Jan 21, 2013

social evolution

Sometimes I contemplate the ills we perpetrate upon eachother...the lying, the cheating, the breakups and makeups and grey lines and communication breakdowns...and wonder if it is all a biproduct of a shift in life's duration and freedoms

These days the average American lives about 80 years. They own cars that can take them cross country and some travel 100 miles on average, daily, just to do their job. They move to other cities, other states and start new lives. They can travel around the world.

They also start new jobs, start life slower, experience new beginnings that could never be imagined only 50 years ago.

If you watch Mad Men, one of the most amazing things about Don Draper is that he is a man of new beginnings. He is a man who believes you can, quite actually, start again. New name, new city, new wife, new meaning.

Don Draper also lies, cheats, and a experiences a slippy and confusing world of shifting morality in which he can hide his world from those he wishes to and divulge his intimacies at his whim, not his obligation. At the onset his wife is safely cloistered in the city as he experiences a completely different lifestyle in the city. There he has one set of friends, who share his moral compass, a girlfriend, a huge blank slate painted by his significant wallet and only limited by his creativity, his charm. One train ride later he is in a whole new world, with a family, other friends, other rules, and never the twain shall meet.
Years later we see him do this all over again, as if the past never existed, picking a choosing the legacies he wishes to maintain, while leaving whole other memories, whole other personas behind.

Except, of course that he can't.

The simple reality seems to be that you can't be one person for one hour and another person the next hour. You can't have many lives and not experience a cognitive dissonance without integrating them, learning from them.
I suspect this also counts for the lives we experience in the passage of time....we always want people to get over things, move on, forgive and forget. To dispose of who we were, grow up, get over it.
But the reality is that most of us carry everything from our families to our past loves to our past foibles with us...and the more we experience, the longer we live, the larger this hodgepodge of lives, loves and needs becomes to assimilate.

I mean, think about it. If you lived 60 years in a small village, you would have massive incentive to be faithful and true to those around you. Otherwise you would experience not just a variety a profound social issues, but most likely financial blockades as well.
You might be compelled to treat you wife or ex wife better, you might consider your partners more carefully, understanding the limits of your options, knowing that a mile away, there they would live, if things didn't work out.
And even if, in the course of your life you changes careers, learned carpentry, engineering, and then created beautiful paintings that inspired everyone, you couldn't reinvent yourself. You'd still be the carpenter in many's eyes, the engineer in others, and some would be confused, but many would be forced to assimilate all of these facets, and appreciate your complexity.
You might also be likely to take these changes more seriously, and understand what you were starting, what you were leaving behind. Applying for an apprenticeship you would have to prove you were now serious about this new art, and work extra hard.
If you had children, others would know your children. They would be told to behave well, so that would reflect well on you. Likewise, how you treated them would, on some level, be known, and only a life of cloistered secrecy could hide serious transgressions. The village would carry, somewhere, in their hearts, the secrets of your abuses, should you choose to inflict them.

Look, I am not saying that people shouldn't leave home, or pursue new experiences, new things, new loves, new lives, when that is what they need.
Actually I am prone to believe that people should do this more than they do. With so many options to know and see other cultures, other worlds, they should experience them, understand varying world and cultures, and choose explicitly.

But I guess I don't believe you can reinvent yourself, or truly ever leave the past behind, or move along without conscious hard work. Leaving careers, loves, lives takes work, and a lot people are so heady with their options that they don't do the work, leaving, quite frankly, a mess behind.

There is another moment in Mad Men, when the drapers go on a family picnic at some park. They have a lovely time, on their picnic blanket, with they paper wrapped treats and so forth. And at the end, Betty picks up the blankets, shakes it out, leaving trash everywhere, and they happily get in the car everywhere, never looking back on the mess they have left.
They go back to a home only miles away, where they hire someone to clean up other messes, never considering the train that person get back on to go wherever they go, to deal with their own lives. A person they speak to as if they were a blank slate, absorbing their secrets and lies as if they don't exists.

They would never do that in their own backyard or their friends backyard.  And they would never speak to their own mother or neighbor that way if they thought they would have to see them, again and again, for the duration of their lives.

SO what I speak to is the disconnect our current evolution can create. The ability to want sex one places and a home now and a meal without nutrition but still a beautiful body. And then, five years later, a whole other set of rules, boundaries and commitments, for as long as they last.

Perhaps the challenge of a generation with boundless options is to understand that not treating these options with equally weighty obligation means that these options will some day disappear.

Obesity will lower or lifespan and the internet will allow all your girlfriends to get to know each other. In ten minutes the person you knew from highschool will be able to connect with your current boss 3 million miles away and all your lovers will be there, watching.

Time to evolve, just a little bit more.

No comments: