“Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words — mank and ind. What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” Jack Handy
An Amazing Age…
A father stood by a campfire sharing thoughts of life with his discouraged adolescent son. He explained that life can be hard, but reminded his son that it was much worse for their ancestors. He explained that they live an amazing age. He spoke about how quickly man can cover long distances – much faster and further than even a few generations ago. The food system had advanced in a way that fewer people were going hungry, and food was much easier to produce. Though wars still took place, there were less of them, and with fewer casualties within them. Tyrannical leaders had declined in number, and advances in medicine had enabled longer lives, and a better quality of life with each passing year.
Of course that conversation could have taken place in any age of man going back 4,000 years or more. And I guess that’s my point; that every generation of man reaps the benefits of advancement. All who have lived, have lived in an amazing age.
Today we live with the most advanced technologies and social structures to date, and certainly the most complex. Yet I’m not such a fan. The worst unintended consequences of advancement are… a lack of advancement. I too am a discouraged youth.
And Then, Depression Set In…
I have experienced my share of depressive episodes – those times when continuing my own life seems the worst possible solution. I have survived those episodes though, without medication, for one reason above all others, the knowledge that my depression always passes – always.
I don’t wish to understate the value of medication for those who live with depression. That technology – the advancement of pharmaceuticals, has changed and saved millions who live with depression. I only suggest that for me, the best medicine is the knowledge that my depression always passes – always. It’s kind of old school.
When I’m in the throes of depression, it’s not so easy or so convenient to conjure up thoughts of it passing. Nor are those thoughts fast-acting. They do come though, with no side effects, nor any cascading consequences which may lead to more cascading consequences.
In recent decades depression has become better addressed, both scientifically and socially. Depression can be treated, discussed, and most importantly, it can be allowed. That it is allowed, is a great social advancement – part of our amazing age.
I Need A Kind Of Therapy Which Hasn’t Been Invented Yet…
I live with another ailment though, one which is rarely discussed and may not even exist beyond my tortured mind, though I suspect it does; the inability to comprehend and cope with the increasing complexities of our amazing age. I live in a greater state of flux today than I did at age 40. Each new advancement for the betterment of mankind seems to come with choices, tenfold.
Last night I spent 75 minutes navigating the Netflix search menu, looking for a program worthy of my time. Eventually I selected a series of TED Talks on space exploration. Seventy-five minutes spent searching. In that amount of time I could have watched 5 of those TED Talks, or 4 episodes of McHale’s Navy. I yearn for the black and white Admiral TV of my youth. Only 12 channels choose from and a few dozen more on UHF, but most of those were snow.
Driving last week my advanced navigation system was guiding me to a job interview. Knowing the area fairly well I decided to trust my hunter-gatherer instincts and took an alternate route. The voice from the speakers kept attempting to reroute me – even to the point when I was directly across the street from my intended location. “Make a U-turn and go 1 mile to the Rancho California Exit” the voice said. My destination was 50 yards away. That actually happened.
I can’t remember my daughter’s phone number – because I don’t have to. Talk about an instant panic attack when I needed to call her from someone else’s phone…
The thought that gets me through my depressive episodes, that it always passes – always, doesn’t work for my complexity issues. The increasing complexities of life are exponential. They never pass, they only get worse. To paraphrase Lewis Black, “Exponential means to get crappier and crappier and crappier.”
I’m not a neuroscientist nor a cognitive psychologist, but I do read some of their work when time permits. Once conclusion I can safely make is that in no way is the human brain keeping up with the pace of our advancements. My disease may not be your disease yet, but it will be.
No Going Back. Close Your Eyes And Ears Going Forward…
There’s no going backward though, only the hopes that humanity will figure out how to take the greatest advancements from the past, retool them, and superimpose them on the future. We won’t see horse drawn carriages again, but we already see cars without internal combustion engines and that’s a legitimate advancement. That those cars might drive themselves is also an advancement. If self-driving cars are an advancement, there will surely be unintended consequences along with them – like losing our inherent ability to find north or south quickly, or to minimize what little muscle tone most people have left – from turning that steering wheel.
I genuinely believe the humanity is headed in a positive direction, pulled by the underlying currents of a higher purpose. Read the books Nonzero and The Better Angels Of Our Nature and you too might be convinced of this. That future though, might look a lot like Idiocracy. Be well… rc
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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head…