Contentedness seems to be a scarce commodity in the storehouse of modern experience. Epidemiological studies of mental health suggest that most people who live in advanced industrial societies would affirm that in one way or another we pay a psychological price for the lifestyle we call ‘modern’ (Mirowsky 1989). This price is paid in different emotional currencies, depending on individual personalities and situations, such as: inability to concentrate, vague anxiety, impulses to hurt oneself or someone else, fear in the street, loss of faith, the sense that nothing is worth doing, a dullness of intellect, the desire to drug oneself, manic work habits, boredom with other people, fantasies of a radical change of lifestyle, estrangement, alienation, overdependence on the opinions of others, loneliness, depression….
Attempts to define and account for the diverse crises of the modern psyche often grow into major cultural movements. In the 1940s and 1950s, existentialists such as Sartre and Camus had many convinced that their psychological anxieties, boredom and guilt were necessary attributes of human existence, merely the natural consequences of our confrontation with such existential facts as Time, Space, Death, Others and the Body. In unrecognized collusion with the modern status quo, they made it chic to experience ennui and Angst, feelings that were translated into various forms of dropping out in the 1960s.
In more recent decades, the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries have teamed up to define our emotional difficulties in biomedical terms instead. Chemical remedies—both prescribed and recreational—can alter moods and thought patterns but leave individuals unenlightened about the social and personal roots of collective distress. Recent research establishing biochemical and neurological correlates of such unpleasant subjective states does not prove that processes of socialization and structures of modern life are not initially responsible for problematic experience with temperamental traits such as shyness, aggressiveness, insecurity, impulsiveness or distractibility.
Even Freudian psychoanalysis, which once promised to expose the