When the bubble bursts

A bubble.
A bubble. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back, a colleague introduced me to Shattered Assumptions. The book posits that we are able to engage in our day to day life because we assume:

  • The world is  benevolent
  • The world is meaningful
  • The self is worthy

When a traumatic event destroys these assumptions, rebuilding them is a task that is central to recovery from the trauma.

At any rate, Andrew Sullivan linked to an article talking about the assumptions of the middle class:

My friend is not a member of the middle class, as you might have guessed. He has a high school education, grew up the son of a factory worker in a family of nine children, works part-time as a house painter and DJ, lives hand to mouth, and gets by with a little help from his friends. He’s been in AA for a long time, has seen a lot of people pass away. “I hope you can get there before it’s too late,” I said. “Hey,” he said, not unkindly, “we could both die before her. You never know what’s going to happen.”

I am a member of the middle class, as you might have guessed, and the moment made me realize something about the way we see the world. No one in the middle class imagines they could die at any minute. The middle-class idea is quite the reverse: that the world can be controlled, risk eliminated, fate mastered. Grades, admissions, credentials—the steady, predictable climb up the ladder of professional success—that’s the idea. We’re going to live a long time, and the world is not going to take us by surprise.

Has there ever been another group of people, in all of human history, that’s possessed that kind of attitude? Of course, there are reasons it’s emerged when it has: our enormous modern life expectancy, our inconceivable prosperity, our overwhelming military power. But I wonder about its spiritual perils. My professor used to say that it was easy for Nietzsche or Sartre to do without God, because they had so much else to sustain them.