The more we make giant advances in science, communications, medicine and technology, the more people complain. Free from starvation, we gripe about the quality of the organic food at our local restaurant. A hundred years ago polio was wiping out thousands of children in the United States; now teens become apoplectic if they have their iPhones taken away. My mother had a very rough childhood that included having to support her family while still a teenager. Now women who could be her granddaughters are demanding tax breaks for makeup.
The great social historian Christopher Lasch once wrote eloquently about the concept of “the ethic of limits,” which he described as follows: “For vast numbers of Americans, limits are a necessary and even desirable face of life—limits on human freedom, on human capacities, on the power of reason to eradicate everything that is mysterious in the universe.” Lasch contrasted the people who live with limits—those who spend their lives working, raising kids, and living their lives “a long way from the center of metropolitan culture”—with a “New Class” of elites that pursues a “heady vision of unlimited possibilities” and “views life as an experiment.” Lasch believed that the people who accepted the reality of limits ended up living more hopeful lives.