We in the West are in the beginning—or perhaps the middle of—a catastrophic crisis of meaning.
Many of us sense it. We know it’s happening. But it’s hard to corner and identify. And it’s even more difficult when authors like Steven Pinker use all of their intellectual powers to convince us that things are in fact getting better.
I don’t see that. Not in Europe and the United States anyway, which are the only places that I feel like I understand in some measure.
What I see is virtually everyone I know being some combination of depressed, medicated, or suicidal. I see profound unhappiness. I see desperation. I see emptiness. I see anxiety. I see sadness.
I’ve not read Pinker’s last two works yet, but from the outside it seems he’s focused on all the wrong things. He talks about how famine is decreasing, how there’s less war, etc. In short, he’s focusing on how we’re reducing struggle in the world. But that’s precisely the problem.
What Pinker doesn’t seem to realize is that (overcoming) struggle is actually what makes humans happy, and removing it is a sure path to emptiness.
People are complex, and I’m not trying to be inclusively accurate here—only to identify trends I see.
Women with money but no family seem perhaps the worst off, as if everything they achieve and grasp turns to dust in their hands. Men with lots of money seem to be somewhat ok—kind of like a boy sitting in a mud puddle playing with a toy truck.
Women without money or a strong family seem desperate for some kind of meaning, whether that’s this “success” thing everyone keeps talking about, or something more biological and traditional in the form of motherhood and family. But they’re unhappy unless they’re about to achieve one of them, and most are unhappy once they have them as well.
Look up the term INCEL. It’s what they’re calling the recent attacker in Toronto who drove a truck into pedestrians.
Men without family or money need to either be great looking or deeply immersed in video games. Those appear to be the options, and even then the money or video games better yield success with women or else they’ll turn into the primary danger to society today: young men with no mating options.
This group—the men without financial success or other means of attracting women—are a perfect example of what we’re talking about here.
People are focused on the lack of education. We talk about parenting. We talk about guns. We talk about legalization of drugs. We talk about unisex bathrooms, and the legitimization of alternate types of sexuality. But those are just coincident. They’re just happening at the same time.
What’s really happening is we’re losing the ability to acquire meaning in our lives.
I think comfort and safety are creators of a deep and corrosive depression, and unless people and society have a powerful answer they will descend into emptiness.
Everything is empty. Everything is hollow. Everything is meaningless.
We chase the money. Dust.We chase the perfect mate. Dust.We chase success at work. Dust.We chase the education. Dust.We chase the things. Dust.
So people are giving up. They’re not leaving home. Grandparents are raising their grown children, who then have their own children of sheer irresponsibility and boredom. And those children have no motivation or purpose and become expert victims and consumers of societal benefits.
Guess where we see real motivation?
In populations that have recently experienced suffering. Immigrants.
Newly-arrived Mexicans and Chinese don’t seem to have as many happiness problems because they’re still obsessed with The GameTM. They’re struggling every day to escape where they came from. To escape from poverty, or anonymity, or normalcy. They’re chasing—or being chased—and it’s a glorious. Because if you survive, Evolution will reward you with a pat on your hormone receptors.
What are everyday Americans chasing? We’re stuck in a world where life is easy but there is no color or taste.
You could struggle, but why? You can just stay home and live with your parents. You could try harder at work, but someone taller and smarter will probably get the job. You could try to meet the girl you like, but she probably only dates rich guys, or people with better jobs.
Safest thing is to just stay home and play video games. Draw disability. Wait to die.
America is basically rotting from the inside.
There are some that are resistant, however. I mentioned the immigrants who have gone through trials recently. Another group is the conservatives. I think conservatism has an amazing feature built into it—the propagation of struggle as a virtue.
If conservatism can make people always struggle, e.g., to do better at work, to be a better father, to be a better follower of God, etc., then they never receive the DeathTouch of complacency.
But there’s a downside. Several, actually.
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There are lots of exceptions, as always, and happily this racism doesn’t usually survive into the next generation.
With the newly rich Chinese immigrants the downside is elitism and racism. They can’t wait to be able to live in rich neighborhoods surrounded by other rich (non-brown) people. They see Mexicans as people who wait on them, and Blacks as sub-human criminals.
With newly arrived Mexicans, too few realize that the game is ascension, not just hard work. They work so hard just to get up the next day and do it again, because that’s what feeds their loved ones, and that’s what they were taught to do. But it’s not rewarded. It’s taken advantage of, and they fade into the setting of places where they work.
And with conservative belief systems, the tradeoff is usually believing 1) things that aren’t true, and 2) believing things that harm others.
Many Christians see this crisis I’m talking about and they blame the wrong things. They think we need more belief in God and the Bible. And that the cause is those damn homosexuals. Or the Blacks. Or the whatever. The Others are the problem.
So while they’re the most resistant to the depression because of their beliefs, they’re also most likely to actively blame those who increasingly live around them for the maladies we’re facing.
No jobs? Not enough Jesus. College too expensive? It’s those damn Asians. Healthcare costs too much? It was that damn Obama.
So on one hand we have this gelatinous malaise resulting in emptiness and sorrow. People live at home. They don’t even look for jobs. They use THC and other drugs. And they play video games to mask the depression.
Then on the other side we have the elite who think they have the answer, and they’re chasing the money and the cars and the dominance, and their primary focus is on themselves against The Others.
What we’re facing is a society where the rich and successful split from the rest, largely because the bottom 90% have lost the will and/or the ability to compete. They’ve just given up looking for real meaning, and now seek it only in drugs and video games.
And the rich look down at them, use them to clean their houses and to take them from appointment to appointment, including to see their therapists.
Because they’re depressed.
Despite having all the things they’ve always wanted, they can’t seem to achieve happiness.
We’re building a dystopia where nobody is happy.
The top 10% are rich have everything and none of it fulfills them.
The 40% working poor are basically indentured servants going from abuse to abuse.
The other half of the country is doing their absolute best not to pay attention to any of it, because it’s too fucking depressing.
Stop looking for point issues that you can address to solve this. The problem isn’t the tech, or the guns, or the drugs.
The problem is we’ve lost the most important component of happiness—which is overcoming a meaningful struggle—and nobody knows what matters anymore.
I was going to explore possible solutions here as well, but I think I’ll leave this to stand alone and do the follow-up separately.
Much of my thought on this comes from my reading of Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness many years ago. I highly recommend it.