An aphorism on civilization
It was historically the privilege of the upper classes to contemplate their misery in extreme detail, filling out with despair where previously there was fulfillment, demolishing some delusions while erecting others even more pernicious. With the advent of modern civilization and virulent awareness, misery becomes a democratic institution: now we are all free to know we are damned and there is no hell in which to deposit ourselves. We are more aware of our place in history than has been any other epoch, and more inclined to ruin in the midst of prosperity than has been any other civilization. Gone are any but the most absurd of pleasures, and now our species knows itself for what it is: a race of primates enslaved to the alternation of mania and docility and the pursuit of an emotional contentment which our brains aren’t even built to maintain.
It is a vicious paradox that it takes an education in literacy imposed upon a child shortly after birth to know precisely how deviant in the scheme of nature man’s happiness is—how transient are his own definitions of that happiness, how contingent on caprice and the entire register of human folly, how illusory, how deluded. Before the parable of The Fall mankind nevertheless toiled for the pleasure of its own bodily exertions, shorn of status and rank. Now the smartest among us figure out how to destroy rival economies rather than better hunt a wild boar and we applaud ourselves for the progress. The leap upward precipitates the plummet downward.