The culture of 'I' is everywhere you look, from the iPod/iPhone/iPad to the fact that memoir is the fastest growing literary genre. When we base our thinking and behavior almost exclusively on personal experience, we lose the ability to consider other views. The result? Debt impasse.
If you’ve ever been on a jury, you might have noticed that a funny thing happens the minute you get behind closed doors. Everybody starts talking about themselves. They say what they would have done if they had been the plaintiff or the defendant. They bring up anecdote after anecdote. It can take hours to get back to the points of law that the judge has instructed you to consider.
Being on a jury (I recently served on my fourth) reminds me why I can’t stomach talk radio. We Americans seem to have lost the ability to talk about anything but our own experiences. We can’t seem to generalize without stereotyping or to consider evidence that goes against our own experience.
I heard a doctor on a radio show the other day talking about a study that found that exercise reduces the incidence of Alzheimer’s. And caller after caller couldn’t wait to make essentially the opposite point: “Well, my grandmother never exercised and she lived to 95, sharp as a tack.” We are in an age summed up by the aphorism: “I experience, therefore I’m right.”
This isn’t a new phenomenon, except by degree. Historically, the hallmarks of an uneducated person were the lack of ability to think critically, to use deductive reasoning, to distinguish the personal from the universal. Now that seems an apt description of many Americans. The culture of “I” is everywhere you look, from the iPod/iPhone/iPad to the fact that memoir is the fastest growing literary genre.