John Adams Begat the Selfie
In his iconic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey explained that, according to his research, the first 50 years of success literature in America was predicated on the character ethic: integrity, humility, fidelity, modesty, etc. After World War I, he noticed, the basis of success had shifted to the personality ethic: public image, attitudes and behaviors, and skills and techniques that "lubricate the processes of human interaction." America was on the road to superficiality.
Why did this character-personality shift occur? Perhaps because of something John Adams, our first vice president and second president, said: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
Adams's unfortunate statement advocates hard work in one generation so that future generations can detach from the rigors of life to enjoy, shall we say, esoteric pursuits. Ironically, it is in direct contradiction to another John Adams proclamation, one based in reality: "People and nations are forged in the fires of adversity." Is there adversity in tapestry and porcelain?
As America has drifted away from a republic founded on the principles of individual liberties into a democracy of centralized power, abridged rights, and doe-eyed, infantile dependents, the personality ethic has fully blossomed. The late Mr. Covey would be disappointed, as would Mr. Adams. We have a nation of highly ineffective people, the direct result of Big Government and socialism.
In May 2010, Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco in the U.S. Congress, waxed enthusiastic to a crowd of musicians and artists about ObamaCare, the socialistic plan she helped pass: "We see it [ObamaCare] as an entrepreneurial bill, a bill that says to someone, 'If you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations -- because you will have health care. You don't have to be job-locked.'"
Can you imagine how John Adams, who negotiated America's independence, would react to Pelosi's call to dependence? Yet her little leftist speech came from his playbook: give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain. If only he had thought of AdamsCare.
Let's think about why Americans put Barack Obama into the Oval Office -- twice. They are detached from reality. How else could they have handed the reins of America to a man bereft of executive experience, or any experience, for that matter? How else could they have believed that a health care plan promising to insure more people with a constant number of doctors and hospitals would be less expensive? They live in a fantasy world. Mr. Obama, using his best personality ethic, sold them a lie; they eagerly lapped it up like kittens. And now, insurance companies are canceling their beloved plans, to be in compliance with ObamaCare, teaching them Reality 101. Too late.
ObamaCare requires young folks to fund the older folks. Problem: young folks aren't interested. Desperate, Obama is pulling out all the condescending stops to snow these Millennials into registering: a rap video, telling them to sign up 'cause it's hot; and a Twitter reach-out to young men drinking hot chocolate in their jammies like little boys.
A constitutional republic caters to adults. A socialistic democracy dictates to children. As of January 1, 2014, the 60-watt light bulb will be illegal. Illegal! Enough said.
No symbol represents superficiality and infantilism like the selfie, a photo one takes of himself to post in cyberspace. The selfie has conquered American culture and spread around the globe. Lest you think I exaggerate, Oxford Dictionaries chose "selfie" as its Word of the Year for 2013. Self-absorption is king.
At the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Barack Obama personified the selfie, and diminished the presidency in the process, by posing in one with the prime ministers of Denmark and England, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and David Cameron, respectively. Imagine John Adams or George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan behaving in such a childish manner.
The business implication of the selfie John Adams begat is significant. The challenge of branding to prospects and customers in our "selfie society" has never been greater. Corporations must work harder than ever to get the attention of the self-absorbed and then dumb down and infantilize communications to them. Come to think of it, Mike Judge made a movie about this very phenomenon: Idiocracy. This movie is so funny, and frightening, because it's so accurate.
There's nothing wrong with studying tapestry and porcelain, but there is something wrong with doing so while detached from reality. Nobody should be exempt from tough times and sacrifice. But it's hard to experience the fires of adversity when constantly photographing oneself while Big Government says, "You don't have to be job-locked."
Marc Rudov is a branding expert and author of the new book, Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO's Guide to Branding.