In violation of my long-time policy of not working on the weekends, I’m in the office now. I have too much that needs to get done. Thus, I’m blogging.
On the walk over here, I was pretty brutally reacquainted with how much my quality of life has deteriorated in the last two years. I was surrounded by who I used to be: undergrads swarming everywhere, basking in some of the warmest weather we’ve had yet this spring. They were on their way to play outside, or to get something to eat with friends, or just sitting outside reading a book. And I was on my way to hunch over papers they didn’t care about to scrawl comments that they wouldn’t read.
It’s just hard for me to see much progress in anything that’s happened… well, in a long time.* Much of what was good about industrialization was just undoing the self-inflicted problems of agricultural societies and swapping them for a new set of issues. Instead of having to rely on disease-spreading animals for power, we relied on disease-spreading fossil fuels. Food is incredibly abundant; but now we sit on our asses so much that we barely need the calories, so we have to go to gyms so that we don’t get fat. Cars are pretty nice – but the only societies than can produce cars are the ones whose economies disperse families to all corners of the globe and pack so many people into cities that you need one of the damn things just to see your moms and get around day-to-day. None of these are my original thoughts by any means: they come to me via books like Ishmael, Guns, Germs and Steel, and my various readings other readings on how radically different much of what we do is from what we are evolutionarily adapted to do.
I think the ultimate example for me, however, is that ADHD has the words “deficit” and “disorder” in it. “You are not good enough at paying attention to boring shit for eight hours a day. Have some drugs.” Most of history’s geniuses probably would be diagnosable today. “Dammit, Da Vinci, you’re a painter! Quit fooling around with all those hare-brained inventions!” Seriously. Go read the first two paragraphs of Da Vinci’s entry in Wikipedia and tell me he wouldn’t be sucking down Ritalin today. Society just doesn’t have room for people with diverse interests anymore, which I think is especially hard on sociologists. I’m in sociology because it’s the broadest of the social sciences, which seemed like a good place for me. I love to think about the mechanics of companies and governments, but I also obsessively read Stephanie Coontz’s The Way We Never Were. But specialization is just as important here both anecdotally and empirically. It’s just messed up that, even in the industry that seems most welcoming to those with broad interests, you are basically required to stomp on your human curiosity just to succeed (albeit to a much lesser degree than, say, accountants or factory workers).
…. which brings me back to the undergrads. Why do we spend 17 years teaching people about all these diverse topics, building up the illusion that undergraduate education is in any way preparing them for the real world, and letting them get used to having time off to play and vacation, when all of those things are anathema to what you’re really supposed to do once you graduate? It’s like we acknowledge that all of those things are good – but not good enough to incorporate into life after 22. We adults are too focused on important things to fool around with that kid stuff, dammit! Things like progress!
*Except the Internet. 24/7 access to a significant proportion of humanity’s knowledge is pretty unequivocally a Good Thing. And yeah, I guess democracy that incorporates people of all genders and races is pretty cool in theory. But ultimately, democracy – at least in the American form – is just a band-aid for the fact that a society this big and complex requires coercion to function.