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Thread: Where did “mid-life crisis” come from?

  1. #1 Where did “mid-life crisis” come from? 
    Forum Ph.D.
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    Where did “mid-life crisis” come from?

    Quickie from Wiki: “Midlife crisis is a term coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques and used in Western societies to describe a period of dramatic self-doubt that is felt by some individuals in the "middle years" of life, as a result of sensing the passing of youth and the imminence of old age. Sometimes, transitions experienced in these years, such as aging in general, menopause, the death of parents, or children leaving home, can trigger such a crisis. The result may be a desire to make significant changes in core aspects of day to day life or situation, such as in career, marriage, or romantic relationships.”

    My American culture recognizes that ‘life is a journey’ and it frames this journey as one of material acquisition. He who dies with the most stuff wins; Bernie almost made it to the grave as a BIG winner in the eyes of my culture.

    I reject many of my cultures acquisition values as being excessive; I think of my life as primarily a journey of self-actualization. My journey includes visiting the written works of great men and women in an effort to discover ‘why we humans do the things we do and can we do better’. The American educational system disparages such values of disinterested enlightenment, i.e. enlightenment not directed at material acquisition; thus most Americans find such an idea to be alien. I suspect that applies to most Western democracies.

    Marshall McLuhan has stated that all technology is an extension of a human faculty. The ‘bomb is an extension of the fist’ is a simple example. It is when I recognized that the Internet is an extension of the brain that I found his idea more sustainable. I think that we must treat his theory as being somewhat like a metaphor and not treat it too literally. Nevertheless I think it is a great insight and a useful tool for understanding human behavior.

    Another example of this influence of technology upon human life would be in the matter of longevity. In the early 20th century life expectancy at birth was 30-40 years; today’s life expectancy at birth, world wide, is 70 years. We might correctly say that life expectancy doubled in the last one hundred years.

    What affect has this had upon our lives? I think that one might correctly say that this longevity has provided us with a period of 7-10 years that created an ‘adolescence’ period that never existed before and it provided a period in which we might associate with men’s ‘mid-life crises’ that is so evident today. Also we have a period of ‘retirement’ that never existed before.

    I have for four years browsed Internet discussion forums. I use McLuhan’s insight to peer into the brain of the forum member and this is some of my observations.

    We are lousy readers. To quantify the matter I am going to use a scale of reading ability ranging from 1 to 10, with ‘1’ being barely literate and ‘10’ being 30% comprehension of a difficult text after a first quick reading.

    I would judge that the average reader is a ‘4’. The first time a form member reads a posted paragraph I guess that the forum member comprehends less than 10% of the meaning of the post. All evidence points to the conclusion that almost no member reads the post more than once.

    In most cases my observation leads me to conclude that 90% of the time the reader does not comprehend the point of the paragraph.

    Fibber McGee was a popular radio show in the forties and fifties and a standing joke was Fibber’s closet. He would always open his hall closet and all sorts of things would come tumbling out. I would judge that most reader’s brains are like Fibber’s closet. Any word or phrase, in something the reader sees, triggers an opening of the brain’s door and massive amounts of instant miscellaneous opinions come tumbling out.


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    Forum Professor marcusclayman's Avatar
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    I haven't looked into it much but it sounds like the cause is not "mid-life" but what has adapted as a biological "end-life"

    When does "mid-life crisis" usually start, in the late 40s?

    What was the average expected life span before hygiene and empirical medicine? high 40s?

    I don't know if those are accurate estimates.

    Since most babies are made by young people, genes that show their peak in youth are favored than those that show their peak later on in life. I don't know if this is accurate either, but if it is then maybe the majority our genes are not so adapted for what is now "mid-life" and beyond.


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    Marshall McLuhan “The High Priest of Pop-Culture” in the mid twentieth century was the first to announce the existence of the ‘global village’ and to express that “we become what we behold”. McLuhan sought to understand and express the effects of technology on modern culture.

    McLuhan was particularly interested in “Technology as Extension of the Human Body”. An extension of our body and/or of our senses occurs when we extend the reach of our embodied mind beyond our natural limited means. As examples: the shovel is an extension of our hands and feet as we dig a trench, the spade is like our cupped hand as we remove dirt from a hole, a microscopy or telescope extends our vision to study smaller or larger dimensions.

    Going further in this vein the auto is an extension of the foot. However there are negative results from all such extensions. “Amputations” represent the unintended and un-reflected counterparts of such extensions.

    “Every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, has the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension… The extension of a technology like the automobile "amputates" the need for a highly developed walking culture, which in turn causes cities and countries to develop in different ways. The telephone extends the voice, but also amputates the art of penmanship gained through regular correspondence. These are a few examples, and almost everything we can think of is subject to similar observations…We have become people who regularly praise all extensions, and minimize all amputations. McLuhan believed that we do so at our own peril.” Quotations from “Understanding Media” by Marshall McLuhan

    McLuhan was concerned about man's willful blindness to the downside of technology. In his later years McLuhan developed a scientific basis for his thought around what he termed the tetrad. The tetrad is four laws, framed as questions, which give us a useful instrument for studying our culture.
    What is does the technology extend?
    What does it make obsolete?
    What is gained?
    "What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?"

    McLuhan’s gravestone carries the inscription “The Truth Shall Make You Free." We do not have to like or even agree with everything that McLuhan said. However, we would be wise to remember that his was a life of great insight and it was dedicated to showing wo/man the truth about the world we live in, and especially the hidden consequences of the technologies we develop.

    In the book “The Birth and Death of Meaning” Earnest Becker provides us with a synthesis of the knowledge about the extensions of the human body that McLuhan spoke of and science certified through research.

    Becker informs us that the “self” is in the body but is not part of the body; it is symbolic and is not physical. “The body is an object in the field of the self: it is one of the things we inhabit…A person literally projects or throws himself out of the body, and anywhere at all…A man’s “Me” is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his mind, but his clothes and house, his wife and children, [etc].” The human can be symbolically located wherever s/he thinks part of her really exists or belongs.

    It is said that the more insecure we are the more important these symbolic extensions of the self become. When we invest undue value onto such matters as desecrating a piece of cloth that symbolizes our nation is an indication that our self-valuation has declined and this overvaluation of a symbol can help compensate that loss. We get a good feeling about own value by obtaining value in the pseudopod as the flag.

    In conceiving our self as a container that overflows with various and important extensions that our technology provides us we might appear like a giant amoeba spread out over the land with a center in the self. These pseudopods are not just patriotic symbols and important things but include silly things such as a car or a neck tie. We can experience nervous breakdowns when others do not respect our particular objects of reverence.
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