Rudder amidships

Here’s the million-dollar question: When you feel that you’re being tossed without mercy upon the stormy waves of fate, what do you do?

Over the last two weeks, five of my closest friends have confided some degree of epistemic ennui about their lot in life. To varying degrees, they feel adrift — that they’re not on the right path.

I suppose most people have been similarly situated; I know I have been. With great fascination, I am watching each of these people work through their self-doubt. Each has a different level of self-understanding; each is taking a different approach.

My counsel to most of them has been relatively simple: When you’re lost at sea, sail in a straight line until you find the shore.

It’s interesting, though. I’ve long been of the opinion that contemporary culture and human nature have been increasingly at odds, and that at some point, there will be conflict on a massive scale because of it. The basic human tendency to roam, for example, is more and more limited by the anchors of modern society — things like credit and criminal reports that cannot be outrun, and relationships that linger beyond natural levels. We have built a society intended to elevate us above our base natures, but which has isolated us from most of our instinctive behavior. A correction is inevitable. I think part of a correction occurred during the first half of the last century — genocide and war are rooted as much in psychology as in politics, and the brutality of the Holocaust and the genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda can be explained succinctly in terms of collective outbursts of aggression inexpertly pent-up by modern society.

On a personal level, my friends are struggling with their identity in a world beyond their control. Perhaps, just perhaps, the problem is less with them and more with a society that has grown too far beyond many people’s ability to reconcile.

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