In those days just after WWII, the young adults had come out of war, and their parents, the Great Depression. People remembered how it was to lack and to need and to wait. Kids of the 50s, we had Viet Nam and national division and deep suspicion of our government. But we had licence like never in living history, too, with The Pill making ‘safe sex’ possible, and relaxation on stigmatized traditions, like divorce and therapy and abortion. There was money flowing. We were patriotic, we were eager to learn, especially in the sciences once Sputnik started the race to own Space.
Then there was the whole cult of Taking Care of Number One, that glorified selfishness, even as it denied the tradition of toxic self-sacrifice for the needs of others. But not all self-sacrifice is toxic.
Decade by decade, we have come to this place of low tolerance for boredom, for not getting what we want, when we want it. We have traded low attention span for the constant stream of news and nonsense online, and no ability to wait, to be still, to be alone with our thoughts. We are so multi-task-minded, we have anxiety over doing only one thing at a time, and there is precious little mindfulness in any given day, or hour. We lost along the way, the love of knowing things, in favor of the freedom to express any damn opinion about any damn thing without having to have done the work of learning, of knowing what we’re talking about.
We are seeing the true cost of these changes now, in a time of uncontrollable and supremely toxic government, in a time of life-threatening attack by internal terrorism and external disease. And so many of us have lost the skills needed in crisis.
The most serious question of our world today, is whether we can rise above our habits of laziness, of weakness, or our so-many inabilities, to pull ourselves out of this morass. Those who can, maybe, will survive to make substantive changes in the self-destroying ways we have been doing things. Those who get it together will dig in and learn the science to combat or even just deal with things we can’t babble and opine our way out of, like pandemic, like climate change, like political systems that are immoral, unethical, insane and destructive. We will identify and acquire the skills of living in the changed world.
Every society has had times like these. Some blew up or imploded, some embraced change and evolved. Every society has had its madmen at the top, wreaking havoc as long as they held power. Every society has had its dysfunctional beliefs and habits. Probably every one of them were sure that they were living through the End Times, that they were struggling against powers capable of destroying the world.
We can’t destroy the planet, but we can destroy our place on it. We can take a lot of others with us in our bid for self-destruction. But there have been mass extinctions before, and catastrophic events that changed everything. We just weren’t there, then, to be caught up in it, to see it coming–and just maybe to do something about it before we are ended by refusing to take responsibility for it.