THE ISLAND SYNDROME
Part 1: Understanding the Island Syndrome
(August 12, 2010)
What is called for is an understanding that, in the course of human events, things have changed drastically, and they are unlikely to change back.
We live in a world full of richness and comfort, a world undreamed of by even our most recent ancestors. However, it is also a world in which we are continually betrayed by the very inventions and the very attitudes we created to make our lives easier. In such a world, it is crucial to realize that a life characterized by blind, thoughtless efforts to meet our minute-to-minute desires will not work well. Although inner peace is possible, it will not happen until we adjust our expectations to harmonize realistically with who we are and the reality in which we live.
When we don't get the satisfying communication we need on a regular basis we seek stimulation in other ways, which leads to an increasing desire for distraction and speed. This is why so many of us must multitask: not to make ourselves more efficient, but to avoid feeling discomfort.
Have you not noticed that, more and more, we are finding it difficult to be comfortable working quietly on our own for long periods of time? Once this happens, we find ourselves craving unhealthy food and unhealthy drugs in order to support our unnatural, unhealthy habits.
I will discuss these ideas later. For now, mark my words: As the young people raised in such an environment come to occupy more and more of the workforce, employers are going to find that they must allow an ever increasing amount of distraction at work in order to keep their employees comfortable.
As John Donne pointed out so long ago, we are not islands, and when our social norms and our technology entice us to live in a way that denies our basic human needs too much of the time, we suffer. When we stimulate ourselves in ways that are ultimately unsatisfying; when we try to live as separate beings connected at a distance; when we remain ignorant of who we are and what we need to thrive — we develop real symptoms.
Ultimately, we learn to distract ourselves in ways that are against our best interests. We learn to take antidepressants drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and other intoxicants. We accept imitation love, imitation bonding, imitation nutrition, and low-quality intellectual stimulation.
Indeed, most of us live in a world that is so artificial that we are simultaneously overwhelmed by having too much to enjoy and too many choices, while being so deprived that we come to depend on pictures and simulations of what we want, because we can't have the real thing. What I find the most sad is that so many of us end up paying other people to listen to us, to touch us, to act as if they are nurturing us, and to try to teach us how to take care of our emotional needs.
To not realize that something is wrong on a grand level is to become an unwitting accomplice to the forces and systems that would enslave us
To not realize that something is wrong on a grand level is to become an unwitting accomplice to the forces and systems that would enslave us. After all, is it not true that the best prisoners are the ones who guard themselves?
What we have created — and what we continue to create — has changed our environment so quickly and so drastically, that we are not able to evolve fast enough to thrive. Look around and you will notice that our lives are characterized by mild, never-ending feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, fatigue, and discomfort — mixed with a type of chronic despair, fueled by ignorance and lack of purposeful thought.
It is this condition — suffered unwittingly by so many people — that I call the ISLAND SYNDROME. And, although most of us do not yet realize it, I will tell you here and now: understanding and coming to terms with the Island Syndrome is the central problem of our age.
The purpose of what you are reading is to begin to create this understanding.
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