Over the Counter Culture Statement
Over the Counter Culture
Human societies once had common narratives that provided value and meaning to their lives. No longer. With the dissolution of belief in the truth of religious stories, and the failure of other narrative to take their place (i.e. art, science, technology), an existential hole has been left in the human condition. We are a naturally self-reflective species. What fills the hole left by an absent communal narrative that attaches meaning and purpose to existence? Currently: nothing. The void stares back.
A cranky Austrian once said: “People would rather believe in a lie than nothing at all”. When people began to see religion as one kind of lie, another cranky Austrian thought the prevailing alternatives to our modern malaise was intoxication, isolation, or sublimation. But, none of these seem to work, too the extent that that at the end of the 1980’s the WHO declared depression to be the most widespread pathology in the Western world. There’s no reason to expect that the situation has become anything but worse.
The same Austrian offered another option: psychoanalysis. Its goal as he saw it was not to make people happy, but to to turn human misery into ordinary human unhappiness. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be enough to fill the hole.
Being sad is okay, it’s normal. But contemporary society has a pathological aversion to it. Prescriptions as a cure for everyday sadness are written reflexively by psychiatrists everyday. And prescription drugs aren’t the only culprit: we do all sorts of things that are equivocal existentially. It is not a coincidence that both the contemporary entertainment and pharmacological industries are both so successful in the face of so many lives of quiet desperation.
People want their lives to have meaning, and that’s capital “M” meaning. However, no traditional attempts to provide that meaning holds up very well under scrutiny. People are thus left with creating meaning for themselves through pursuits about which they care deeply. But attempting anything that might hold a high degree of value and meaning is likely to be fraught with an equal likelihood of failure and disappointment. Nobody wants to feel inept, and people are likely to avoid the potential of failure in these realms to preemptively avoid being really sad about something they really care about. The possibility of acquiring some meaningful alternative for one’s life in the face of all this becomes dismal.
Therapy might bring awareness to the problem, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee happiness. So, what’s elevated to the center of people’s lives in this scenario? Evasion. Intoxication appears to be its most common variety...but intoxication widely construed: sex, drugs and alcohol are just the most conspicuous examples. The pursuit of innumerable forms of entertainment, the desire for lifelong and uninterrupted happiness, and the pursuit of prolonged youth in the face of death are probably more pervasive, although less readily identified. Together though, they are the triune face of modern delusion.
We are an imperfect species, and we do not like it. Willful evasion might be psychologically necessary in order to avoid the stress of staring into the void.