People will have existential crises on command.

Martin Jay points out that in a few short decades “alienation” has gone from being the fundamental malaise of modern man to having all but disappeared.  How can this be?  He and I would disagree on details, but I endorse his overall conclusion.  He doesn’t say it in so many words, but what it comes down to is that the Left-wing cultural establishment decided that alienation was no longer high status–now only losers and fascists want to feel at home in the world and crave an organic connection to a people and place.  Once people realized that the existential agony of alienation wouldn’t make people think they were sophisticated, wouldn’t get them laid, wouldn’t help them promote their books, they dropped it in a heartbeat.

Forgive me, but sometimes my disgust with the human race gets the better of me.

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. If you read old sociology books, you will find them full of angst over the terrors of gesellschaft, “the cash nexus,” “the lonely crowd,” and “technological society.” Their basic message was that modernity was psychological hell. Of course most of these sociologists promised to rescue mankind with socialism, but none of them said that modernity is bliss.

    One of the problems with the concept of alienation is that alienation can be felt by people for whom today’s sociologists feel no pity. Conservative whites with long memories are pretty alienated, but their alienation is ridiculed as “nostalgia” and “fear that they are loosing their country.” I suppose we should say that a man who feels detached from “phony” bourgeois society is “alienated,” but a man who feels detached from “cool” multicultural society is “bitter.”

    At a deeper level, alienation is simply existential loneliness. I don’t see much of this in my students. Even the ones who look like freaks come across as fairly well-adjusted when I talk to them. Maybe they are just drugged. When I was 20, every third person seemed like Holden Caulfield. Forty years later, the whole Rebel Without a Cause vibe seems to have died.

    I’m curious whether the internet enhances or assuages alienation. On the one hand, it helps dissident thinkers to know that they are not alone. On the other hand, it drives them further into dissidence.

  2. @Bonald – I don’t get your point. Are you saying alienation was just a fashionable pose?

    I would say alienation is the single most significant malaise of modernity – by far; alienation of many kinds and levels, from the alienation of life without love, work in The Bureaucracy, to the alienation of living in a world we believe is dead, unconscious, purposeless, meaningless, going nowhere.

    It has taken over from conviction of sin as the main source of misery – and those evangelists who recognise this are the ones who make converts.

    And you yourself are a deeply alienated person – more than average – assuming that this blog reflects your nature.

    The fact that people don’t write (or think) about alienation nowadays is merely merely a sign of them having given-up; of the depth of modern nihilism and despair

  3. I think Bruce may be right. People stopped complaining about traffic noise or air pollution once they’ve gotten used to it. If you go about your business and never run into a friend, you don’t notice how lonely it is. If you never see your most cherished values celebrated in the media (and get used to seeing them mocked), you don’t notice how discouraging this is.

  4. Yes, I think alienation was mostly just a fashionable pose, at least among the people who made their names off of it. Mr. Jay himself recognizes that the people who are truly alienated today are low-status reactionaries (like me), people who would never be credited with any sort of profound spiritual perception. When it was cool to be alienated, all the cool people were alienated. Now the fashion is to be outraged about white privilege, and all the cool people are outraged over white privilege. People give them money. They get laid. Life is good. They’re a bunch of trained circus monkeys. Hard to imagine they actually have souls. There’s my disgust again.

  5. There’s always a fashionable pose. The substrate matters far less than the pose itself.

    E.g. Hugo Boss.

  6. “I’m curious whether the internet enhances or assuages alienation”

    Assuages. Pacifies. Brainwashes.

    Pod people are the new normal.

  7. Bergman and Antonioni look more and more like deplorable reactionaries with each passing year. How long before they are sent to the gulag?

  8. I don’t think Jordan Peterson used the word alienation, but it seems like a lot of his massage is explaining how the world has become misaligned with our psychological needs, which is why you have been secretly feeling like garbage.

  9. […] pens a brief but salient note: People will have existential crises on command. For a while, Alienation was the New Black. All the popular kids were doing it, […]

  10. Alienation was used to sell Marxism in the West, so the Left could conquer power. When the Left dropped Marxism and conquered power, being happy with the Leftist regime was the thing to go (as in Soviet Union)

    Having say that, in my experience, only “brainy” people like us are alienated. Normal people are happy with their hedonistic and consumerist lives. I see my sisters and acquaintances and I envy them.

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