There were a lot of us – young people during the 70s – who struggled with questions of an existential nature. Although a lot of young Western kids are killing themselves these days – overdose and whatnot – questions about the “meaning of life” do not seem to figure in young people’s cognitive equations. What worries them more is image. Gosh, what a relief not to be a kid!
Ten years later – no longer kids – many of them will have a partner and children of their own. Parenting means – apart from constant sleep deprivation – an incessant sense of letting someone/something down (my partner/our love, my children, my job, myself…) and that is when the “meaning of life” reappears on the mental horizon.
What if the world we are leaving to our children does not bear thinking about? That is where we are today. There are those who will accuse me of fear-mongering. Frankly, they are, at best, ignorant, possibly downright stupid or, at worst, cynical liars. (There are certainly many cynical liars!)
What worries me more are those who accuse me of being depressing. Am I spreading the idea that there is no hope? That would be a great pity. Because change is really possible.
- Did anybody see that the Berlin wall would come crashing down?
- Did anybody believe that Pinochet would lose the 1988 vote?
- Did anybody even in his dreams imagine in 1917, that after years and years of civil war Mexico would adopt a constitution that would serve as a model for the rest of us to this very day. And yes, until 1992, Mexico retained Articles 3 (about a free, mandatory, and secular education), 27 (about return of land to the peasants and smallholders) and 123 (about workers’ rights, 8-hour day and the like)?
Alas, the 90s were a period of deterioration all around, it seems, although most of us who were reasonably well-informed didn’t realise it at the time. Even now we find it difficult to come to terms with the turning of the tide that started in the 70s.
We have been brought up to believe in progress. We have been taught in school and by Steven Pinker that henceforward, progress is more or less preordained; after all, humans are now armed with enlightenment.
Our parents and grandparents have corroborated the view that life can only get better: Consider bathrooms, for instance, they say, sanitary napkins and tampons, not to mention internet. Yes, they are right about all that, but No, progress is not preordained.
In the West, we are basically spared old-fashioned dictators. Instead, we are discombobulated by rhetoric. We haven’t yet learnt to deal with discombobulation, but we will, just as people learned in the past to deal with physical oppression.