I once had a cat who loved to eat. Slowly and steadily he put on pound after pound till the fateful day came when we had to admit: our beloved feline had become fat. There was nothing else to be done; he had to be put on a diet. For weeks and weeks, he cried and complained. He looked at us as if he had been wronged–truly he had. Deprived of the physical rigor and demand of being an outdoor cat, our little emperor had a life of luxury and no way to work off those extra calories. He was basically living a life that Western culture espouses to be “the dream.” He never had to work for his food or shelter, and a hand was always nearby to pet him and let him know he was loved.
The Western ethos has taken a dramatic shift in the last few decades. A general sense of malaise seems to have overtaken us, and many of us seem to struggle with how pointless things seem. But is the glory of humanity really to be found in the emulation of a house-pussy?
Before I continue, I would like to provide a lexicon of interpretation. Throughout this book, I will be using language that is religious in nature. It is my opinion, that a religious vocabulary, expresses memetic truths of the human condition. The fundamental stories encountered in religions have held a powerful sway on humanities collective psyches for thousands and thousands of years. This to me is incredibly indicative of just how powerful these stories and words are. While the words may be divorced from their original context I feel that they are helpful in advancing my point.
With this in mind, I would like to begin to look at our culture. A culture whose foundation, is built on escapism. While this undoubtedly provides certain financial benefits to corporations and individuals, it comes at great cost to our society. We are all so bored that we are willing to pay trillions of dollars a year just to have something entertain us for those brief hours in the day when we aren’t working boring, unfulfilling jobs. That’s a problem! It means that millions of people are living unfulfilled lives. It means that modern life has become meaningless.
Have you noticed that when something is meaningful to you, you are willing to put up with all manners of trouble? In this circumstance, problems seem to recontextualize themselves into challenges to solve. Looking back at humanity’s history, this nihilistic attitude which is pervasive in our modern culture doesn’t seem to have been so potent. So what gives? Why have the old myths and archetypal stories we told ourselves for so long become so diffuse? In lieu of meaning and fulfillment, what is the opiod of the masses? And why does everything seem so damn pointless? In a culture where ideas and opinions could be summarized as “whichever idea has the most likes wins” where are all the revolutionaries?
This is a sadistic problem. In a culture where only the most sanitized and banal of ideas are given credence, in which the most common, stupid ideas rise to the top, how are we to deal with this great satan?
The “Great Satan” of our age could be phrased as “entertainment for entertainment’s sake.” This is first and foremost a child’s dream; Innocent enough but dangerously deceptive. Its main danger is that it attempts to deal with reality as if reality were not real. While this is certainly an okay thing for a child to engage in, the child is only capable of doing so when it’s parents are willing to provide it with a stable enough reality.
While there may come an age where the virtual world is more real than what we currently consider “reality” we are not there yet, and if we are ever to get there then we must take up our place in the chain of burden that humanity has shared since the rise of civilization. This is where the deception of our age becomes exceptionally cruel. By allowing only the basest, only the most mundane thoughts to reach consensus the benchmarks for fulfillment and intelligence will be moved. The rise of the Cell phone provides a perfect analogy for this. I was born in the early 90s so I still remember what it was like to live without a smartphone. Those born in the 70s and 80s have an even clearer conception of life without having a smartphone and some healthy individuals are able to use the advantages of the smartphone while still being aware of its negatives and how using its prevalence has changed the world. Those born in the 2000s and more recently, have no conception that such a baseline exists. If you have lived your life as a slave, it might feel pretty great to then be told you only have to work eight hours a day five days a week–that still doesn’t make an eight hour work day particularly healthy. The “Great Satan” is more than capable of moving the yard-lines of conversation, thought, and being, ever more into a dangerous direction. While I don’t have a problem with the idea of hard work I do have a problem with the idea of busy work. I think we have a problem when the majority of society are out of shape, unhappy and unfulfilled.
In the context of the last 10,000 years in which we began to build the first cities, entertainment would have been a social dynamic interspersed throughout the day and usually within the context of the daily activities needed to survive. Humanity’s fundamental unit: the hunter-gatherer tribe is the context in which we evolved, entertainment likely would have taken place during a hunt, or meal times, or when the darkness of night came; all of this would have been an incredibly social dynamic and likely based on the real setbacks or advancement of the tribe. Additionally, there is the curious fact that we as a species were willing to leave the relative comfort of the known and go out into a dangerous world in search of something new. Our ability to dream of a better future is integral to being human. The ingenuity of our ancestors and their ability to survive and diffuse themselves throughout the world is a marvel. When I imagine Lewis & Clark exploring America I am filled with pride at humanity’s potential. I have to imagine that those people who live life and cannot control themselves enough to be useful to anyone live lives of quiet desperation. Growing up in the context of a system devoid of depth, it seems fair to suggest that some major aspect of our psyche isn’t being fed and I think this is manifest in the troubles our culture is experiencing.
This is why I believe it’s helpful to look back at our past. A past in which we have seen our ancestors explore the globe. A past in which humanity has sought to make it’s unknowns known. Now that earth has been mapped are we ready to call it quits? Are we ready to say that this is the final stage for us as a species? Are we done developing? This is why I believe that space, science, and technology are so important to us going forward. A way forward where human advancement becomes the shared project of each citizen. Faced with real consequences and real adventure I think things would begin to matter again. It’s mind-blowing the small pittance we allocate to the future and our advancement when compared to the sheer amount of money spent on just one movie. When looking at the events happening in most movies compared to the average American life: eating, marrying, accruing wealth, getting fat, and eventually dying there is a huge disconnect between what we do and what interests us. It seems to suggest that we are brains existing in a vat playing a video game with timed dopamine and serotonin injections. If you turned this into a graph what you would see is a baseline which creeps increasingly down with a constant need for bigger and increasingly timed injections with a real life that is incapable of keeping up or providing anything of substance. If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, it’s because this is also the same model used for addiction. I think that a model for living that’s out of congruence with our biology is doomed to failure. Finding a model within us that makes sense to the million-year-old computer is going to be tough but is certainly possible. In order to figure that out we will look later on at the themes we devote so much money towards and see what themes come out and what archetypal events they show.
Escapism has the potential to derail the progress humanity has worked on since it first started as the hunter-gatherer unit. It seems to question the choices of every generation leading up to our current age. Western culture’s tendency to negate thought by setting up a disingenuous value system will break the chain linking our past with our present. By ceasing to take up the mantle of human advancement and instead focusing on escapism human thought itself will devolve until we are no longer intelligent enough or brave enough or capable enough to tackle the challenge of existence. The problem is as I see it, a lack of dignity. We tell our children how wonderful they are and yet we don’t treat them or ourselves with much respect. The rising rates of depression and isolation teenagers claim to experience is evidence of this. Terribly stupid People like Logan Paul are only possible because they’ve tapped into a whole group of terrible, stupid, (and one imagines depressed) young people. What else have we given them? 12% of adults over 65 have no one to talk to–no family and no friends. It is obvious that we no longer value the experience of the elderly though whether or not this is due to the harsh economic realities facing those born in the last 40 years is something I wonder. Nevertheless, it is going to be a harsh reality for us young folk as we too eventually sink into obsolescence. Does it have to be this way? It seems that society if it keeps going in this direction, will continue to alienate the individual further destroying our sense of collective culture and identity.
Were aliens to pose an existential threat to humanity, what would happen? The first thing you would see is that we would stop killing each other and focus on killing the enemy–we would solve the problem. Barring some existential threat what needs to happen for us to start working together? As it is we are at a teetering point. Lots of existential problems have been solved leaving us with a lot more time to get bored and as we are witnessing, this is a complete disaster for humans. Dostoyevsky was one of the first authors to realize the problem of not having the right kind of problems. He imagined a world where all your needs were fulfilled without having to work for them. Sexual variety, food variety, and comfort were all given; he imagined how people would go mad trying to break things within a week just to create something to fix. The trick isn’t to have no problems., it’s to have the right kind of problems. All of this is evidence of a breakdown in the system. It is my hope that within this book you will find an arena to examine these themes, and in so doing I may in some small way help things along for the greater good. Each chapter will focus on what it means to be human and what it meant to our ancestors to be fulfilled. I will also look at how we currently live, and what we can do to refocus as individuals in order to enact change within our culture as a whole. As someone who lives and experiences life firmly within our western culture, I don’t see myself as above it, rather I see myself as someone who is attempting to struggle from within it as honestly as possible. Thus, as someone who experiences it, it is fair to wrestle, criticize and examine it.
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