Walker Percy on Modern Life

The homogenized, globalized, sterilized world we’ve created is no place for a healthy human. In his book Lost in the Cosmos, Southern writer Walker Percy argued that depression is a rational response in such a world. Like a wild animal in a cage, we’re trapped in an environment that denies the essentials for living the way we were meant to live:

Because modern life is enough to depress anybody? Any person, man, woman, or child, who is not depressed by the nuclear arms race, by the modern city, by family life in the exurb, suburb, apartment, villa, and later in a retirement home, is himself deranged.

Now, call into question the unspoken assumption: something is wrong with you. Like Copernicus and Einstein, turn the universe upside down and begin with a new assumption. Assume that you are quite right.

You are depressed because you have every reason to be depressed. No member of the other two million species which inhabit the earth—and who are luckily exempt from depression—would fail to be depressed if it lived the life you lead. You live in a deranged age—more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.

So all the Prozac in the world can’t treat the underlying problem, which is not in the head of the depressed, but in the world he inhabits. How does one break out of such a world? Step one is to recognize there’s a problem. What happens next begins with an exercise of the imagination

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