When you look at a lot of the mess going on in current society, at the base of it all, what we have is a relationship problem. As in, people do not learn how to properly do relationships. At all.
Yes, I know, I’m speaking from the viewpoint of someone who needs notes and a flowchart to even start to understand the network of social connections in any given place or situation. On the other hand I think that puts me in the same position as an early epidemiologist trying to figure out disease transmission. I can’t use what “everybody knows”, I have to write down the facts as I see them and see if they make any sense. And that is how Dr. John Snow knew how to ignore the “miasmas” and take the handle off one specific water pump to stop a cholera epidemic.
So what I see is that, at least for the past several decades, people have not been taught what a good relationship is. How to be a good parent. Sibling. Boss. Employee. Random entrepreneur getting by. Most especially, how to be a good spouse.
Arranged Companions: Marriage and Intimacy in Qing China, by Waijing Lu, is a Kindle sample I stumbled on researching Northeast China around the Ming-Qing transition. One of the bits it lays out is that in Confucian thought, marriage is the beginning of all human relations, and the arrival of civilization. And the cornerstone to a marriage is that you must treat your spouse with respect. “As an honored guest in your house,” as one commentator put it.
When was the last time you ever heard someone in general conversation, or any Hollywood production, talk about respecting someone you’re in an intimate relationship with? Or want a relationship with? There’s plenty of lust displayed, and “will they or won’t they”, and sometimes genuine affection and communication… but how often do you see respect? How often do you see listening, acknowledging when someone has better skills or ideas than you do, or even quiet disagreements over what’s the best course of action, without devolving into a Dramatic screaming fight?
Granted, screaming fights make for easily filmed drama, but who wants to live that way? I mean, just look at Tony Stark in the MCU. Billionaire, genius, philanthropist, and he still gets no respect.
(Seriously, “I would cut the wire” is a legit answer to Captain America’s question. As General Patton himself said, you’re not supposed to die for your country, you’re supposed to make some other poor bastard die for his country.)
People model their behavior on their heroes. When people who are supposed to be heroes do not show each other respect, we have a Problem.
How to solve the problem? The only thing I can think of is twofold: bring back all the old stories we can find, where people do respect each other, and write more like them. Because without respect, civilization crumbles.
And while Mad Max is a very dramatic world, none of us want to live there.