This week we discuss homeopathic treaments that acidentally work, the “ban bossy” campaign, and we celebrate the Robot’s long-awaited return to the show!
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Howdy folks, Dento here! Now, I’m not what you would call a feminist (if anything, I’d identify as egalitarian) but I’ve been reading a book called The Feminine Mystique. This book brings up a the idea of the problem that has no name which the author describes: “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?”
This book was published in 1963 and given the cultural context, Friedan was speaking solely about women thoughI think that this quote can now be applied to pretty much anyone in modern society. I’m not saying that to minimize any sort of struggles that women faced, but more to highlight how rather than solving the problem, it seems to have spread to everyone. But what exactly is the problem, and what causes it? Based on the quote it seems like the problem stems from a lack of meaning which then leads to a sense of general malaise and longing. One of the main criticisms that people threw at Friedan’s identification of this problem is that “American women have it so much better than everyone else, what do they have to complain about?”
To be fair, a lot of people in the US do have it much better than everyone else– but I think this compounds “the problem.” If you’re constantly told that you have it great, your sense of unhappiness makes you feel guilty for being unhappy. So what is a first world sufferer to do? I think first off we need to recognize that you can well-off and be unhappy. Similarly, you can have almost no money and be happy. I wish I could have a better link, but I’m having trouble remembering the details about this tribe that still survives on a day-to-day basis with hunting and gathering. There are many theories about what makes that tribe so damned happy, including: their strong sense of community, the fact that people don’t retire, or simply being so busy trying to survive that they can’t have existential crises.
I believe part of “the problem” in the US is that our sense of self is so inextricably tied to our jobs, even in a society where meaningful jobs are growing more and more scarce as they are slowly replaced by cubicle work for very little pay. I know I want to feel like I’m making a difference in the world with the work I do, and when I don’t feel like that I I very quickly notice a decline in my mood. For a while I bought into the idea of dismissing this all as “first world problems,” my life on balance is great and I have nothing to complain about. Who cares if sometimes the grind gets a bit too grindy, what right do I have to complain? And to an extent, I still believe that I and many of my friends don’t have much to complain about– but that doesn’t mean we can’t sometimes be unhappy with our circumstances. This really hit hoe when I finished reading Man’s Search For Meaning, a book by a psychiatrist who survived a concentration camp. Frankl, who by all accounts has every right to tell people to shut up and stop whining wrote, “To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.”
I don’t quote Frankl to give myself license to complain about everything, but rather to remind myself to have more compassion for those around me. If a man who’s been through as much as Frankl had could find it in himself to focus on empathy rather than apathy, then what’s our excuse?
What are you struggling with right now? Or hell, what’s a first world problem that’s been bugging you?
PS if you could point me in the direction of more information on the tribe of happy people, you’d be my best friend ever!
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