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This is the age of addiction. Could Puritanism come next?

Civilisation never knows what’s around the corner, as present trends rarely continue – in fact, they will probably reverse

By on Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Cupcakes can be difficult to resist (PA photo)

Cupcakes can be difficult to resist (PA photo)

Some time ago I had an interesting conversation with a retired banker. We were talking, I think, about population growth and I used the phrase “If present trends continue…”

He asserted that present trends never continue – they always go into reverse.

This means that, for example, if present trends continue, children born today will have a life expectancy of 100 years. That sounds quite impressive, doesn’t it? However, because present trends will go into reverse, if my banker friend is right, what may happen is that children born today will die in their 50s, thanks to the very successes of the previous generation. The strains and stresses of having to work so hard to support a top-heavy ageing population will take its toll. Again, the superb nutrition that will enable us to live longer than any previous generation may have its shadow side, and we may all be subject to life-threatening diseases that come from being too well fed. In other words, the human race will become a victim of its own success.

One could, I imagine, argue that historically this has been the case. There never had been a better time to have lived than the Age of the Antonines – but this was succeeded by a time of great instability in the third century, as the trend to ever more civilised living went into reverse.

If there were one thing I could have, it would have to be a crystal ball. I have just read Damian Thompson’s The Fix. Like everything that Dr Thompson writes it is sharp, well-observed, amusing and informative, an absolute must-read. The Fix tells us what we already know, but perhaps simply do not want to face – namely that we are all at the mercy of our desires and our desires are disordered. We want so many things: iPhones, cupcakes, porn. Once we lived in a world where satisfactions were deferred. Now we have to have every desire fulfilled, and fulfilled at once.

Dr Thompson mentions Vicodin, of which I have never heard: it is a painkiller available on prescription in the United States, which can be used to get a legal high. American doctors hand out 150 million such prescriptions a year. Like all the figures in the book, that statistic is staggering.

Then there is porn. There can be no doubt, and the book only reinforces what I have heard from other sources, that our society is awash with pornography in a way no previous society has been, thanks to the internet. And because pornographers have to please consumers and compete in a crowded marketplace, the porn is getting more and more violent and hardcore.

This is why I would like to have a crystal ball. Where will these trends lead us? And when or if they go into reverse, what will happen then? And it seems they must go into reverse. We simply cannot go on consuming pills, cupcakes and porn (or whatever else it is we are hooked on) at this present rate. There must come a time when the reaction will set in. What will happen then? A new age of Puritanism? I wish I knew. Whatever happens, it can hardly be anything good.

  • Lazarus

    One of the silliest things about the modern liberal is the belief that history has ended or will end in something which resembles Hampstead. Quite apart from the regular movements back and forth in moral fashion, anyone who believes that the superficial Sybaritism which characterizes modern Britain will survive the disciplines imposed by recession and a shift in world power from the West to China is deluding himself. 

  • Trouble

    Oh, no, it’s much worse than that.

    Most children in urban areas of this country are Moslem.

    Sharia Law will do wonders to reduce all the gains we’ve made in the last century – and give us a reason for thinking that’s a good thing!

  • Jonathan West

    We simply cannot go on consuming pills, cupcakes and porn (or whatever else it is we are hooked on) at this present rate. There must come a time when the reaction will set in. What will happen then? A new age of Puritanism? I wish I knew. Whatever happens, it can hardly be anything good.

    So our age of addiction is actually a golden age, where what follows will be less good that what we have now? I never knew you were such a sybarite!

  • theroadmaster

    The products which are advertised to satiate our appetites for a temporary period, are never more than a click away on the internet, whether it is food,drink, furniture or something more sensual.  But the everlasting,spiritual longing which haunts our inner being, can never be satisfied by a reliance on material pleasures.  We are not just comprised of atoms but have inherited a spiritual dimension as well, which we acknowledge everytime that we attend Sunday mass and receive Holy Communion. As St Augustine of Hippo stated in his “Confessions” in relation to our quest to find God..
    “Our Hearts are Restless Until They Rest in You”.

  • Realist

    We are edging into an age of conflict culminating in a world dictator, and Christ’s return in overcoming power to set up His millennial reign as promised.

  • Parasum

    What does seem clear, is that history does not repeat itself exactly. In some ways, Britain resembles Hogarth’s “Gin Lane” – but that was engraved at a time when Britain had not yet reached the height of its power. And it was still nominally & theoretically a Christian country. Now, by contrast….very different. Atheism may help Christianity – just now, a lot of Christians are nothing but baptised atheists.  I blame St. Augustine for his part in helping to make this possible, & the Churches ever since (the Baptists being an honourable exception) for not noticing that an atheist with a dab of water on his forehead is not what the NT authors understood by the noun “Christian”. They would have had a fit at the spectacle of  atheist bishops, atheist vicars, atheist Christians. And they would have had a vomiting fit at the sight of Christians who defend & protect the kinds of criminal the Churches have so often taken to their bosoms.   
    I think scientism is going to increase, and that a lot of stuff that will be found to be technologically possible, but that currently is forbidden, on more or less humanitarian grounds, will be allowed, even encouraged. And that there will be a new under-class – those with no aptitude for science. Atheists were an underclass, just as others had been & are: this will be the new one, I think. And it will be as unsatisfying a god as all those before it. But this will not lead to a revival of Christianity, any more than the brutalities & hypocrisies of a triumphant Christianity in the late Roman Empire led to a re-assertion of paganism after 400 or so: there will merely be a mixture of superstitions, including (probably) ever more degraded Christianities. Ecumenism will be overtaken by events: fripperies like whether the Church should be Congregational or Roman episcopal or C of E episcopal will no longer matter, because any remaining Christians will have their backs to the wall – the old issues that seemed so vastly important in 1600, or even now, will cease to be of any importance.

    How long will this take ? Give it 200 years. And that is just in the UK. Islam will probably become torpid again, as it periodically does – the prosecution of the sciences may move east, for lack of money in Europe & North America. Eventually, scientism will be seen to be as busted a flush as any religion (not that it will admit it !). Having tried out so many gods, man will either give up on theism entirely, or, more likely, stop thinking theism matters, & find something more productive to do. The city will almost entirely vanish – man will return to something resembling the Iron Age, & live in small settlements.

    Eventually, Christianity will return to the catacombs, for the sake of
    survival if for no other reason. It may even try to survive by going to
    another planet. A Church inside the Moon or Mars ? Or it could try
    burrowing down inside Earth. (But without becoming a tribe of Morlocks -
    well, not before 802,701 AD)

  • Laurence England

    I think the trends will result in a society so chaotic that the State will have to take control of everything.

  • JabbaPapa

    Plugging The Fix is a terrible journalistic blogger’s addiction in itself !!

    Look at these sad examples of that terrible compulsion to write blog posts about The Fix :

    Woeful !!!

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Whilst Damian Thompson shamelessly promotes his book ” the Fix ” on his blog on the Daily Telegraph , he allows Anti Semitic posters a free hand whilst ensuring anybody who is Jewish is Blocked from commenting