High divorce rates, teenage ennui, and drug-addled slackers must have recurred in history

by phil on Tuesday Sep 15, 2009 1:57 AM

Lately I've been unseating my attachment to modernism. The way I interpret modernism is that there is an arrow of history that ultimately points toward progress and the betterment of humanity. At the high point of my attachment to modernism, I believed in the coming of a technological singularity, when computers get so fast that you can simulate a brain in the computer, and then eventually make even faster computers, ad infinitum until we create a techno-utopia for our virtual selves.

In a more general sense, I've felt that somehow our moment in history has been exceptional, which has led to some biases in my thinking. For example, I have believed that America's high divorce rate was somehow a trapping of modernism. That household appliances and the Pill liberated women, or that the high life expectancy makes long marriages insufferable.

But I don't think I have that kind of bias anymore. For example, we have a burgeoning leisure class, but that's not unique to America in the 21st Century. History has shown that abundance has recurred enough times that humans have developed adaptations for it. There have been many societies and tribes that had century-long resource booms. For example, a tribe that had control of a desert all of a sudden has its land greened because of a lake formation. That tribe and their children, and their children's children, are rich and fat off the land for centuries. What did they do? They had unruly teenagers who were bored with ennui.

Or I like learning how the Transcendentalists of the 1800s were very much like the drug-addled hippies of the 1960s. Somehow we think history begins at the start of World War II, and that everything after that is history's unique gift to us.

But things like teenagers hating their parents, mid-life crises, prevalent ennui, high rates of depression, high divorce rates, boredom, slackers, drugs, these are all things we tend to ascribe to the trappings of a modern American syndrome. But I bet you these things have all recurred many times in history.

Supporter's Information: It may seem like the problem of teen drug abuse is a product of modern society, but it has been there throughout history.

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