Leo J. Battenhausen, a social worker and counselor, has written a thought-provoking book on the current state of American culture. He offers in the intriguingly named “Socialcide®: How America Is Loving Itself to Death”—a title I wish I had thought of—a diagnosis of an overriding narcissistic and sociopathic trend present in modern society. The need for constant external validation and everyone being celebrated as a winner, the search for unending economic wealth, and a rising sense of spiritual bankruptcy are all part of the problem. In essence, Battenhausen believes there is a long-term social disintegration underway in America.
Some of Battenhausen’s arguments sound a bit like grousing from a curmudgeon. Taken in its best light, however, it reminds me of Roman moralists such as Sallust, Livy, and Cicero calling for a return to ancient Roman virtues. At its worst it reminded me of Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes” and his always grating and sometimes silly grumbling about life in modern America. Always, I detected a strong sense of deep concern about the trajectory of the United States as it hurtles into the twenty-first century.
At some level, Battenhausen is following in the footsteps of other critics of American society. Daniel Bell’s “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” (1976), Robert Bellah’s “The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time or Trial” (1975); and Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” (1979), anticipated by a generation the current ills Battenhausen discusses in Socialcide®.
Battenhausen’s prescription for reform involves a return to spirituality. He claims there is a fine line between psychology and theology. Both aim to enhance the human condition, or at least the understanding of that condition. He finds that a traditional team of “mother, father, preacher, teacher was a solid interdependent social device that covered all bases in child development—an invaluable, fail-safe way too help children become good, solid people. Today, it is clear that system has fallen by the wayside as much more deviant, defiant, and destructive behaviors have been coming from today’s youth” (p. 464). Battenhausen argues for an embracing of God, spirituality, and a “returning to what is right” (p. 465). Is he right?