USA Today

23 Jun

I suspect that easy gratification is changing the life arcs of many Americans(among other wonderful world citizens).  Most don’t notice what’s going on in any serious way.  It wasn’t all that long ago that life was primarily about surviving.  That’s pretty damn motivating, and I’m guessing that it gives life a realism which is probably lacking in those who are never pushed to their mortal limits.

But it gets me thinking.  As recently as 1975, the paths to stimulation in life were in certain critical aspects very different from what they are today.  Things were still substantially real.  The population was still full of knowing war vets.  These were men who fought in a war in which the US really seemed like the good guy doing the right thing.  Political correctness hadn’t yet completely taken over.

Expectations were different.  I’m guessing that many of today’s excuses and sensitivities wouldn’t have flown back then.  I think a lot of people still believed in big things, too: ideas, religion, the country, values.  Serious writers still existed in significant numbers.  Many people still read real books.  Obesity rates weren’t yet completely out of control.

Young men didn’t grow up playing Halo and watching online porn.  Families were still a thing.  There were fewer satisfying ways to escape real life, and there was much more pressure on those who tried to do so.  To access knowledge and know-how, one had to actually know people with skills.  There was booze, but there’s always been booze.  While there was far less electronic connection, there was probably also more meaningful camaraderie.  More real privacy.  Even a lot of the hippy druggies tried to develop serious outlooks.  There was some sincere hope that drugs would be more than a button to press for gratification.

Not everything had been completely commercialized and washed-out yet, although I get the impression that after the 60’s things turned very hard in that direction in the culture.  It seems to me that there was far more organic culture back then.  Maybe I’m wrong, but the music from that period included a lot of serious folk stuff which sounds suspiciously authentic and heartfelt.  It wasn’t all dubbed over and over-produced to the gills.  Not only was it written by real people living real lives, but they even believed in things!  I wonder what that’s like.  I even get the impression that money wasn’t always the biggest concern.  Whoa.  

Also, this was before our barrage of modern psychological cripples and rampant overmedicating.

1975.  One year before The Selfish Gene was first published!


Many of the changes since 1975 have been unambiguously for the better.  I would not want to go back to a time in which one still had to flip through books instead of typing in a search.  In which one would have to rely on word of mouth and urban legends.  There’s a lot of other stuff, but this part is huge.

Still, I get the impression that earning stimulation and gratification is necessary for dignified self-development.  The realer the situation and the more compelling the cause, the better.  There’s a lot to be said for restraint, for old-fashioned civility, for a certain happy credulity.  For family.

I believe in a life with worthwhile challenges.  The situation today has made it easy to retreat into a cornucopia of tittering digital gratification.  Phoniness and glib commercialization abound.  There is a sort of amorphous idealism, but it’s hard to take seriously.

What are the challenges to capture the imagination and strain the mast?


There is global warming.  There are the third world problems.  What’s more, there’s probably something to be said for finding ways to return some meaning to gratification.

In a highly scientific and more thoroughly postmodern age, I also think there will have to be more than old-time appeals to the idealism of big threats.  Can people believe in things again?  Maybe.  But the old approaches probably won’t work.  The scene has changed.  Plausibility is a big issue, and even PR firms working their fannies off are failing.  The instant gratification culture and the relentless PR have probably gone a long ways towards ruining grassroots enthusiasm for big problems.  The Green movement could have had its Ron Paul type figure, I bet, but it never really happened.

People want to believe, but first they need something believable.  Trust and principles matter!  For gods sakes, let some real people through!  We need them.  There’s an image management bubble.

Just one more reason to go for the Sacred.  If seeing is believing, then maybe it’s time for a new view of something that’s been here all along.

I don’t know if that will happen or not, but I hope so.  I hope many people will seek the great challenges to dignify themselves and others.  It doesn’t all have to be ostentatious and grand on the highest scale, but just some way of finding hard things to give rewards meaning in the real world.



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