A feeling of lethargy is slowly seeping into the western society. Young adults are at a loss as to what their purpose in life is. Their hopes and associated framework of dreams appears to be slowly unraveling – that’s if it was ever raveled to begin with. I strongly believe dreams are supposed to be used as the fuel for one’s journey through life. My existence surfaces from the depths of nothingness, chooses a course and under the power of my dreams tries to make it to its destination before it sinks back into the abyss it came from. If one has no dreams does it mean one has no journey? Does it mean one’s existence drifts aimlessly across this universe? What is the cause of this drought of dreams? Does it matter?
Before the second half of the 19th century a large proportion of the western world’s population was still in the midst of an agrarian social order. If I were an average man, back then, the most likely day to day activities I was involved in were either toiling away as a servant for a landlord or attending to farm work on my small family plot. If I were a woman I was probably in a similar situation with the additional burden of catering for my children. Whatever little free time I had left to seek my purpose in life was most likely spent attending religious events. Religion’s prominent social role meant that I would have used its rationalizations to explain the reason behind the human existence and to guide me towards a fuzzy life-goal everyone was supposed to strive for. Most often this life-goal was shrouded by the mysterious “ways” of some divine being and consisted in some kind of struggle to rise above my “impure” human-condition. The long work hours combined with the vague, metaphysical reasoning religion presented meant that I did not have the time nor the methods to expand my knowledge horizon. Additionally as my social sphere was extending only to my immediate neighbors, who were most often a group of people with whom I was acquainted since birth and whose lives were very similar to mine, it meant that I could not develop my knowledge by accessing their experiences either. I, along with them, lived in a sheltered cocoon of ignorance. The limited availability to the life accomplishments of others would have protected my goals from being overshadowed by greater achievements. And the knowledge void bubble I lived in would have kept me cozy in a fog of self-importance. Thus whatever goal I would have set to achieve would not only have been the pinnacle of my existence or even of humanity’s existence but as far as I could have told – with my limited knowledge – it would have been close to the pinnacle of the universe. Accomplishing even a modest dream would result in a strong feeling of confidence and self-worth which would then be used to fuel the achievement of the next dream.
Then at the beginning of the second part of the 19th century the miracle of industrialization explodes on the scene of human existence. Many of the previously intensive labor tasks humans were involved with are taken over by machines. Large swaths of the population find their skills becoming redundant in the face of mass production. Society itself starts a slow transition from a manual labor driven workforce to a thought driven one. Fortunately the efficiencies brought forward by automation result in more people having time available to think. Some of these thoughts are simple, pragmatic ideas that are imbued with a disciplined, detailed and systematic analysis of our surroundings. They become the foundation for new inventions, which in turn accelerate the industrial revolution and expand our technical skills and understanding of our surroundings. If up to now, as humans, we saw ourselves as the center of the “reality” we inhabited our new methodical observations start piercing this ancestral veil of hubris, allowing us to peer deep into the vastness of the universe and make us realize how underwhelming minuscule our existence is. The development of mass transit, starting with trains and ending with supersonic air planes, result in humans across the world more easily exchanging products and know how. The mass transit miracle is quickly overtaken by the mass media miracle which culminates in the flow of ideas reaching terminal speed once the internet web comes together. By using multimedia, accessing the experiences of others becomes common place. Through digital images, movies, computer games and news we increasingly spice our lives with the transient, vicarious, sometimes extreme existences of others. These other experience transcend time and space – such that as as a dweller of this new world I gaze over the achievements of the entire human society – since its beginning. The feeling of achievement I would have obtained from accomplishing a modest dream is immediately and effortlessly projected onto the achievements of the entire humanity. The self-confidence that accompanied the fulfillment of one goal’s is now diluted by the realization that hundreds, thousands, potentially millions of others have reached the same level. What was their fate? How far did they travel before they sank back into the abyss of this universe? Will I fare any better? Is it reasonable to repeat their lives hoping that it will turn out differently?
I have no clear answers to any of these questions. Just a handful of vague guidlines that I will discuss in part 2 of this post.
-republished from a post from 2013.04.20