Throughout history Western civilization has looked back upon itself and named certain eras. There was the Hellenistic Period, (which has nothing to do with Helen of Troy but a lot to do with Alexander the Great who was a Macedonian), followed of course by the Roman Empire. We went downhill for a while after that with the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, but started to perk up with the Renaissance.
Almost every major European power had a "Golden Age" somewhere between the 1500s and the 1700s, although never simultaneously. There was the Age of Reason, which by our standards probably wasn't very reasonable, but relatively speaking it was the best the West had achieved to that point. After that things got a little confusing as we started going in quite a few directions at once so it was hard to give a title that would encompass everybody at once.
There was the age of Nationalism, which began with Napoleon and pretty much has been ongoing since, but really peaked at the end of the 19th century, when Germany united for the first time and Italy threw off the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War one of course we had a lot of the small countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans being carved out of various former Empires: Latvia, Estonia, Poland, what was then Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.
Of course the 19th century also marked the beginning of the end of us being a mainly rural, agrarian-based society with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the need for a large labour force to work in the factories. Although never recognized with the honorific of an age, nothing has had more influence on making us in the West what we are today, for better and worse, than the Industrial Revolution.
It allowed for the rise of a merchant class, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, the stock market, free markets, and any of the other isms we all love to label things with. But there has been a dearth of Ages in that time. The only one that caught on at all was the so-called Age of Aquarius that was being preached about in the 1960s by folk who had serious hallucinogen habits.
But I think that we here in North America have finally done what no others have been able to accomplish in almost a century; establish a way of life that is so ubiquitous as to deserve the title of Age. Ladies and Gentleman I would like to welcome you to the Age of Avoidance.
No age before us has proven so adept at turning a blind eye to the realities of life as we have. No matter how glaringly obvious an issue is we have perfected the ability to not see what is right in front of our faces. From our governments on down to individuals we have devised more and more ingenious methods of not dealing with our own shit.
Can you think of anything else that would explain the proliferation of New Age religions? What better thing to offer people if their lives are going down a sewer than a guarantee of peace and harmony? Come to the light and avoid the reality of what is causing you to have nervous breakdowns and to chew anti depressants like Smarties.
You can buy books on how to get your own personal Guardian Angel who will watch your back as you go through life. There are ones that will bring you abundance, and others who will help you get lucky; in fact there is probably a Guardian Angel for every aspect of your life that you're willing to dish out money to protect.
This way you can avoid dealing with any nasty personal issues you may have. Who needs to confront their demons when they have a Guardian Angel? They take care of everything for you and you can on with your blissful existence and just wait for the abundance to roll in.
Of course we all have avoidance techniques; anyone who lives in a big city has long ago learned how to not notice the folk that line the streets with their hands stuck out for spare change. If it gets too bad you can be sure that city council will create a bylaw outlawing homelessness so that anybody without a permanent address will be either thrown in jail or shipped out of town. Homeless problem, what homeless problem?
Of course there are some problems that can't be avoided, like how much it's costing you to fill your forty gallon gas tank on your all-terrain pick up truck that you use to drive to work every day. You sit and fume about it every morning in the traffic jam on the way to work and watch the sky turn brown as the sun comes up. Two cents a gallon more today, what's a person going to do?
Oh well, American Idol is on tonight and the competition has been intense this time. At least there aren't any scandals about judges sleeping with contestants. Boy, that Simon Callow really gets you steamed though, he's such a prick. But the music is surprisingly good for amateurs. You used to sing back in high school with a band and were pretty good… better then that guy who won last week anyway. Shit, maybe you should enter next time.
Television is full of reality shows about unreal situations because no one wants to deal with reality. Hell, the government doesn't want to deal with reality, why should the population? Everything is great they say, the economy is booming. Then why are less people earning more and more people earning less money then ten years ago? What's so great about that?
As a continent we don't deal well with reality and when the real world comes knocking it finds us woefully unprepared. We have technology that allows us to do miraculous things but we use it primarily for mindless entertainment that keeps us from thinking about the world beyond our living room. If reality ever shows up on our 52" high definition television screen with surround sound all we have to do is find the right button on our remote to change our perception.
Tim Leary suggested society should "Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out". Somehow or other what we've done instead is to simply Tune Out. Welcome to the Age of Avoidance, where the credo is no longer it's who you know that matters, but what you don't know can't hurt you.