have the right ideological tools to understand the problem, I try to understand why they react to these issues the way they do in real life.
And the reasons aren't hard to find why someone could ignore the amount of suffering and injustice in the world. After all, all I have to do is look at the way I behave, and the fact that I ignore these things myself constantly, to understand.