An interesting article, Erik, with great quotations at just the right moments. Unfortunately it’s not just the USA that is suffering, although for a variety of historical reasons the USA is the most extreme example of consumerist culture in the world (though China will very quickly surpass the USA as its middle-class continues to expand). We’re all hardwired by evolution to compare ourselves to others; the industrial revolution led to mass production which meant that consumer goods became the predominant means by which we achieve that comparison. Meanwhile, although the structure of the USA politically was engineered by educated men of The Enlightenment, the nation was peopled by the peasants, serfs, and proletariats of the world. For these millions, physical wellbeing was predominant; there was no “inner world of the mind.”
And so the USA, as de Tocqueville noted nearly two centuries ago, virtue in the USA uniquely became entangled solely with material wealth.
Though you cite the very few post-Romantic era writers produced by the USA, the reality is these few were extreme anomalies. 99% of the population was, and remains today, focused on the acquisition of ever-more material wealth because that’s what happens when one has to scrabble for existence and has received little or no education. As primary and secondary educational systems in the USA remain rudimentary, there’s never been any kind of countervailing influence as Hollywood needs a vast audience of brain-dead consumers in order to maintain its profitability.
Meanwhile the desperate propaganda needed to hold together a vast nation of many different nationalities and beliefs means that only the most simplistic myths can be used. And, as you note, the strongest of these is the “work hard, get a better car every couple of years, get a bigger screen, get newer kitchen appliances, get more and more and more” ethos.
I lived in the USA for 27 years and only survived because I created an “Allan bubble.” I had no US media of any kind (for real information I used The Economist, le Monde Interactif, France 24, l’Obs, Der Spiegel, etc.), and I didn’t consume much — I kept one vehicle for 20 years, rather than keeping myself on a debt treadmill. Now I’m back in Europe I’m struck by how people are far more relaxed, and by how I too am far more happy and relaxed than I ever was in the USA, despite adoring the grandeur of the natural environment and avoiding most of the US cultural toxins.
Sadly, Europe doesn’t seem to have understood that US entertainments are poisonous; we’re seeing the gradual erosion of European values and an increasing toxicity in ordinary life. The UK is furthest along, hence the stupidities of Brexit, but unfortunately other Euro countries may soon follow.