“Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did.”


The book is called “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New American Era,” written by George Packer, and released in May 2013. It’s food for thought as one prepares for a 35th high school reunion … class of 1978, square in the middle of the time of which Packer speaks.

Decline and fall: how American society unravelled, by George Packer (The Guardian)

Thirty years ago, the old deal that held US society together started to unwind, with social cohesion sacrificed to greed. Was it an inevitable process – or was it engineered by self-interested elites?

… Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did.

At the time, the late 1970s felt like shapeless, dreary, forgettable years. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, preaching austerity and public-spiritedness, and hardly anyone was listening. The hideous term “stagflation”, which combined the normally opposed economic phenomena of stagnation and inflation, perfectly captured the doldrums of that moment. It is only with the hindsight of a full generation that we can see how many things were beginning to shift across the American landscape, sending the country spinning into a new era.