• J. W. Barlament

Koinophobia: The Fear of the Ordinary Life

Doesn't the ordinary life just sound so much better on paper?

Spend your first years in a brilliantly bright new life. Leap into the realm of education for as long as it takes to receive all the knowledge of the world you want. Do whatever one of thousands of jobs you most want to do. Explore all the most mesmerizing places and have all the most enthralling experiences when work doesn't beckon. Find friends, find love, and through them, find meaning. Retire when you've grown old, and live out your days in peace.

But that's just a fantasy; now, especially, but arguably, it always has been.

I know innumerable people living just as they were supposed to - people who played their lives by the book and not once took a risk they didn't have to - and ended up broke, alone, and miserable. And I'm sure you do, too. Thus, we arrive at what might just be the most sensible phobia around. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows never fails to provide the world with poignant new terms, and koinophobia, the fear of living an ordinary life, is no exception.

A hundred years ago, of course, we wouldn't be having this discussion - not in the West, at least. Even twenty years ago, few Americans seriously considered deviating from what was, seemingly, such a perfect pop-path to every kind of success. Now, though, "the ordinary life" doesn't conjure up pretty little images for most people. Most adults around aren't living comfortable lives. Most people aren't content with the social narratives pushed onto them. Anger has become the people's default state.

Thus, with employment uneasy, housing an impossibility, and finding the time and the one with which to start a family nothing but a pipe dream, it's no surprise that people are growing fearful of the ordinary life. Woe is the new normal, and in such a world, koinophobia is but a natural reaction. The path laid out at birth is overgrown at best and gone at worst. Few are fooled. Most of us, especially the young, have had to reject the social norms we grew up with in favor of alternatives we ourselves invented.

Maybe we can blame our balkanization of culture on the Internet. Maybe we can blame it on decades of ineffective neoliberal domestic policy. Or maybe we can keep it simple and blame it on our entire political system. But regardless of cause, the effects are clear; the life path which our current society is centered around no longer works for the vast majority of the populace. Whilst our institutions still pressure the youth to follow in their elders’ footsteps, the youth largely realize that the economic cards are stacked against them and are frantically looking for some sort of way out. If things don’t radically turn around soon, many high schoolers and college students today – dare I say most of them – will never be out of debt. Their dream careers will either be dead or dying by the time they’re old enough to enter into them. They may never even own a home. And their kids, if they have them, will certainly inherit an even worse world. What, then, are they to do? Should they simply move out of the country? Reject the 9-5 and start become startup entrepreneurs? Adopt the van life? Start reading Marx?

This isn’t an article seeking to determine the answer to such lofty questions. The point is not to introduce a new ordinary life. It’s just to make clear the thinly-veiled fact that the path set out for the young by the old is obsolete. Both to find a sense of deeper meaning and simply make ends meet, America’s (and the West’s in general, to some extent) young are going to have to completely reimagine the ordinary life. Take it from one of them. The established path has brought the old their wealth, the middle-aged their headaches, and the young nothing but woe and dread. The ordinary life is not a source of inspiration, but instead, a source of existential fear. If that tells us anything, it’s that our idea of the ordinary life has to be reexamined, boldly and immediately.