Wednesday, July 5

Meaninglessness: Modern society and the Confrontation with Meaninglessness

Readers beware: This post is at best a semi-educated spiel on the problems with today’s society, and at worst the incessant ranting of a writer already past his prime. This post is purely to prepare for my next two posts.

The last two centuries have caused Western society to radically change under the guise of technology, capitalism, modernism, and globalization. The human lifestyle also changed just as vociferously as the composition of the political state. The flag bearer for this social development, capitalism, has greatly affected the way a person prioritizes and directs his interests. I wish to examine the various changes that have been made and argue that the modernization of society has provoked the crises of ‘meaning’ that is predominant in every aspect of modern existence.

Work and its potential alienating affect is the most significant shift. Workers are being demanded an exponential amount of productivity as the cost of living continues to rise and rise. In Australia industrial relation’s reform will usher in unpaid overtime, virtually zero workers rights, pressure to cave into all employer demands, and possibly wage reduction. Capitalism encourages people to work long and hard for currency, but at the same time promotes a very unbalanced money distribution that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. All economic successes of capitalism aside, the subject’s relation to his life and his God will most definitely be altered.

The business world is always characterised as ruthless and unforgiving, as every individual seeks to maximize his own interests and resources while subjugating the interests and resources of his peers. Thinking selfishly is essential for advancement, and the nice guys always finish last. This is important because money makes this world go round, it is often the single measurement for success in this world, and most people subconsciously believe that the more they have of it the happier and more care-free they will become. This has provoked the personality type of the “workaholic”, those that are so determined to be successful in this area of life that they are willing to give all that it takes, including most of their time.

Other factors that contribute to the lifestyle shift are the overpopulation and centralization of cities. I know this varies greatly on the location of where you live, but peak-hour traffic in Sydney is abysmal. Hours of the day are wasted away in running through the bottleneck of residential and industrial transport connectivity. The condition of the public transport is shoddy and expensive at best, and very high petrol prices make traveling an unattractive option. The need to go places has risen as the conditions of transportation have worsened.

Another agent that has altered the nature of existence is technology. The advancements have been amazing, and have indeed in many ways made life more comfortable and easy to endure. The downside of an easy and comfortable life through technology, however, is an increasingly careless and thoughtless life through technology. The television is essentially gaining entertainment from watching other people live out their lives as actors, and although that is entertaining a life fixated on television has an obvious problem. The viewer is pretty much void of all mental content during a show, and the amount an average life is involved with digital medium can be quite startling.

More and more life in the “rat race” is spent in routine and chores. The average day of a working man goes something like this: Waking up at an early hour, going through the morning routine of getting ready for work, take the car to work in terrible traffic, work for most of the day, come home in even worse traffic, somehow make dinner, desperately try to unwind after an exhausting day at the office with TV or whatever else, and then sleep again. After that the cycle repeats, until the weekend is reached. In theory the weekend is spent for recreation, but a lot of it is consumed with running errands, fixing the house or some device, and also church for religious people.

When the vast majority of a life is spent in inane chores and virtual entertainment, and the sole advantage to performing these chores is to gain the resources to allow you to keep living and keep performing chores, this is when a human soul encounters a confrontation with meaninglessness. All earthly gains are fleeting and do not last, and most of all do not make life something that is meaningful. As Jesus remarked, what good is it to gain the whole world, if you lose your own soul? As most of our lives are spent securing our continued existence, the remaining free time and free thought determines whether our lives are one with meaning and purpose or restricted to social function. There is little wonder that the modern world has experienced a crisis of meaning, since all things that are highly prized in society are ephemeral and are not fulfilling. It was not just the ‘death of God’ that plunged mankind into potential nothingness; it was also the rapid modernization of a developing world that threatened to strip man of what makes life meaningful.

Next post is on the inadequate secular responses to meaninglessness, and the post after that on Jesus Christ’s response to the problems of this age.

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