Watch What You Worship
Everybody worships. Choose wisely.
UCLA has conducted a survey called "The American Freshman" since 1966. In the 1960s, "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" was the top priority of college freshmen. Over 80% said that this goal was "essential" or "very important" to them. By the time I was in college, that figure had dropped to about 40%.
It’s a different story for the goal of “being very well off financially.” In the 1960s, the percentage of freshmen saying this was essential or very important was in the 40s. Now, it's in the 80s.
Of course, the cost of that college education is in a different galaxy compared to the 1960s. When people are drowning in debt, financial concerns are understandable.
Still, I wonder what the seeming change in values might say about our culture.
In The Age of Entitlement, Christopher Caldwell argues that something started to shift around 1980. Previously, we saw people like poets and philosophers as particular fonts of wisdom, but we started becoming less Greek and more Roman. We gobbled up the autobiographies of business executives.
Some of those previously interested in developing a philosophy of life now seemed more focused on learning "the art of the deal."
David Foster Wallace describes how worshiping things like money or power is particularly insidious because of how unconscious it often is:
"They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing."
But in that same speech, Wallace notes that we get to decide what we worship. A society may have some less-than-healthy priorities, but we can still choose what we worship.
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