Perhaps it is since the Enlightenment that the concept of Individualism has permeated so much of Western society and later industrialized non-Western societies. Once one believes in the importance of the individual and at least freedom in some areas of life, one also believes in the possibility of economic advancement and, in particular, the notion that one’s children should have it easier than their parents did. And easier automatically means better today. Easier means not only greater material comfort but also greater opportunity to purchase more expensive technology that makes life more frictionless and more safely mediated, not only from danger but from many forms of excessive uncomfortable organic stimulation, such as manual labor and pre-automotive transportation. And for many middle-class parents today, children are looked at as precious creatures to be protected by keeping them in a technology-based bubble.
Yet here is exactly what contributes to so many of the different modern behavior pathologies that we see exhibited. Particularly young people need a certain amount of sustained organic friction in order to grow into a fully conscious human being, capable of making and preserving meaningful organic imprints, in order to feely fully alive and in order to create a surrogate immortality in preparation for death. A living environment that generates organic friction is one that provides traction for a person’s sequence of activities, whether work-related, recreational, familial, community-based or romantic. Such a living environment creates a template for human beings to be able to fully interact with one another.
Today so much of the external world stimulation that people experience is the abrasive tension-pocket friction that comes from modern waste products - noise pollution, overpopulated living spaces, air pollution, accelerated mechanical processes like speeding cars - as well as modern kicks – motorcycles, race cars, strobe lights, and electronic musical instruments. None of this abrasive friction is stimulation that the human nervous system is built to fully absorb. Noise pollution and electronic musical instruments can cause a person to go deaf while still young. Strobe lights create light pollution that can cause seizures, vertigo, and migraine headaches. Motorcycles and race cars create abrasive overpowering noise that again can hurt a person’s ears. And all these abrasive stimuli are psychologically disruptive and disorienting. They impact both self-definition and self-coherence. The overstimulation generated affects a person’s capacity to function and to make and preserve organic imprints much the way the numbness created by the larger experiential vacuum does. Today, it is either understimulation or overstimulation. Both have replaced the organic fields of experience that used to create surfaces on which to operate with lots of traction.
Lacking organic traction leads to people engaging in all kinds of extreme abrasive behavior in order to pull themselves out of numbness and in order to generate an internal abrasive stimulation that they themselves can control so that they can drive out the external abrasive friction that they can’t control . A loss of organic traction leads to a sense of powerlessness and impotency. This in turn leads to an incapacity to feel fully alive and prepare for death. The whole purpose of being, the whole mission of life is upended. A loss of organic traction leads to some people wanting to kill themselves and to other people wanting to kill others in order to feel alive and thus create a surrogate purpose of being. The more all of us lose our traction, the more some of us are going to seek solutions that involve someone dying. And this is unfortunately why mass shootings are occurring with greater and greater frequency in the United States.
Many of the mass shooters use particular targets like certain ethnic groups or LGBTQ people to help focus the internal aggressive stimuli that they have generated. Perhaps these people should be considered to be people who are somehow transitioning from the old crimes of passion of more traditional living environments to the modern crimes of numbness of modern technological living environments. Perhaps it is simply the modern experiential vacuum that creates the great frustration. These people feel the lack of feeling powerful and potent in their everyday lives.
At any rate, if we want to create more traction for people to feel alive and to prepare for death, we have to stop always focusing on making life easier by making life more frictionless and more mediated through new technology. And we have to start instilling attitudes that are geared to embracing interesting forms of primary experience that can be integrated into everyday life. Unusual adventures, particularly connected to travel can be good, but said adventures are usually few and far between. We have to find a way to cultivate patches of more organic fields of experience that can become a part of one’s everyday routine. Doing the arts, playing sports and when possible in natural surroundings, doing maintenance projects connected with the home, participating actively in social groups, working in community organizations, taking long walks in the park – all involve a certain direct engagement with the external world. By contrast, one should try to minimize one’s involvement with the plethora of mediated experiences that are available – movies, television, video games, computers, smartphone, tablets and now virtual reality games. And also minimize one’s involvement with all the new technology that is used to make daily life more frictionless - things like the Internet of Things and 3D printing. No, I’m not trying to get rid of all technology. I’m just saying that we have to perhaps accept that for all the good that it has seemed to bring people, that modern technology also has a very dark side in terms of the way that it distorts how we experience the world. And this distortion has subtle but very destructive effects that could be extremely harmful to the human race in the long run.
If there is one area of life where the option to minimize contact with modern technology is most readily available it is in the area of recreation. More and more work activities today involve the participation of modern technology whether computers or factory machinery. But in the area of recreation, we can choose to engage in activities that involve primary experience rather than technologically mediated experience. The arts, sports, outdoor activities involving communing with nature, social activities and at least some aspects of travel for pleasure all involve a greater immersion in primary experience and a minimum utilization of modern technology All of them can help us to maintain our humanity in a world that wants to turn us into robots.
(c) 2019 Laurence Mesirow