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November 07, 2013
So, I'm thinking with half my brain

If you lean back and squint just right, recent developments in society worldwide almost seem to form a pattern.

It's like--the human race is splitting into two different species. Homo mos maiorum is linear, cautious, and has their mind fixed on what they might find for dinner. Much as our species (and others) have been throughout the millennia. They seem--not so much unwilling as unable to grasp change in their environment. (I'm not talking about painting the living room blue--I'm talking social events and cultural shifts.)

Large-scale changes in their environment freak them out disproportionately. They have their place in the world and are only comfortable when that place and the other places that help to define theirs, remain constant. They know their role, they know what's expected of them, and they have a fundamental understanding of how to get to their goals. They resent being made to think about these things--and are certainly not prepared to rethink them every couple of years--or every few months. More then resenting it, they seem to lack the perceptual framework that allows them to accept change without undue cognitive dissonance.

This could be set off against, for want of a better phrase, Homo ad astra who not only accept change but welcome it--finds it invigorating and exciting and is always willing to try to adapt and look for new possibilities. When society undergoes a sea-change around them, they find it interesting, not threatening. These are the people who agitate for change when they think they perceive a change that could be for the better.

(Admittedly, they don't always think that deeply. They have the insatiable curiosity of the elephant's child and are generally willing to try something and discard it five minutes later if it doesn't turn out to be an improvement.)

It's not an age thing. I'm elderly (okay, maybe not, but I just had a birthday and I have wrinkles in my neck!), let's say, "not young any more," and I'm certainly not adverse to change. I know people ten or fifteen years younger than I am who are still freaking out about not living in the world their grandparents knew.

Is it a class split? I know people who come from families of comparative wealth who are Homo mos maiorum not because they are worried about finding dinner but because abundance in their youth sheltered them from the necessity of learning to adapt or, indeed, spared them any sense of what it might mean to struggle.* They're simply not prepared for change because they were raised with the kind of day-after-day stability that wealth can provide.

I don't think wealth is a factor, though. At the other end of the social spectrum are the Have-nothings who cling just as tightly to "how things are" for fear that any change will cause them to lose what little security (whether it's social, mental, or economic) they already have.** More than that, they think they understand their place in the world and (whether or not they like that place) can't deal with the idea of that "place" changing.

It's not education. I know people with and without higher education, I've known people who struggled and failed to get through the basic K-12 education the US offers, and all of these groups contain both Homo mos maiorum and Homo ad astra types.

Is it a personality split? Maybe those who are "people-people" are much less comfortable with change--maybe because their "people skills" are founded on their perception of a class/social role structure that is, these days, always in flux? But, no. Because not all of my people-person acquaintances are that way. Some of them adopt change with enthusiasm--treating it as a new way to connect with other people.

It's not a leader-follower thing. I'm not a leader, not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm also not a follower. (That is, I don't follow if someone isn't leading somewhere I want to be.) But I'm--adaptable, when it comes to social/environmental change. So, it's not that Homo ad astra are leaders and Homo mos maiorum are followers. The leader/not leader quality is independent of the two types. We all know that, across society, there are "leaders" who are trying to "lead" people backwards to some idealized version of yesterday. Or at least to "lead" people into freezing the world today until they've all had a chance to get comfortable with it all.***

Meanwhile, today's Homo ad astra are impatiently shaking off tradition and custom, rolling their eyes at the limitations of the past, and trying on new possibilities with the enthusiasm of a kid in a costume store.

Is the divide--the chasm between these two long-standing populations really getting deeper or is the pace of change in contemporary society becoming so fast that these differences are simply highlighted more than ever before?

I have no answers. I'm just avoiding productive work at the moment. And I probably should have read back through this more thoroughly before making it public, but I console myself with the realization that one one reads entries on a long-dormant blog.


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* Some of these scions of wealthy families cannot use email. They are not comfortable with technology and are essentially computer-illiterate.

**Maybe it's perceptual. My perception, I mean. Because you couldn't have much less than these Ethiopian children and their families (and here), but something brand-new and unexplored came to them as a fascinating game, not a thing to fear. In fact, they were fearless.

*** My mind keeps floating to the image of the people who settled the planet's frontiers. There's a section of US society these days who like to compare themselves to those "pioneers" and who, in some cases, use pioneer life & society as the measure of how we should be living today.^ (Indoor plumbing aside, one presumes.) This amuses me--because it's inevitably Homo mos maiorum holding the pioneers up as role models for society--but any thought at all will tell you that those pioneers had to be Homo ad astra.

^ (Seriously? Is that what it takes? 200-300 years, and then Homo mos maiorum is ready to accept that where Homo ad astra went was a good place to be?)

Posted by AnneZook at 10:06 AM


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