There have been many phenomena introduced to man within the twentieth century. The most important and interesting of these phenomena is the existential vacuum. In the 1960s, Viktor Frankl observed that people twentieth century have lost meaning of purpose. He also observed that the existential vacuum was worse in the United States than in Europe or developing countries. A potential cause for this feeling of emptiness is the loss of animal instinct throughout human history. Every living culture, whether it was human or animal has an innate set of instincts that guide how we live.
However, through time, humans have tamed those instincts and shoved them into non-existence by creating laws of “civility. ” For example, people used to live in groups of extended families. Usually, the men would go out and hunt and women would stay back and watch the living areas, the children, and make food for the home. Sometimes, there were probably times when a man or woman wanted to perform the responsibilities of the other gender, but that was not encouraged. There were clear gender rules, as well as clear responsibilities that had to be performed in order to survive. There were also chores that had to be performed.
These usually involved making clothes from the skins of the animals that were hunted, making weapons for defense and to hunt, everything for home and hearth had to be created. In the early days of humanity, there were no stores to run out and buy something from. As civilization “grew up” and developed, stores may have been established, but everything still had to be made by hand, since there was no such thing as technology, as we know it, until the latter part of the 19th century. People also believed in gods, or a Divine Being, that had power over everything, from weather, to hunting successes, to how the group lived together.
Faith in this Being and religion was the guide for how people lived and the glue that held families, groups, and societies together. Religious faith gave meaning to life, as did the ability to create one’s surroundings for the betterment of self and group. Throughout the centuries of civilization development, many policies and rules have been implemented within different cultures. Several of these new “life guidelines” go against human natural instinct, and so people have been brought up without natural instincts guiding them through life. This is especially true in this last century, more than other times in history.
Without these instincts, people are forced to make difficult decisions without understanding the parameters and potential outcomes of those decisions. This leads to people not knowing what to do and, therefore, the lack of a meaning of life. As technology developed in this last century, humans slowly lost the ability to create for themselves. Humans began to rely more on stores for buying food, and less on the process of their own hunting, growing and gathering. They no longer needed to make clothes, because the needle and thread gave way to sewing machines, which gave way to huge factories and store bought clothes.
Why make clothes, when you could run down to the department store and buy them? The same happened with creative endeavors. Why make your hunting tools, when you could go to the gun shop to buy one? Why make jewelry, when necklaces are manufactured and sold by the hundreds at Macy’s? As people have relied more on ready-made and store-store bought and less on their own knowledge and instincts, life seems to have become more complex, but also more meaningless. There is no connection to what you eat anymore. It’s just a prepackaged item picked up from the store.
Yes, we still eat meat, but the connection of what it means for one life (the cow, for example), to give up that life so that another (the human) may live, is lost. Where once people had respect for the food they ate and understood the life sustenance that made food so important, now it means nothing. There is no understanding to how food reacts with our bodies. The only understanding is that when you feel hunger, you want to eat. And food is readily available, so it is no big deal. Likewise, the connection to clothes has become how they make you look when wearing them, rather than the appreciation of how they are made.
Humans used to be awed by something so simple as the sun rising every day, after disappearing the night before. Storms were something to be feared. A successful hunt was something to show appreciation for, as was a successful harvest. People developed religion to worship the aforementioned gods and/or the Supreme Being. The expression of faith was an integral part of society. However, again mostly in the last century, even faith has been eroding. Scientists have explained how storms happen and how the sun rises and sets.
Many people find nothing to be awed at anymore and we definitely do not have ceremonies to honor the harvest or the hunt. Well, at least not in their original form, and this paper is not the forum to explain certain cultural calendars. People may go to church, synagogue, or other houses of worship, but the subordination to that awesomeness does not exist anymore. The group, consisting of immediate family and extended family, is not as connected as it once was. In the past, several generations lived together or close by and aunts, uncles and cousins were all part of celebrations.
Now children grow up and move away from their families. So, even that connection is lost. Humans derive meaning from building a history with their families. If we have no family to build that history with, we can feel isolated and disconnected. This also leads us into the existential vacuum. The existential vacuum has been found to be worse in the United States. Since people are now living their life blindly, without any instincts to guide them, two ways of thinking have developed, which can be illustrated through our current two party political system.
While the two party system is not new, the extent of the vehemence is. Unfortunately, it is more prevalent in one of the parties than in the other party. The goal for each party has always been to gain governmental control of the American people and lead them towards their way of thinking. However, in the past, there has always been an understanding that both parties are working for the same country, but come to their conclusions through different perceptions. In recent years, however, one party has felt that their way is the only way and is less willing to work with the second party.
Unfortunately, that “bully” party does not seem to represent the good will of the entire country, but only the ones who can pay for it. This has led to violence, riots, and a total undermining of what the basis of America was founded upon, as well as a total misunderstanding of the Constitution, which is the corner stone for America. It is unfortunate again that this “bully” party purports to be the master defenders of the Constitution. How can they be the master defenders of this unique Statement, when they do not understand its founding basses? Could it be that the sharp dichotomy in this country is a result of an existential vacuum?
The bully party no longer sees the rest of the US as a viable part of this country. Their goal seems to be to crush those who they feel can no longer afford to live in the United States. They no longer want to help their fellow Americans, nor do they want to “ask what they can do for their country. ” Rather, they want everything that their country can give them, damn the rest of those people who are more unfortunate. Although they claim to be for “Chevrolet, Mom & Apple Pie,” they really do not care about their fellow citizens, unless those citizens are also multi-millionaires.
These people are no longer connected to the morals and ethics that the United States was founded upon. Rather, they are concerned with not having to pay taxes, not having to share, and are paranoid that someone is after their money. Taxes are the price that we all must pay to live in a society. But some of us would rather those sacrifices fall upon those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, rather than those who can easily afford to pay their share. The more this dichotomy grows, and the stronger the “bully” party becomes, the greater the existential vacuum becomes.
The greater it becomes, the more it will pull people into it. As negative as the existential vacuum seems to be, there is a way to combat the adverse effects. Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living. ” What this means is that if one doesn’t look back on his life and learn from his mistakes, he is hopeless. This can be broadened to “The unexamined way of life is not worth living,” which simply means that one must look back on history and learn from mistakes man has already made and not make those mistakes in order to live a full, happy, and successful life.
For example, to avoid conflict, one must look back at all the conflicts and wars throughout history and ask, “What was the disagreement that started all that? ” By asking this question, and then doing some research, one can come to the conclusion that we all really are on the same side. That is the side of the United States. This may sound simplistic in today’s world, but the words have as much meaning today, if not more, than when President Kennedy first said them fifty years ago, “… And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what YOU can do for your country. ”