Canaries in the Coal Mines of Consciousness
The subject de jour in the national media lately is “the psychic catastrophe engulfing so many kids in America.” I’m compelled to ask: Is the obtuseness of corporate columnists on the left and right with regard to the saturating, spreading darkness and deadness of American culture deliberate? For pundits on the left, the mental health crisis among American adolescents is often couched in “studies showing that left-leaning adolescents were experiencing a greater increase in depression than their more conservative peers.” Pundits on the right resort to the knee-jerk critiques of “the individualistic liberalism that emerged in the 1960s, leading to rapid secularization (especially the decline of Christian identification from the 1990s onward) and increasing social and sexual permissiveness.” However various publications report that a “steep decline in young people’s mental health beginning around 2012 isn’t just an American problem, but also shows up in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.” Moreover, the mental health crisis extends further than the English-speaking world. Apart from heroic Ukrainians, who people in the West fantasize and canonize for being so ‘resilient,’ a deep erosion of feeling and character, good and bad, is spreading in people and peoples around the world. “Numbing out” began in America, and quickly engulfed Canada (we’re the same culture hearth after all). It then extended to Western Europe, starting with America’s poodle, Great Britain. Now the virus of inward, spiritual enervation has apparently infected Latin America. Both the lame left and reactionary right agree in their facile analyses: “The key instigator of increasingly miserable American teenagers, who are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts and act on them, more likely to experience depression, and more likely to feel beset by persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, is the rise of social media.”The simplistic conclusion? “Social media has precipitated a revolution in consciousness, in which young people are constantly packaging themselves for public consumption.”It’s dark as hell to call what is happening to young people, who are the proverbial canaries in the decrepit coalmines of human consciousness, a “revolution in consciousness.” A revolution in consciousness is what’s urgently necessary; what we have is an increasing mental and emotional overload of the consciousness humans have always known. Doubling down on conventional thinking, cultural ‘influencers’ across the puddle-deep spectrum in America conclude, “It’s not shocking that the new mode of online existence would be particularly fraught for those in a stage of life where both fashioning the self and finding a place to belong are paramount.” What does the “fashioning of the self” even mean? How does it differ from young people “packaging themselves?” And who feels they’ve found a place to belong in this godforsaken culture? Media and academic elites have their comfortable niches of course. Just before another mass murder in the USA, at Michigan State University in my native state, I tried to initiate a deeper inquiry into America’s global-war-on-terror-come-home with a philosophy professor at MSU. The putative philosopher emailed me, “I/we aren’t in the market for what you describe. Each of our faculty members uses their own approach to inspiring ethical deliberation. It’s working for us.” You can’t walk into a grocery store, Walmart, or restaurant in the United States anymore without checking the exits. Any loud bang sends people to the floors. For a philosophy teacher to say, “It’s working for us” is disgraceful. Though it may not seem relevant, it’s fair to ask: Is the escalating, low-grade world war in Ukraine a proxy not just between ostensible democracy and blatant autocracy, but between America’s soullessness and the nations that orbit it in kind, and an inchoate fear of being engulfed by Western moral debilitation, brutally epitomized by Putin in his unholy alliance with the retrograde Russian Orthodox Church? Be that as it may, the influence of this culture, if you can call it a culture, is global, even in Russia and China, no matter how much their ruling elites propagandize and control their populations. America is just the spiritual bottom that has not yet reached bottom in the global society.Pundits have to be purblind to be perplexed about the pandemic of mental and emotional suffering among young people in this culture. Teenagers are unable to do what they’ve always done — rebel and adapt to the culture. Powerless to either rebel or adapt, they give up, without realizing on what, and why. We have to face up to the crisis embodied in young people around the world. It doesn’t help to see it in nationalistic terms, or in terms of girls “socializing less in person and spending more time online.” Socialization in a globalized dead culture is a strong contributor to the crisis in both girls and boys. Social media has become the primary means of their socialization, but it’s merely catalyzing the meaninglessness and anomie of dividualism, materialism and consumerism. A toxic worldwide ocean - the borderless sea of human consciousness that we all swim in — is the source of the demoralization, despair and depression among teenagers around the world. It’s American only in that its leading edge is here. We’re all living in “a late stage capitalist hellscape.” We can’t blame capitalism either however, since capitalism is simply the complex concentration and institutionalization of self-interest and greed in human nature. As AI chatbots become all the rage, with a real-time dumbing down of the human mind, the core question in a global society riven by division, fragmentation and conflict is: What is happening to human consciousness? Human nature is synonymous with consciousness as we humans have known it for tens of thousands of years. Until we grapple honestly, alone and together, with the inescapable questions that globalization and technology are compelling, the future will be like the present, just darker. Is humanity at the end of cumulative-consciousness and the beginning of insight-consciousness? Or is this, the sum of all dark ages, the future? If humankind isn’t doomed (and I don’t feel we are), the future truly is now. It’s up to us, the dwindling number of inwardly alive human beings, whatever our age, to create a different course. So young people don’t give up before you’ve even started. Question and grow in stillness, insight and understanding of the good and bad soil within yourself. That’s true learning, and it never ends. Martin LeFevre
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
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