The modern world is wonderful in many ways –
dentistry is good,
cars are reliable,
we can so easily keep in touch from Mexico with our grandmother in Scotland –
but it’s also powerfully and tragically geared
to causing a high background level of anxiety
and widespread low-level depression.
There are six particular features of modernity
that have this psychologically disturbing effect.
Each one has a potential cure,
which we will only collectively put into action
when we know more about the disease in question.
Here are the six:
社会告诉我们 只要有天赋 有精力
Our societies tell us that everyone is free to make it
if they have the talent and energy.
表面上 这个想法很美丽 而且令人畅快
The down side of this ostensibly liberating and beautiful idea
is that any perceived lack of success is taken to be not,
as in the past,
an accident or misfortune,
but a sure sign of a lack of talent or laziness.
If those at the top deserve all their success,
then those at the bottom must surely deserve alltheir failure.
A society that thinks of itself as meritocratic
turns poverty from a problem to evidence of damnation
and those who have failed from unfortunates to losers.
The cure is a strong,
culturally endorsed belief in two big ideas:
which says success doesn’t just depend on talent and effort;
which says good, decent people
can fail and deserve compassion,
rather than contempt.
An individualistic society preaches that
the individual and their achievements are everything
and that everyone is capable of a special destiny.
It is not the community that matters;
the group is for no-hopers.
To be ‘ordinary’ is regarded as a curse.
The result is that the very thing
that most of us will end up being, statistically speaking,
is associated with freakish failure.
The cure is a cult of the good ordinary life –
and proper appreciation of the pleasures
and quiet heroism of the everyday.
Secular societies cease to believe in anything
that is bigger than or beyond themselves.
Religions used to perform the useful service
of keeping our petty ways and status battles in perspective.
But now there is nothing to awe
or relativise humans,
whose triumphs and mishaps end up feeling
like the be all and end all.
A cure would involve regularly using sources of transcendence
to generate a benign,
relativising perspective on our personal sorrows:
music, the stars at night,
the vast spaces of the desert or the ocean
would humble us all in consoling ways.
The philosophy of Romanticism tells us
that each of us has one very special person out there
who can make us completely happy.
Yet mostly, we have to settle for moderately bearable relationships
with someone who is very nice in a few ways
and pretty difficult in many others.
It feels like a disaster
– in comparison with our original huge hopes.
The cure is to realise that we didn’t go wrong:
we were just encouraged to believe in a very improbable dream.
Instead, we should build up our ambitions
around friendship and non-sexual love.
5. The Media:
The media has immense prestige
and a huge place in our lives –
but it routinely directs our attention to things that
令人恐惧 担忧 惊慌 愤怒的事
scare, worry, panic and enrage us,
while denying us agency or any chance for effective personal action.
It typically attends to the least admirable sides of human nature,
without a balancing exposure to normal good intentions,
responsibility and decency.
At its worst, it edges us towards mob justice.
The cure would be news
that focused on presenting solutions rather than generating outrage,
that was alive to systemic problems
rather than gleefully emphasizing scapegoats
and emblematic monsters –
and that would regularly remind us
that the news we most need
comes from our own lives and direct experiences.
Modern societies stress that
it is within our remit to be profoundly content,
sane and accomplished.
As a result,
we end up loathing ourselves,
feeling weak and sensing we’ve wasted our lives.
A cure would be a culture
that endlessly promotes the idea
that perfection is not within our grasp
– that being mentally slightly
( and at points very ) unwell is an inescapable part of the human condition
and that what we need above all are good friends
with whom we can sit and honestly discuss our real fears and vulnerabilities.
The forces of psychological distress in our world
are currently much wealthier and more active than the needed cures.
We deserve tender pity for the price we have to pay
for being born in modern times.
But more hopefully,
cures are now open to us individually and collectively
if only we recognise, with sufficient clarity,
sources of our true anxieties and sorrows.
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