Close to the whole of human society is now free from the terror of war, famine and pestilence. As a collective we are richer than we have ever been before. Technological progress has made the seemingly impossible possible. By all accounts the world is a better and more hope filled place than at any previous stage in human history.
Nevertheless, hanging over much of the developed world like a dark cloud sits an omnipresent feeling of discontent. From where does this feeling stem?
In a hope to understand this collective sensation one must first re-examine the metrics that modern society has up until now relied upon to gauge the success of the species. If such a feeling does indeed exist, its comprehension lies beyond the mainstream view of accomplishment as defined in terms of status and monetary value.
It must be asked what kind of countervailing forces associated with modernity have replaced humanities natural foes? In what sense are we richer? And what have been the repercussions of our rapid technological advancement?
The following is an assessment of such questions.
Where humanity has largely freed itself from the burdens of existence associated with living in the natural world, we have shackled ourselves to a belief in a global system of production and a self-imposed order that dictates how one ought to go about living.
The awe and wonder we see in the world as children is crushed under the weight of cultural expectation, a once open and curious gaze is directed towards the narrow pursuit of material possession, and the adult individual is confined to spending the majority of their waking days working a job they likely loathe lest they be rendered destitute.
At every step, human beings are moulded to fit into a globalised machine concentrated on the maximisation of profit. Youthful exuberance becomes blunted through subscription to the mundane reality of the modern work routine and is gradually replaced with depressing acquiescence. Like the gradual compression of a warm iron, the monolithic structure of the global capitalist order brands the idea that the world cannot be made different onto human consciousness.
Constant stimulation from technology and a hyper-awareness of events that occur beyond our reach renders us inert. The state as the guarantor of equal opportunity, fairness, and justice has been gradually eroded and replaced by a thinly veiled projection of parasitic entities that take the form of big business and vested interest. We resign ourselves to the fallacy that the problems besetting the human collective are too numerous and too difficult for any one person to comprehend and to contribute towards solving.
The word ‘politics’ has become equated with a profession. The envisaging of a better future is now the designated responsibility of the expert and the professional. The public is shut-off from believing they can enact meaningful change. People subsequently assign thinking about the world and reflecting on the implications of their actions to anyone but themselves.
In the place of conscientiousness, we surrender ourselves to the pursuit of fleeting pleasures that society has instructed us to value. Life becomes a rat-race centred around securing a bigger pay-check, landing a job with more esteem, and buying items that testify to your success in accumulating capital.
The illusion of the perfect life presented to us through social media distorts our grasp on reality further still. The lives displayed on our pixelated screens are comprised of photos taken at the opportune moment. Filtered, airbrushed, cropped and edited to convey a flawless existence. Bombarded with perfection, many look in themselves and feel dissatisfied. The notion that working hard, getting rich and achieving status will solve everyones woes becomes deeper ingrained in the psyche. The torrent of popular culture that humans are now exposed to effectively buries the complex nature of the human condition. The reality that the pursuit of happiness is destined to be a different journey for each individual is obscured.
On some subconscious level we’re aware of the perversity of it all. We distract ourselves through being constantly entertained, by engaging in revelry, by taking drugs prescribed to us by corporations that derive their profit from us remaining indisposed. We seek to nullify symptoms instead of addressing the underlying cause of our discontent.
This is not a caring society. This is not a society that wishes for people to live prosperously. This is a society that takes human potential, stifles it, and turns it into passivity.
We don’t raise people to live with purpose. We raise them to sleepwalk through life.
Alex Goik is a PHD researcher at the University of Wollongong. He strives to offer fresh perspectives on foreign affairs, tech and China (coupled with the odd analysis of human nature).