In a world where everything is so rationalistic and well-organized, it seems a contradiction that people would seek after things like drugs, alcohol abuse, promiscuity, violence, extreme sports, intense music, violent video games and other such pursuits that border on the irrational.
Yet, as sociologist Richard Strivers notes, such behavior is actually a consequence of overly rationalistic institutions. As bureaucratic and technical structures proliferate, he claims people sense that they have lost control over their lives. Their reaction is to escape into a realm of ecstasy that seems to rebel against this too orderly existence.
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The paradox is that technology becomes both a supreme organizing and disorganizing force. The more rational and technological that society becomes, the more it manifests irrational actions and attitude. People feel the need to escape into irrational pursuits if only to enjoy temporary amnesia or pleasure. Technology directly produces a kind of ecstasy by imposing a frenzied tempo upon society that works as a type of compensation for regimentation.
“Humans cannot stand to have their lives fully rational, subject to timetables, lists and rules,” Stivers concludes. “Their instincts require an outlet that produces an altered state of consciousness – mysticism or ecstasy.”1
What has been lost is the balance that once characterized an organic Christian society that was able to reconcile orderly development and progress with calm spiritual pursuits. The material and spiritual orders used to work together to favor the general well-being of society. Today, one works with the other to favor behavior that is self-destructive.
1 Richard Stivers, Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md., 2004, p. 70.