Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Modern Condition

On the sidewalk near my house I just walked past a 50-something woman who was talking on her phone, saying
I'm just always anxious about what might be happening and how things are going to be.


Shadow said...

Xanax!!!!!! to the rescue.

The Modern Cure for the Modern Condition.....

G. Verloren said...

I really don't believe this is a modern sentiment, to be honest.

"I'm just always anxious about what might be happening and how things are going to be" could apply in almost any situation where the present isn't great and the future is uncertain. Consider what life during the Hundred Years War must have been like for most people, for example. Or how about Roman citizens during the last centuries of the Western Empire? Or Byzantines during the last centuries of the East?

People didn't have less anxiety in the past, they just had less luxury to worry about it quite so much.

The Seljuks might be threatening to invade your ancestral homeland any day now, and your village might be right in the path of their likely advance, but since you're just a peasant farmer, you're helpless to do anything about it. All you can do is pray that your feudal lords will protect you, and keep working the fields so that there will be food to keep you alive through the winter if you DO manage to avoid being cut down by ruthless invaders.

When you constantly live close to death, you don't have time to be anxious. Assuming you don't succumb early on, you eventually adapt to the stress and just go into a sort of long term survival mode, where you don't think about the constant danger, you just do what you have to do to keep surviving, and try to make it through.

It's usually only after you've escaped that environment of constant stress that a person starts to become truly anxious. Soldiers in the field overwhelmingly just keep doing their jobs even under incredible strain, and it's typically only once they go back home that they really start to unravel. The same is true of civilians and refugees - they go about their daily business of simply trying to survive, and it's only once they're somewhere safely away from the danger that they have time to think and to feel, and start processing their trauma, and that's when they break.

That's not to say that people don't also break while in those stressful environments - but when they do, it typically causes them to die, and so we don't hear about it.

The modern age isn't uniquely stressful, it just affords people an unusually large amount of free time to reflect upon their stresses. It lets people come under tension, and then it lets them untense, and then it causes them retense, and so on, in a repeating cycle. And in a way, this can be more destructive than staying under constant tension.

If you compress a string under a heavy load and leave it, it can bear that load for a very long time, even if it may warp a bit upon being relieved of that load. But if you constantly compress and decompress a spring, it suffers much greater wear and tear over time, and metal fatigue causes it to eventually fail entirely.

I believe people are not dissimilar. It's not so much the burdens we bear, but rather the constantly and frequent cycling being being stressed and unstressed, that seems to wear on many individuals. If we stayed constantly tensed, we wouldn't suffer that the kind of fatigue that comes from transitioning between states.