Going Bananas in the Age of Anxiety
There are many ways we could describe our era. It is the information age, early-onset Idiocracy, the rise of the authoritarians, etc., etc., etc.
We won’t know the truth until the age is over. But to me, we live in the age of anxiety. Americans get about 20 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs annually, and while Americans said this year that our worries on a host of subjects has retreated from all-time highs in 2020, we are way, way more worried compared to the recent past. Many of these worries are intensely personal, but others are dislocated societal or political concerns being experienced as personal anxiety. And that’s no good.
There’s so much anger in our culture today, and you can’t hate something you aren’t afraid of. We are an angry people because we are an anxious people. Politicians, popular culture, the news media, and leaders of major institutions speak in a language of anxiety, and did so long before our now-receding pandemic began. It wouldn’t be so odd if it weren’t for the fact that things are so much better here and now than they’ve been for most of human existence: freer, richer, safer, cleaner, and easier. Yet somehow endlessly problematic and anxiety-inducing.
There are a lot of reasons for this mismatch. But part is surely a result of media overconsumption—panicky pulp produced to shovel at you in order to hold an audience in a fragmented marketplace. All day, every day, you are offered an unlimited array of serious worries about which you can do next to nothing.
How worried should you be about, say, banana fungus? The story has been everywhere over the past few years, but in case you missed it, the species of bananas that make up almost all human consumption, the Cavendish, is under serious threat. It is the same fungus that took down the previous, ahem, top banana. This time around it could be more serious because of the overreliance on one species. The end of the banana as we know it is a real possibility.