For the last 30 odd years I’ve been noticing the devastation of college towns by the minions of former students like myself, adults seeking to reconnect with their college experience. This influx of wayward grownups has all but ruined Harvard Square, turned it into “glitz central” catering to no culture whatsoever and certainly to no student needing things inexpensive and a world that is there for him and not a CEO.
My hometown, too. The downtown is stylish now. Not like in the old days. Stores are hip and restaurants, too. And I hate it. It’s nothing like what it was. Now sure part of this is crotchety old man syndrome. No doubt. But another part, the important part, has to do more and more with the mental health of adults or what passes for it.
We do not grow up. 60 is the new 40… 80 is the new 50… Recent stories highlight longevity studies that will make us live 150 years. 200. 1,500! I’m sorry. Those of us born and raised after World War II share an almost inexhaustible ability to not believe our kids deserve the same world we did. In other words, we are competing with them step by step and inch by inch to consume the world around us, and it is the most unfair competition imaginable.
What has happened? Well, I believe it has to do with the fact that mental health is not just about individuals, it’s about cultures and societies. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the mental health of the United States quite honestly only questionably exists. Why? Because there is no cultural norm connecting adults anymore. There is no culture really. There is only a variety of experience delivery strings concatenated into media, which we, in our interactions with one another, spew out as baldly as Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly or Judge Judy. Nobody converses. We simply remind each other what we’ve heard. Without a conversation there is no culture.
Now sure, the 1950s culture was restrictive and lacking. And dull. There were landmines all over that Alexandrian plain: Poverty, racism, sexism, political repression. No question things needed to be changed. And they were, bit by bit and inch by inch. We struggled through the 60s, made horrendous mistakes, many well intentioned. We staggered into the 70s tired and were slapped in the face with our own world dominance by OPEC, the monster we had in fact created. By the mid-70s, principle had generally left the conversation, having been debated so fiercely in the 60s. It curled up and went to sleep in its nicely heated room listening to Carly Simon remind it just how cruelly it had been abused growing up in Scarsdale.
We lost our sense that the privilege of even being middle class required a sense of purpose. Nobles oblige applied to everyone with even a chance at a good life. It wasn’t until the 70s somebody began to yell that this only applied to the very wealthy.
I think it was because mental health could no longer accommodate society. There was too much information, too much world, too much of everything. We “checked out” and the crazies, those who could easily keep a distorted and untenable world view, took over. Those who asserted in the face of every fact that their world view is true could more easily function within the national and international latticework.
Now, I fear mental health is not about integrating and interweaving with the inevitable physical losses and emotional gains that come with maturity. It is rather all a fake out of the grim reaper and his cohorts of baldness, erectile dysfunction, crow’s feet and cellulite. We don’t grow up. We grow over, under, above and away. Hell, just name a preposition, as long as it’s not “up”.
I don’t know what is healthy anymore. I can’t know. No one can. Health just isn’t healthy enough to comprehend.