Modern life is demanding. Civilization’s complexity involves reckoning with multiple social structures, managing a host of societal obligations, and coping with relentless change. Social inclusion requires far more than simply securing life’s essentials in the manners our ancestors did.
Little of this would exist had technology not enabled massive changes that progressively transformed human life beyond anything previously imagined. However, evolutionary theory dictates human genetic evolution has not kept pace with such change, and we have therefore created a world alien to our genetic adaptations. At what cost?
This distancing of ourselves from our natural environment is ongoing. For example, parents generally advise their children in terms of today’s material values; there is little concern to build lifestyles, communities and environments attuned to their true nature as organic beings. Wholesome views of the individual are easily lost amidst the frenzy of getting on; the acquisition of monetary wealth and material assets being rather unthinkingly adopted as life’s only valid game plan.
Of course, the materialist outlook is one lacking any concept of enough – making everyone to some extent a failure by its rapacious standards. For the many whose energies are not wholly consumed pursuing its dreams of limitless wealth, social reality readily becomes a rather slothful hunt for sensory distraction. The rather generic lifestyle most come to accept invites boredom by its sheer repetitiveness and lack of meaningful challenges. Playing by society’s rules in terms of earning money and recycling it in exchange for normality is a tedious exercise people naturally seek to escape – if only through a few hours lost in entertainment, personal amusement, or enjoying more natural relationships with friends and families.
To the extent one is not crazed-out by the quest for personal success, it is tempting to succumb to the comfortable indifference of basic sustenance and amusement in return for general social compliance. Either way, obstacles block any learning about who one really is, and what it is to live life on one’s own terms. Perhaps only drop-outs and others who shun mainstream society are aware of the true extent of the societal demands and corresponding compromises many accept.
Breaking us to harness
The spirit is easily blunted when susceptible to social pressures. Parents unthinkingly push their children down roads they see as socially respectable – ignorant of how their own lives were once shaped by similar pressures. With considerable cultural backing, they coerce their offspring to perform in manners evolution did not prepare them for – cajoling them to achieve culturally defined goals whilst remaining ignorant of their natural disposition.
The result is predictably stressful, with the fear of not fitting in potentially blighting the soul. Personal growth as balanced independent individuals is hampered. But much as the fallout in young adults can manifest itself in mood swings, anger and discontent, it has been culturally normalized as the expected behavior of the terrible teens. Youth’s eternal challenge that adults are generally boring because they accept boring lives becomes a numbers game in which defensive adults easily have the upper hand. Thus each generation’s natural rebellion to a robotic existence is stamped on by prevailing forms of hubris and conservatism endemic to mainstream culture.
Whether the individual manages to secure a high-earning and fulfilling position of apparent prestige, or settles for a mundane existence that merely puts food on the table, society sinks its mechanical jaws into their independence and claims them as a cog to fit some part of its dehumanizing machine. As a consequence, many find themselves seeking psychological escape from the sheer grind and monotony of meeting relentless social demands.
Of course, such a perspective proves too unflattering for many to consider. Most individuals are probably best understood as somewhere between those extremes in any case – their life being a muddled compromise between battling society’s expectations, and pursuing whatever hopes and dreams still burn within.
The businessman’s urgency for his next appointment reflects an ingrained ambition ruling his consciousness, whilst the bored worker looking forward to clocking off has at least a subliminal awareness the deal he has struck is not fulfilling. Neither situation is harmonious in any real sense, whilst both serve some nebulous society, as opposed to the best interests of any individuals.
Evidence for the personal fallout is easy to find. People increasingly struggle to keep relationships on a good footing. The natural desire to go with the flow when interacting with others must compete with internalized needs. Simple human friendship is becoming a challenge for many. Time is mortgaged to achieving ends seen as important to achieving yet other ends. Populations are awash with both prescribed drugs and self-medication as the means of either blocking out or escaping daily reality. Given learned consumer ideas of the self as the centre of everything, the organism ironically struggles to self-regulate – being pulled here and there by the culturally instilled demands of an increasingly neurotic mind. Whereas mental illness was historically rare and generally associated with underlying physiological conditions, it is an increasingly common state of normal people simply wrestling with today’s world.
Keeping us in check
Meanwhile the media churns out yet more ideas of how one has to look, act and think, as well as what to eat and drink. Failure to comply with these manufactured expectations is subtly portrayed as having negative personal consequences. The publicity works and people are coerced as intended – the sheer monetary value of the industry proving the point. Even the desire for relief from these cultural pressures draws many closer to the media and its fleeting forms of escape that only conceal yet more pressures. It is no coincidence the consumer society’s publicity and propaganda are blended with its offers of mental diversion: the mousetrap is ineffective without its cheese.
Questions over how all this apparently negative human activity can persist are answered by noting how consumerism directly drives itself: manufacturing goods and convincing others those goods are desirable creates the overall structure within which most people earn the money that allows them to play the consumer game in the first place. We work hard at the self-hypnosis this is all as it should be.
Nonetheless, and despite all the hype and spin saturating our cultures over the supposed benefits of the consumer lifestyle, a generalized and troublesome dislocation from a would-be natural relationship with the world is undeniable. Even as many distractions provide temporary escape from the stressful humdrum of modern life, the very search for distraction and escape is surely indicative of problems.
From the immediate rush of junk food to the addictive intoxication of alcohol, or from the petrol-head racer to the mountaineer perilously suspended in his crampons, many knowingly risk their own welfare in pursuit of distraction and thrills – their otherwise relentless confrontation with the sameness of daily life being subliminally repulsive. Other minds habitually suckle on the ersatz reality of mass media content with its penchant for spurious sex, violence and contrived drama. Whatever the underlying biochemical craving for stimulation might be, it is conspicuously widespread.
Any modern individual patient enough to study other species living naturally – doing nothing much at all once their essential biological needs are met – might be puzzled by their apparent lack of boredom. But in general, some arrogance convinces us humans these other species are simply not smart enough to enjoy our sophisticated life. Nonetheless, our inability to sit still and simply be at ease with ourselves – our forever demanding stimulation – is very arguably a nervous disorder in need of a proper cure, as opposed to ongoing pseudo-treatments.
What have we lost?
Cross-cultural reports generally suggest those who live peaceably and have secured life’s basics, and are also reasonably unaffected by the technological and social complexities of modern civilization, are in fact the most happy and content. Maybe they have retained the naturally relaxed state of beings not always expecting something more from their existence. But of course, this is not a message modern culture can tolerate. The madness of that culture is its need to bury such truths under endless supposedly beneficial things to do.
In terms of Non-Objective Reality (NOR), the human mind’s attempts to add to life and somehow improve it are based on a fundamental flaw of abstract thought. As long as the mind is constrained within conventional objectivity, it unwittingly acts as if reality is formed from constituent bits, and it understandably tries to add good bits and remove unwanted ones.
However, if we see objectivity with its endlessly divisive paradigm as flawed in its failure to embody the wholeness of reality, it becomes obvious that nothing can be added or taken away from life, other than immediate wellbeing – including a well-adjusted mind. Life’s essence is inherently complete, and any attempt to augment it only risks persuading the mind to chase goals that will prove frustratingly impossible to achieve, or ultimately empty. The organism has needs, but mountainous possessions are not among them. Material wealth of any amount in no way makes us any more alive than we already are.
Given an infinitude of unanswered questions in philosophy, psychology, physiology and science in general, we appear as complex organisms in a complex reality beyond any proper comprehension – but nonetheless already fully in life. What convinces anyone we can better this situation, if not a deluge of dogma and publicity notably also sustaining society’s key power structures? Would the average citizen of his own accord really desire all the material products and technological change persistently claimed to be beneficial by government bodies, corporates, academia and the scientific community? Churches are notably indifferent to the idea, being keener to market metaphysics.
Modern culture nonetheless seeks to convince us of some human ability to relentlessly better our lot via endless technological development – or individually, via runaway personal ambition. But the net cost of obsessive industriousness to ourselves and to the planet in general has rarely been reckoned with – albeit increasing evidence shows it acts somewhat against us on various fronts. What drives it in any case?
It can be asked if without individual fears of not fitting in socially, or group fears of being attacked by another group, any of this frantic human activity would have come about at all. Has the simple fear of our human technological powers being bettered by other humans been the real driver behind all civilization? Is such civilization just the natural result of apes being spooked by their own technological prowess?
More immediately, wielding social power in this consumer age perhaps demands the promotion of industry and new technology in order to keep people’s minds attuned to the supposed merits of their servile condition. The dogma of unlimited human progress is certainly embraced with great enthusiasm. And even if others complain about the ills of the same world, very few properly drop out or call for the sort of social upheaval that might worry those they serve. Even abnormal normality can become reassuringly familiar, as those in high places are no doubt aware.
Modern culture is effectively a psychological open prison plus daily work routine – based on a general consensus prison life is beneficial for all concerned. But when most inmates preferred elements of that culture are actually concerned with life outside its prison walls, such consensus is surely based more on reflexive social conformance than anything else.