David Brooks, in Friday’s NYTimes, takes a look at when greed raised its head in modern times. It was not, as one might think, with the hippie generation (“If it feels good, do it.”)
Rather, Brooks argues that it started with the “Greatest Generation,” a cohort group that had suffered mightily under the Depression and fought in World War II. This crowd sacrificed so much there came a reflex rejection of prudence once things settled down. This was a normal reaction.
But Brooks argues that in every pendulum swing, it can go too far:
"But I would say that we have overshot the mark. We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses." [emphasis added]
"So perhaps the culture needs a rebalance. The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up. That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it."