Maybe the Future's Not Golden?

Is civilization going to hell in a handbasket? The Times says so.

Posted Apr 01, 2012

Impending doom in film "Melancholia"

I often write about how individual life trajectories most often follow an upward curve.

But I'm not so sure about civilization's trajectory.

Reviewing random New York Times articles recalled this theme for me.  How often do former restaurant critic, now political writer Frank Bruni and resident political imp Maureen Dowd write about the same thing—and that thing is the soft-core S&M porn, "Fifty Shades of Grey?" Both pieces reflect on the way the sexual revolution—even as supposedly calmed-down as it has become—and the women's liberation movement have brought both genders to a new place they hadn't imagined.  And that place isn't the paradise we might have envisioned.

It has a lot to do with technology.  PT blog readers are well informed about the downsides of the instant, available-all-the-time, in-every-variety, ever-more-extreme porn everyone can have.  As Marnia Robinson informs us, "The widespread use of Internet porn is one of the fastest-moving, most global experiments ever unconsciously conducted."  This experiment, she tells us, jangles our nerves with often disastrous results.  Yet it can never be called off.

And, of course, people—kids—access this experience at younger and younger ages.  (Oh—have you heard?  Girls achieving puberty before ten is the new normal.) 

And the thing is, both of these things—ever-metastasizing porn and prepubescent puberty—are irreversible (as much as the girl's poor mother pours into medical de-pubescentizing).

Which brings us to how childhood has changed.  I talked to the mother of two children who live with their parents on what I—growing up in tract housing in Northeast Philly—would have considered heaven—a farm and woods with a river running through it.  But the kids have to be induced to leave their computers et al. to go outside to experience it.

Cue the 700,000th article—this one by Times columnist Timothy Egan and called "Nature-Deficit Disorder"—about how childhood isn't childhood any more, and about how harmful this is for the human species.  But how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Internet porn?

Egan recounts the disastrous physical effects of this syndrome: "heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain kinds of cancer. Medical costs associated with obesity and inactivity are nearly $150 billion a year."  I agree.  But I most often dwell on the change in lived human experience—on the absence of independent, self-determined adventures in children's lives.  (The husband of the woman I describe above told me how, before he was ten, he regularly camped out in a tent with friends on the similar property on which he grew up.  He might have his kids taken away by the state if he permitted them to do the same on their semi-wild property—which, of course, they have no desire to.)

And what are kids like who don't go outside to play?  Referencing Richard Louv's 2005 book, "Last Child in the Woods," Egan writes: "Kids who do play outside are less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns, Louv said. Since his book came out, things have gotten worse."

And they will never get better.

Finally, the ever-interesting Benedict Carey writes about "Where have all the neurotics gone?"  You remember neurotics—those self-referential, anxiety-ridden nebbishes embodied by Woody Allen?  Well, today they have various disorders and take Prozac and Xanax.  Those things aren't laughing matters any more—bite your tongue!  And you can't overcome them. They're life-threatening diseases, not just problems you have.  Instead, caused by your errant neurochemistry, they are perpetually lodged in your brain.

In 1960, on the first season of the old television series, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, gambler and criminal Rocky Valentine is shot to death.  He goes to a place where he gets everything he wants—women, booze, winning perpetually at cards.  But after a time, he becomes discontented, and asks his "heavenly" guide, Mr. Pip, to take him to the other place—you know, hell—where he's sure he'd be happier.

Mr. Pip looks at him puzzledly—"I thought you knew. You're already in hell."

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P.S.  Oh, did you know that this was the warmest March ever for 70+ cities around the U.S.?  Not just the warmest March, but the warmest month relative to average historical temperatures for any month?