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An Uneasy America: 'Why We Hate Us'

Dick Meyer is a man with a list of hates. Meyer, NPR's new editorial director of digital media, can rattle off plenty of examples: corporations that profess to care about you, the words "managed care," and reality shows that promise a shot at love with a celebrity called Tila Tequila.

Those are some of the gripes to be found in Meyer's new book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium.

All those little complaints are indicators of something bigger, Meyer told Steve Inskeep: a lack of trust in public leadership and an overall weakening of public morality.

"The 1960s was a symbolic turning point," Meyer said, citing the decade as a time when personal choice became more important than following tradition.

"It became much more important to make all these choices as a witting, conscious consumer of life," Meyer said of formerly tradition-bound elements like religion, where people live, whether they decide to get married.

"And deeper than that, there was a sense that if you did follow a traditional route," Meyer said, "you were an existential weakling."

The realm of personal choice has only expanded since then.

"Now, it means choosing your breast size. It might mean choosing the way your nose looks. Almost every discrete element of our lives now can be looked at as a consumer choice," Meyer said.

It's enough to make Meyer nostalgic for the days when a sense of community and belonging, he says, were not so rare as they are now.

"We accepted, naively, a bill of goods about how one forges an identity and happiness in life. And it doesn't come in a vacuum — it comes in a community with the help of others."

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