Why can’t we keep our New Year’s resolutions?

Life in general has become what alcohol is – disinhibiting. First, America was transformed from a nation of want into one of wants. Then the 1960s repudiated restraint, equating it with repression. Next, inflation in the 1970s discouraged delay of gratification.

Today capitalism has a bipolar disorder, demanding self-controlled workers yet uninhibited shoppers. “Want to buy something?” Akst asks. “Chances are that nearby stores are open (many Wal-Marts virtually never close), and with plastic in your pocket you’ve got the wherewithal.” The Internet further reduces life’s “frictional costs.” But it increases distractions. Increasingly, Americans work at devices that can be stereos, game players, telephones, movie screens and TVs.

The inhibiting intimacy of the village has been supplanted by the city’s “disinhibiting anonymity.” Even families have dispersed within the home: Time was, they listened to one radio together; then came the transistor. As traditional social structures have withered under disapproval, and personal choice and self-invention have been celebrated, “second careers, second homes, second spouses, and even second childhoods are commonplace.”