Time to Carpe Some Diem

David Brooks takes a swing at what he terms a “Carpe Diem Nation” in his latest column.  He writes of a clear-cut distinction between the America of old with its forward-thinking mentality and the current America of living in the moment.  A valid criticism, no doubt:

Europeans who settled America gave their lives a slingshot shape. They pulled back so they could shoot forward. They volunteered to live in harsh conditions today so their descendants could live well for centuries. The pioneers who traveled West did the same thing. So has each generation of immigrants — sacrificing the present for the sake of the future…

Today, Americans have inverted this way of thinking. Instead of sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, Americans now sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.

Indeed.  However, in making his case, Brooks cites only the big examples, the things most everyone likes to rail against:  Federal spending out of control, quarterly returns in business taking precedent over long-term value creation, banks lending more for consumption over investment.  Yes, all legitimate instances of the problem.

But in looking at the big picture, it is easy to forget the problems that occur on the individual level.  Think of all the time we spend twiddling our thumbs and poking-about (pun intended) the recesses of Facebook or memebase.com (whatever, don’t judge) for temporary gratification rather than focusing of something worth our while like, say, our University education.

Perhaps it is that the macro-problems which Brooks calls out are symptoms of a disease on the individual level.  After all, the manner in which one comports one’s self in private has a tendency to leak into public behavior as well.  Hence, a private proclivity towards procrastination or instant gratification will likely appear in the Public Square.  And with the expanding entitlement state, clearly it has.

All this said, however, let’s to return to Carpe Diem.  It is not the ultimate problem.  Brooks is wrong.  Seizing the day means to make prudent use of time and resources rather than to splurge flippantly.  This seems to be the proper understanding from the original source of the expression:

Be prudent; water your wine; hold the length of your hopes to a short space.  Even now, while we speak, spiteful time speeds away; seize the day [carpe diem]; place as little trust as you can in tomorrow. (Horace; Odes, 1.11)

That is, if you don’t bank on time to fix things tomorrow, you can’t simply put off til tomorrow that which you should do today.

Evidently, this isn’t the attitude that we find so prevalent today.  The American “neglect for the future” as Brooks puts it is better characterized by the disgustingly popular expression “YOLO” .  How does it differ from carpe diem?  It is flippant, apathetic to important considerations, and moreover, lousy reasoning (how generous of me even to use “reasoning”!).

It is about time we shed this lazy mentality that Brooks criticizes and step up to the plate on a day-by-day basis in our own lives.  It’s about time to carpe some good ol’ fashioned American diem.

(And just for kicks:)

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