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

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.

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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.

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