Niagara Gazette

September 29, 2013

SINGER: We have become the fuss-budget society

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Have you ever had a nagging hangnail that needs to be tweezed away, but which you let go for days on end? And you’re intermittently aware of it, and not aware of it, but it sort of becomes an irritant?

On a scale of 1-10 here’s, objectively speaking, a problem with the magnitude of perhaps .0000005! And you’re driving along, and you see a nice person pulling into a Tops or Wegmans lot, piloting a golf cart-type vehicle, and possibly afflicted with some terrible muscular disorder; and suddenly your hangnail problem evaporates?

Not always ... What’s with these hangnail problems — why do we complain about picayune things, rather than deeply value what we have, and especially, our exceeding good luck?

I’m sure many others have disserted on these minor irritants that help stimulate our ... fussiness! Sweating the small stuff is certainly the handiest way of putting it. And that’s partly the nature of today’s work lives. More and more — as predicted by Daniel Bell in “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society” — we’ve become people-to-people in our work. If I recall correctly, Bell goes back to the eons — slow-pacing, little-changing centuries — when for most, it was people wrestling with the land; and then from the 1800s or so, more and more working with machines. And now? Owing to all sorts of labor-saving, technological devices and conveniences, for most it’s people relating to other people at their jobs.

But aloneness, too, is a factor in why I think fuss-budgetry has worsened significantly in our recent society, due to the fact that we also spend too much of our days (both on the job and chez nous) with fuss-inducing, insulating things — cell phones (in endless praying mantis routines), computers, TV channels, car consoles like space ships, including for varied music, etc.

Another old, prescient book comes to mind by David Reisman, “The Lonely Crowd.” More and more, people are stuck only superficially with other people, but really with themselves even in thronged stores or on Manhattan streets; and of course in cars, navigating freeways or urban jams. For much of civilization people lived mainly in villages, where they couldn’t escape either their own large families, or other villagers. Today there’s much more possibility for isolation, and consequent fuss-budgetry!

One becomes less so when helping, say, a spouse or grand-child, or an old person. But alone (even with cell phone) fussy thoughts can and do invade.

Do I think OCD is on the rise in today’s society? Obviously I’m no expert here, and can’t provide a scientifically reliable answer to that question based on precise data. I can only go with an amateur’s seat-of-the pants intuition. (Jean-Jacques Rousseau said you only know what you guess, which is of course exaggerated.) But the part of me that relies on intuitions believes that, yes, in our ever more fuss-budgety society, OCD in various forms must be increasing.

Let’s face it — many currently have lifestyles that in certain ways, only aristocrats of yore could dream of possessing. You remember bored princes in Grimms’ fairy tales, craving this or that diversion, getting cranky from their own leisure? Including the kid who wanted his castle cook to take a bunch of snow or ice and mix it with chocolate heated over the fire, and create a kind of hot fudge sundae?

Well, in some ways we’ve become princely ourselves, used to comforts and gizmos that would once have been the stuff of sci-fi; and again, this makes for a fussier society. Princely food pickiness is definitely a part of that. Certain restaurant menus make for fussy choice-agony! Many people (me included for certain foods) want to buy organic this, organic that at supermarkets, and no longer just yogurt, but Greek yogurt, and food in all seasons that before refrigeration would have made old-time monarchs, even the most powerful, drool with envy!

Fuss, fuss, fuss? Yes, because each of us is so unbelievably important, egocentric items of great self-significance, if perhaps only atoms of significance to the rest of the world, especially its less sated parts. Self-centeredness and fussiness being first cousins? I guess you could say that.

To be continued by some numbers-crunching “expert”...

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.