WHAT DO YOU do when you are approaching 30, 40 -- or even 50 -- and life proves too complicated or boring?
Some Americans seek religion, switch jobs, change personal relationships, buy a new car or make a long-distance move. Yet others escape to alcohol or drugs. Or join a militia or Civil War re-enactment group.
America has always been a restless country. It is so big people easily find an outlet for their restlessness.
Things are more difficult in Europe, a continent of generally small countries, confined spaces and homogeneous cultures.
Many Europeans escape life's complications, though. Biker clubs affiliated with the U.S.-based Hells Angels and Bandidos have become a big headline item in Scandinavia, where they have been engaging in rivalry and bloodletting. Meanwhile, hundreds of French and Germans seek to escape their boredom or stressful lives by joining makeshift Indian tribes that try to duplicate the Wild West experience of the Native Americans in primitive tent camps.
Traditionally, social alienation in Europe has found an outlet in political extremism. Thus, the wrenching problems spawned by the industrial revolution and World War I contributed to the rise of communism and fascism.
The lunatic fringe still exists. But alienated Europeans are, for the time being, without a mass movement. Communism is passe, fascism is the domain of skinheads. For a while, the Greens had potential for a mass following in Germany. But as fundamental economic problems from high unemployment to social dislocations grew, the party offered no panaceas. As a consequence, its popularity plummeted.
Consensus politics has long been the norm in many western European countries. Recent signs suggest that consensus now is disappearing, producing alienated people. When that happens, dangers of political instability increase. Perhaps not today, but tomorrow.
Pub Date: 8/20/96