The United States of Burnout

The two-sided response to norms and mores (ideas) that today is ripping our nation’s social, economic, and political fabric resembles the oppositional forces that divided neighbor from neighbor and culminated in America’s Civil War.

Then and now, animosities created two camps: one of persons accepting of change (then: mechanizing Northerners, now: progressives), the other of persons suspicious or disdainful of change (then: Southern “aristocrats” and slaveholders, now: conservatives). At both times, society’s increasing complexity has been the engine of angry partisanship.

Just 50 years ago, the issues that are today’s raging adolescents were innocent babes. For the most part, rural Americans didn’t feel left behind and desperate, because agri-conglomerates hadn’t yet swallowed their family farms; obesity was not yet a prevailing problem for children, because malls, big box stores, and mega-highways had not yet usurped open spaces for play and exploration; young truants and derelicts weren’t as numerous, because parents set the rules, and set aside time each evening for the family to break bread together; the tragic struggle for equal rights and acceptance hardly existed for LGBTs, because most were still in the closet; women weren’t crying out for equal pay in the workplace, because most still worked at home; before Roe v. Wade, abortions were mostly handled privately, and without stigmatization; globalization was a word hardly uttered, because the world was still small;...

Most respected scientists who study the brain have concluded that humans are not wired to multitask successfully. Maybe this incapacity holds the key to our present partisan animosities: we’re all burned out.