Thursday 18 January 2018

Modern Life: Why it’s time to get tough on ‘manxiety’

Young man in pose
Young man in pose

Rob Doyle

Over the course of the summer just ended, I don’t know how many friends told me that they or members of their families had begun seeking treatment for anxiety and depression. Often they go hand in hand. SSRIs, Valium, psychotherapy, and more.

Then there are those — the majority of the population, arguably — who self-medicate, be it through alcohol, drugs, trashy food, or the electro-narcotics of television and the internet. Others battle anxiety with the aid of healthier, time-honoured techniques such as meditation or mindfulness. The general impression is of tiny plasters being applied to a gaping wound. The world makes us anxious and anxiety, it seems, makes us sick. For men, it might even kill us.

But the really surprising thing about generalised anxiety, is that it is not more common. Consider our condition as human beings here on the earth, hurled into an existence whose chief characteristics are a bewilderment as to what it all means, and the certainty of suffering — pain, loss, deterioration and death.

Is there a man amongst us who wouldn’t be anxious? And that’s before mention of the countless sources of dread and stress particular to life in the western world in the twenty-first century: status anxiety, economic uncertainty, ecological derailment, sexual competition, social media insecurities — you name it. But then, to add to our woes: scientists at Cambridge University report that men who suffer from chronic anxiety are more than twice as likely to die from cancer as men who don’t.

And yes, I say men: women, it seems, are immune to this carcinogenic stress.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is the condition of being wound up in knots of worry, pretty much all the time. Sufferers (who are as likely to be women as men) experience such symptoms as insomnia, the inability to concentrate, and muscle tension, coupled with an out-of-control worrying about all aspects of life.

The disclaimer to these findings linking GAD with cancer in males is this: no one is really sure why it is that it affects men and not women. There are several theories on the go, but a lack of certainty all round. However, whether or not there is a causality at play — ie anxiety leads to cancer in men - the report suggests confirmation of what we have known for some time: excess anxiety is physically harmful.

Even without the stats on GAD, anecdotal evidence confirms that severe anxiety, like depression, is widespread. Our society appears to breed anxiety — not just the fundamental, existential anxiety described above, but a modern, grindingly pervasive strain.

What’s your status?

Not everyone is abstaining. Tinder has released a list of the professions that garner the highest number of right-swipes among users of the dating app. Men who work as lawyers, actors and creative directors win the most approval, whereas female teachers, dentists, speech pathologists and interior designers get males pulses racing and thumbs swiping. What this says about Tinder, psychology, careers, sexuality, or anything at all is anyone’s guess.

No sex please, we’re Japanese

The Japanese aren’t having any sex. A national survey has found that around 42pc of men and 44.2pc of women between the ages of 18-34 are virgins. How remarkable: it seems that Japanese society has all but done away with promiscuity, virtually with sex itself, largely without the help of any religious ideology that forbids fornication.

Hypermodern and largely secular, Japan has undergone not a sexual revolution but a sexual devolution. The nation has one of the lowest birth rates and the oldest populations in the world.

All of this may come as a surprise to Westerners who perceive Japanese culture as a frenetically pornographic Manga film, with nubile cuties and J-Pop pretty-boys going at it like boozed up Yankee frat-packs on spring break.

Why have the Japanese stopped having sex? Is it down to the acute social withdrawal of the hikikmori — those young people who stay in their bedrooms for years on end, playing video games rather than engaging with a harsh and scary world?

Perhaps. Or maybe it’s something stranger: maybe the Japanese have simply lost the will to get it on. Perhaps Japan represents the human future — sexless, ageing and exhausted.

Rather than a symptom of social alienation, the virginity of Japan’s young people might be an ethical stance against a hideously overcrowded planet. Is it too great a stretch of the imagination to suggest that, rather than pity the virgins of Japan, we should applaud them?

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