the zeitgeist (a first attempt)

What is the “spirit of the age” or “zeitgeist”? (In German zeit means time and geist means ghost). I’m not sure I understand the concept to be completely honest, but the following is based on a longstanding note I’ve kept tracking “whats in the air”.

As I’ve written before, “we live in a ‘psychological age’ meaning everyone is preoccupied with mental health”. Reduction in the stigma around mental health problems is a good thing in itself, but who would deny some odd effects?

Words like trauma, anxiety and dissociation have escaped any bounds of agreed meaning and are used haphazardly. “Therapy” is prescribed for virtually any problem. The more “psychological” things get, the more the actual “terrain” of human life (class, politics, economics, geography) is neglected. Hopefully that last sentence isn’t true.

Diversity, empathy and inclusion are promoted. People themselves are “empaths”, diverse and included or not. If you want a “primary document” testifying to these feel-good notions in combination with the therapeutic trend noted above, watch an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “Instagram Live”.

We live in an age of “distraction”. Viral Tweets and TikToks make light of the extent to which people will avoid thinking “a single thought”. It’s incredible all the media we have at our disposal, is it for that reason?

Capitalism is without challenge worldwide so as striving individuals, humanity is united. Within this global regime there is personal freedom, especially if you’re lucky enough to be mobile. For the unlucky, a “cold face” of persecution and control is daily reality.

Meritocracy is the ideological justification. Accordingly, competition and status have infected everything. It is up to you to succeed, self-help “is now so ubiquitous as to constitute a kind of ambient noise. It is the unofficial language of Instagram”. Do you have a “growth mindset”? “You can change your life, but you can’t change anything else.”

Cultural revenge by losers is the natural reaction to the “clout chase”. “Deplorables”, Jokers and others considered disordered, dysfunctional, disagreeable or inefficient now have their own perverted appeal. Is the phenomenon of political populism, rather than representing a particular class interest or coherent social force, simply a matter of “losers” crying out?

Relatability and authenticity are prized superficially. Quite often this means that the mediocre are put forward, and they satisfy the losers. Losers are just another group to be marketed to after all. Shamelessness is a super power.

“Dystopia” (in Ancient Greek a bad, hard place) is a concept intuitive to everyone and too appealing to many. There is some evidence that things are better than ever, but if we take dystopia to be our accepted “destination”, the corollary is that people are all too ready to acquiesce to cultural narratives of decline. And a culture of pessimism is a very bad sign.