Some people seem to believe the struggles of modern man are more complex than in prior epochs and generations; that, paradoxically, the rush toward technological innovation and its promises of convenience has yielded more dilemmas, dangers, and less certainty.
I tend to think that is bullsh!t.
Modern man may be encumbered with more distractions, more shiny objects whittling away at his time, but the imperatives of life have changed little – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs hasn’t been fundamentally changed by technology. Yet.
So what has changed, and what does that have to do with practical advice for the modern?
If the demands of modernity are actually just permutations on historical demands, then perhaps the change we are actually seeing is in man himself rather than the rigors of his existence.
Now, I don’t want to get into a long philosophical exposition – balancing Hobbes’ vision of man, and his need for strong central government (Leviathan for those interested) against those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his view that man’s nature is twisted and malformed within the retarding embrace of a strong central government (Social Contract, again, for the inquisitive) – but will tell you that in my view, given what I’m looking at today, ol’ Jacques may have been onto something.
Modernity is full of choice – as was life in prior ages – where constraints on time and resources forces men to make difficult decisions; but only modern man has the expectation, borne of social safety nets and participation trophies, that his choices should not only come without negative effects, but that they be not mutually exclusive.
Modern man expects equality in outcomes, without regard for merit or effort extended. In a most zany (note I didn’t say rarest) form, modern man demands the choice to participate or not. For those who participate – regardless of effort or skill or grit – he demands an equal outcome for all. Zanier still, for those who chose not to participate at all, he also demands an equal outcome.
Expectations, not choices, have changed.
Beyond modern man’s expectations, his tolerance for life’s rigors, too, has changed. Where mankind once had to struggle daily with finding food, modern humanity’s most struggling and impoverished find themselves growing obese off the plenty of fast food.
Gone are the personal struggles to learn the tactics and techniques to hunt animals or grow crops for sustenance – hunger pangs being the mother of prior mans’ innovation. Today, grocery stores with 47 types of cereal abound and we are promised soon drones will drop fresh berries from the skies to sweeten our modern plight (thanks Lord Bezos).
Less poetic, but no less poignant, are the concerns of my friend and neighbor Marc. Marc was never what one might characterize as having a warrior physique; he affects the stooped gait of a man who sits for long hours in a chair, inspecting other peoples’ efforts at inspection in still other chairs (he does, he’s a senior code developer & analyst). That said, Marc would, valiantly in my mind, jog around our block for approximately 20 minutes, every morning, come hell or high water.
Having not seen Marc on his morning jaunts in a few days, when I saw him at the mailbox one weekend morning I asked if he had been traveling lately. “No bro, I’m a code monkey, I don’t have to travel.” I put aside my inclination to remind Marc that travel might be good fun – it’s a big world after all, might be a lesson in context out there somewhere …
“Oh, well, I hadn’t seen you running so just thought maybe life got in the way,” I continued. “Nah, I had developed a blister on my heel from new shoes so figured I would take a week off and let it heal.”
I’m so old I remember being told that pain was lazy leaving your body. For Marc, pain (and let’s assume this was a blister worthy of a ballad) was a sign to quit; that while the overall effect of consistency might be good for his life, that the rhythmic pain of a pounding blister was simply too much to bear – the cost outweighing the benefit.
The low threshold of tolerance is not just seen in the physical. Daily, it seems, the news and social media reports stream in, identifying not physical pains which are testing our tolerance but rather the emotional and psychological sort.
Words, ideas, beliefs, all exist which seem to upset modern man. To boot, modern man even finds offence – I believe your local Starbucks Barrista might say, ‘is triggered’ – by other peoples’ biologic traits: gender, complexion, sexual identity or preference.
‘Yeah, it’s called racism and bigotry Von, you dumb sh!t!’
Yes, yes it is.
Today, one may claim to be ‘triggered’ by another person being Caucasian, for being male, for being attracted to biological females, or for having faith in a Creator. Historically, and correctly, had one been ‘offended’ by a minority, a female, a homosexual, and/or an atheist, we would well have called them an intolerant fuck head. And while we would still call them that today, and do, we celebrate and protect those whose own intolerance towards whites, males, straights, and believers is not only loud and overt, but increasingly violent.
Where historical mankind found strength in tolerance, modern man embraces the weakness of intolerance.
Now, let me take my professorial hat off for a moment and boil the meat off the bone for you – you can’t sit on the toilet at work all day reading this, I realize.
Modern man isn’t facing anything more challenging than historical man did. Life is a kick in the d!ck, and in spite of (or perhaps owing to) the technology applied to it isn’t getting any d@mn easier.
What has changed is you – modern man. You have been raised to believe you are special; that in the evolution of mankind you and this era of man is somehow different and unique.
Protected from the perils of your decisions and incompetence by everything from Velcro shoes to food stamps and college loan forgiveness, you have developed an expectation that life, and your choices made during it, should somehow not come back to bite you on your @ss. And when it does bite – and it does because life, like physics, is an uncompromising b!tch – your tolerance for pain, anxiety, and general discomfort of any physical or emotional kind is approaching nil.
The bad news – yeah, all that above is comparatively good news – is that this took generations of teat-feeding and nanny state politics to develop, and won’t be going away soon. The worse news is, for it to go away is going to require you to actually do something. (I know sweetheart, life sucks.)
For a start, pulling your head out of your unicorn @ss and reading this fully was a good start. Way to go! Acceptance is the next step.
Beyond that, dashing your own expectations and increasing your own tolerance can be had by traveling the world, seeing how others live, and reading about history to have a better sense of context and perspective on just how challenging life can be (and truly is). For those seeking extra credit, try friending someone who opposes your beliefs, identity, politics, whatever, and going camping or hiking or just having lunch with them – avoid the contested discussion and maybe you’ll learn that you are both facing the same challenge: life.
Finally, harden the fv<k up!
Is life tough? Yes! Is it fair? No! But modernity is no more or less challenging than any other period, and it is an appropriately arrogant fancy of moderns to think that just because it impacts you that it is somehow more difficult or rigorous than it was for the eons of humans who found a way to overcome and thrive within it.
So, for those who are struggling with modernity and seeking some practical advice – change your mindset, because you aren’t changing life.
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