Why are Relationships in Developed Countries so Ephemeral and Fragile?
Have you noticed that almost every time you log on any social media site, you will run into evidence of some person you know or have heard about have relationship issues. These range from ruinous divorces and serious breakups to simple ghosting and all other sorts of relationship drama. And these issues are not restricted to relationships with a sexual component. We all know tons of people with no real connection to their parents, siblings etc other than sporadic phone calls, texts or family gatherings. Even our popular culture depicts such a dismal state of affairs as normal and every teenager in movies and shows always moves away from their home to attend university or later move across the country to get a job. The thing is- this “state of affairs” is not normal, never has been normal and is uncommon outside North America and some European countries. It gets more interesting when you realize that this type of behavior was not common even in those countries as late as the 1950s.
This normalized behavior becomes even more peculiar when you look at the historical context. For thousands of years, people were able to maintain long-term relationships in a world that was far more unstable and harsh. Marriages routinely survived when faced with sever hardships which are unimaginable today such as the premature death of multiple young children due to disease, accidents and other natural disasters. These relationships routinely survived droughts, near-famines, famines, epidemics, wars and hardships that are unimaginable today. We know, from both written and archeological records, that most families in the past were able to function, survive and even thrive under conditions which would be seen as impossible today. As I wrote in a previous post, multigenerational continuity of families persisted under conditions ranging from multiple bad harvests, pandemics, civil wars etc.
There is also a lot of evidence from official records as well as personal accounts that the interactions between people living in the same village, town or city were usually quite friendly and rarely antagonistic. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the past was some utopia and everything was perfect. Far from it.. but it is also hard to ignore the fact that the general quality of interactions between people who shared the same living spaces or areas in the past seem to have been much better than today. Notably, something similar can be readily observed today in most parts of the world that are not very poor and not the West. Even some parts of peripheral western countries such as the southern parts of Italy and Greece have a rather different culture than atomized countries such as USA or Sweden. You can this mindset also survive in most Asian countries (rich and poor) and pretty much everywhere that is not the West.
So how did we go from a society where most people did not divorce, even with faced with all sorts of problems ranging from serious financial issues and untimely death of children to consequences of failed harvests, wars and epidemics? What allowed those people and societies they lived in to weather such storms, when majority of divorces today are initiated by women because they got bored of the marriage- which was their idea in the first place. The conventional explanation for this change puts the blame on a lack of religiosity- however we know that a significant minority (or even a majority) of people in the past were not especially religious. We know, for example, that many unconventional relationships frowned upon by religious types- from extramarital affairs, prostitution and a significant amount of same-sex hanky-panky went on and was common knowledge to anyone who was not retarded. Then there is the question of how relationships with parents, siblings etc underwent a simultaneous and sharp decline in the West. Clearly, all these phenomena are related and linked.
In another previous post, I wrote about how all these simultaneous declines in quality and quantity of personal relationships will leave many people in western countries very lonely- especially toward the end of their lives. And we are already seeing this in the form of a massive increase in older people living alone or warehoused in assisted living facilities over the past three decades. Given the continuously decreasing lower fertility and even looser family ties seen in each newer (and smaller) generation in the West, this problem is going to keep growing in the foreseeable future. By now, some readers might be wondering- what is my theory about the root cause of this problem? Well.. as I have indicated in previous posts, it is my opinion that most people in West have internalized the mindset of capitalism and neoliberalism to the point where they see every relationship and interaction through the lens of immediate personal profit and loss. They have thus effectively dehumanized everyone other than themselves or what they believe to be their own self- which is a whole other can of worms.
Many other countries and cultures, which are still more community minded, put many more roadblocks on the path of individuals who want to believe they are special and everyone else is trash. I will also make another prediction- the West will implode due to a combination of its adverse demographic profile and screwed up society. Others will notice, and some already have, that the western way does not lead to a desirable outcome and move on. Eventually this argument will be settled by those who survive, and it won’t be the descendants of majority living in western countries today.
What do you think? Comments?