Thursday, May 22, 2014

Meaning is an Individualist Problem

Bradley Wright has a nifty post on how "Meaning is, truly, a first-world problem." In general, people in rich countries have more stuff, but are less certain that their lives are meaningful.

My "Macrosociological Theory" class finished with Charles Taylor's excellent Modern Social Imaginaries.  One of Taylor's more surprising points about modernity is that is has created a new form of social malaise.  Modern people can feel alienated, or anomic, or can even develop a nihilism (I added that last one) that pre-modern people would have found hard to understand.  Taylor's argument is that by disembedding people from their organic social settings and re-embedding them in rationalized institutions, modernity thereby created 'individuals'. 

And having become individuals, it is now possible to attempt to judge our lives as meaningful in isolation from social connections and social purposes.  But what makes most people think their lives and efforts are meaningful comes from the very work they must do to take care of the people they are connected to.

Meaning is, truly, an individualist problem.  Not solely, but in a distinctive way.

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