Tuesday, 22 July 2008

the trend to the trivial

The theory (proposed by Maslow and believed by most psychologists) is that humans have a "hierarchy of needs". When we satisfy our basic material needs, we will then pursue "higher level" intellectual and spiritual ends.

But, says  clinical psychologist John Schumaker in a recent article, it doesn't appear to be working out that way in western society. Instead "Pulp culture is a feast of tinsel and veneer. Operating on the principle that triviality is more profitable than substance, and dedicating itself to unceasing material overkill, consumer culture has become a fine-tuned instrument for keeping people incomplete, shallow and dehumanised. ..... Today, the demand for triviality has never been higher and our tolerance for seriousness has never been lower."

He goes on to ask: "Can a highly trivialised culture, marooned between fact and fiction, dizzy with distraction and denial, elevate its values and priorities to respond effectively to the multiple planetary emergencies looming? Empty talk and token gestures aside, it doesn't appear to be happening."

He doesn't offer a lot of solutions or hope, but does suggest that the growing global problems may perhaps be our last and best chance to become more serious.

Many years ago, CS Lewis wrote: "If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying a tradition, well. If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still. But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her/himself is fatal. A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction. On or back we must go; to stay here is death."


  1. What gives me some hope is that we have so much technological power, and so much communicative capacity, that we can respond quickly and effectively if necessary, and even if only a minority respond to any given emergency, we might have the power to make the necessary changes.

    While I think we're moving in a depressingly brave-new-world direction, where superficiality reigns supreme for the masses, we are also more agile as a society than we were, and individuals with good ideas have more power to disseminate those ideas than they used to, and even just a few individuals, with the backing of international capital flows, can make a huge difference in how our world runs. Fingers crossed that they make good decisions...

  2. Myron,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but certainly concerned.


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