I constantly tell people to focus on themselves, their tribes, their families, and their communities first because as a collective, we’re screwed.
Society has always had flaws, but now these flaws are accelerating and exacerbated.
That being said, I’m still bullish on your ability to change your life. For the individual, there has never been a better time to be alive. You have access to the type of technology, wisdom, and network that can make you a modern-day demi-god. Seriously. If you accumulate the right skills and let them compound over time, you’ll be playing the game life on easy mode.
But you’ll only be able to do this if you avoid distractions and stay away from the societal game. There was a point in time where society was stable enough that you could just live by the status quo and have a pretty good life. Those days are gone. And I’ll explain why. Or, try to, at least.
By the end of this article I want to convince you that:
- Nobody is coming to save you
- Massive institutions will always fail you, even the ones with good intentions
- The nature of society is such that putting your faith in the collective guarantees failure
Ok, let’s get into it.
People Care More About the Process Than the Results
People prefer being right to getting it right, especially powerful people. You can see this when it comes to politics or conversations about the institutions in society.
Let’s say you’re someone on the left and somehow someone could objectively prove that adopting a policy from the right would make your life better and dramatically improve society. Or vice versa. You wouldn’t accept it. Naval Ravikant has a great saying — it’s not a good system unless you can hand it over to your enemies and let them run it.
Politicians care about appearances more than results. Same with bloated organizations and their prominent employees. The appearance of results can be more profitable than real results and often is. And short term wins with long-term downsides always win, because they’ll get you elected and promoted plus you can wash your hands of them in the future. Great.
For people who bow to the altar of institutions, their brains are warped to the point they just want their team to win, even if their team doesn’t make their life better. The lengths I’ve seen people defend the actions of their own representative is bonkers. But I get it.
The narratives in people’s minds are so strong now that no amount of facts logic or reason will change their minds. We’ve always been plagued by confirmation bias, but it’s gone to the extreme now. And since the answer to societal problems is probably somewhere in the middle of both camps, nothing will get done.
Most of Society Doesn’t Understand How Incentives Work
You can play musical chairs with politicians all you want, but without changing the incentive structures for how politicians behave, you change nothing about the system.
The incentives create the outcomes. The larger the organization or institution, the more the incentives drive the outcomes than the behavior of the individuals. There are countless people who feel trapped in bloated organizations with crap incentives.
To change the incentives of a faulty system, you’d need the incumbents to go against their own self-interest to change the incentives.
It would basically take all the members of congress to sacrifice their personal careers and incomes and make agreements to pass a swift set of laws that would rob the power of the next group of politicians while giving the power back to the people. This will never happen.
Worse, politicians aren’t incentivized to solve problems at all. Think about it, who runs a campaign on “Everything is good, let’s just keep it going.” No one. You have to either have to create, maintain, or feign the appearance of problems to get votes.
I could go on here, but the bottom line is simple. Understand the difference between the way you think things should be versus the way they are. If you follow the incentives dispassionately, the answers are obvious.
We Have Impossible Ambitions for Equality
The disparity in outcomes between groups doesn’t always equal discrimination. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Even making that statement is controversial today.
The conversation has veered too hard toward trying to legislate away all differences in outcomes, which is impossible, instead of trying to identify why certain disparities are occurring, what can be done fix them, and whether or not they should be fixed in the first place.
We can’t have an honest conversation because of points one and two. Life isn’t fair.
If you’re born in America instead of a poor African country, or in New York instead of the Appalachian mountains, is the disparity in your outcomes vs theirs a product of anything other than pure luck? Nope.
And that’s one of many examples of ‘tough shit’ that we’re unable to fully confront.
On top of the fact that disparities within collectives can’t always necessarily be fixed, the conversation is always about relative status and outcomes within a collective of people vs the overall absolute standard if wealth in society — Americans fighting about income equality while half the world starves to death and makes our clothes in sweatshops.
Society will never come to the conclusion that life isn’t fair, luck plays a role in outcomes, and that some differences will never be legislated away. This isn’t the same thing as saying we shouldn’t fix injustices where we do see them, but to some, I might as well be saying that.
Personal Responsibility is Dying
Past generations could at least hold onto the pride in their own personal responsibility regardless of their circumstances. We had a sort of collective toughness. That’s gone. Again, clearly we had some terrible problems in the past, but we threw the baby out with the bathwater.
We now live in a culture where you can blame everyone but yourself for not just some, but all the problems in your life. Too many people in society have given up hope on themselves altogether, and they’re now relying on a savior.
Of course, the media and leaders of institutions drive this narrative deeper into our brains. At this point, all of my points are the same point, but let me keep going. We keep borrowing from the future equity of society to gratify ourselves now, but there’s a limit to that.
On an individual level, you don’t even want to be a martyr or a victim even if you think you do. It’s better for you to believe everything is your fault, whether or not that’s actually true. You want some constraints and boundaries — something to live up to.
Why do you think people like Jordan Peterson became so popular? People wanted a father figure to tell them to get their shit together. They crave it.
You don’t have time to wait for a perfect and equal society. You’re going to die. And while you’re alive, no one is coming to save you, trust me. Again, I’m sure someone will misread this as saying there aren’t societal problems that need to be solved — there are plenty.
I’m just betting that none of them will be solved in a way that helps you get what you truly want from life anyway — meaning, freedom, a life you’re proud of. Only you can provide that for yourself.
God is Dead
Nietzsche famously said this of course. I’m not a religious person, but I do see the value in having a shared set of morals, organizing principles to live by, and a reward system that promotes good behavior while alive (I’m going to heaven).
Some atheists even acknowledge the benefits of religion even if they don’t believe in God. Humans seem to be religious animals and will always find a religion to adhere to. The problem happens when the religions they adopt have all of the negative qualities and none of the positive ones — condemnation without redemption.
We didn’t end up agreeing on a shared sort of secular humanistic set of principles that would hold the social fabric of society together. And without some sort of sense of higher meaning to adhere to, people get lost. They could find it on their own, without God, and some do, but most don’t.
Many dive into nihilism. And that nihilist aimless energy has to go somewhere. Religion isn’t the point. The point is that the idea of divinity has been lost. People don’t see each other as divine — meaning they are made in the same image of each other.
Yes, I understand all the problems of religion, and I’m not saying we need to go back to organized religion either, but I’m trying to make the point Nietzsche made a lot better in saying that without a religion-like set of shared values, societies fragment and collapse, which is exactly what you see happening.
Like a toppled dictatorship, we’ve created a power vacuum where God once ruled and people can’t seem to emotionally handle it.
The Mainstream Media is Out of Control
The media used to at least pretend to be objective. Those days are gone. Walter Kronkite died and took a balanced view of the world with him.
Now, the media creates the most salacious content possible because it drives clicks at a time where those clicks are desperately needed. Those incentives have always been there, but it’s worse now because of the decentralized nature of the new media landscape.
Now, you don’t have to go to the mainstream media for your information and they know it. I’ve seen several independent journalists and content creators get 10x the engagement of large news organizations. As an individual, you have less beuarocratic incentives to lie.
Many journalists want to do solid reporting, but incentives drive them to spin information because they’re caught in the belly of the beast (an aside: dear journalists, you could just strike out on your own and make more money anyways. I know you’re tired of spinning that BS).
In the past, when the news and media pundits had a monopoly on attention, they didn’t have to go to such extreme lengths to get attention. Now that the legacy media is dying, they have no choice.
When I say the news is fake, I mean it. They don’t always flat-out lie, even though they sometimes do, rather they lie by omission and choose what to highlight to create narratives.
They spin the facts in such a way that fake is an apt label. And no, I don’t just mean ‘the other side’ I mean your side. Both sides. I’m not saying you shouldn’t stay informed at all, but use a critical lens when you view the news, to say the least.
Idealism Has Replaced Optimism
As a society, we’ve somehow managed to become more pessimistic while creating more unrealistic goals. Optimism means you have faith in people to succeed despite the conditions. Idealism means you want to eradicate unfair conditions, which is impossible.
I get it.
When people call for vast sweeping change to fix society and make it fair, they have good intentions. But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Many people fail to understand that you can create many new problems by solving old ones. And this is exactly what happens when people dream up utopian policies.
They only think about the initial effect and forget about the ripple effects. The ’94 crime bill had good intentions — stop crime. But it created the second-order consequence of exploding the prison population and breaking up hundreds of thousands of families in the process, fueling the third-order effect more crime and poverty. Awesome job, guys.
You can’t stop the iatrogenic train. You can just come to the conclusion that I want you to come to through reading all these points — nobody is coming to save you. And even if they try, they’ll probably fuck it up.
I feel bad for the people who want these sweeping changes because they can’t perceive second and third-order effects. They just can’t. They’re screaming at the sky in vain. Don’t be one of these people.
Problems of Abundance
We used to suffer from problems of scarcity. Now we suffer from having too many options.
We have an abundance of sweet and fatty foods, an abundance of cheap entertainment, an abundance of information — especially information that confirms our biases.
I don’t know where the line should be drawn, but we’ve suffered from losing some of our ancestral tendencies.
This is why you see some people returning to old practices — eating like cavepeople, buying locally grown produce or starting their own farms and gardens, consuming less media, and interacting locally instead of being globally connected 24/7.
Why are anxiety, depression, and suicide at highs when the absolute wealth is also at its highest? I don’t know the perfect answer, but maybe it’s that technology can’t provide meaning.
No level of general well-being can cure people comparing their relative well-being. Maybe technology has made our ability to understand our relative well-being too acute.
You now have more evidence than ever of people living better lives than you. But remember, their lives are curated. Not real. Also, remember that it doesn’t seem that any level of material wealth can really solve your major life problems. Maybe those problems are on you.
We Stopped Looking at Each Other as Human beings
This overlaps with an earlier point, but all the points overlap. See, you can’t hate someone you see as being human. They have to be some level beneath humans to justify such venom. You have to look at someone on the other side as ‘evil’ to be that vitriolic toward them.
This is why we throw such harsh labels at each other — to dehumanize and justify our own hatred.
The next step is violence. You can’t assault a human because it’s wrong, but you can assault a ‘Nazi’ or a ‘Communist’ because they’re something below human.
Of course, the umbrella of both those terms has gotten much wider. How did we get here? You’d have to ask someone smarter than me. I’m still grasping for the answer as you can see in this essay that feels a little bit above my paygrade.
I just know the way I feel. And I tend to look at people from all sides of the aisle as mostly good human beings who are driven by the same incentives and emotions that drive us all — fear, love, family, identity, ego, greed, altruism, compassion, bias, I could go on.
The incentives created by society and our nature as humans have created this weird and perverted cocktail that led to the point we’re at now. I’ll remain an optimist though and try to steer as many individuals in the right direction as possible, which is the direction of the individual. I truly believe self-improvement is the ultimate tool for compassion and social justice. Get yourself right and you’ll want to help others.
Yes, I said it. Soft. You’re not even allowed to say soft anymore but I’m going to. I believe in social safety nets. I believe in equal treatment of every human being. Bullying is a problem. Some aspects of political correctness are justified. We don’t need to use shame to motivate people.
But, that doesn’t mean that all of our feelings should be justified. Someone being offended doesn’t automatically make something offensive. The man isn’t always out to get you. Sometimes, you’re just lazy. There is an abundance of opportunities available to you, but some of these opportunities are difficult.
There’s a growing population of people who want something for nothing, driven by the pandering coming from the top down, which is incentivized by people responding favorably to pandering — just a giant mess.
I remember watching Wall-E with my daughter. If you don’t know the plot, Wall-E is a movie about a society that ruined planet earth and boarded a spaceship to escape. On this spaceship, everyone had every single one of their needs met to the point they literally didn’t move their bodies — getting fed chemically engineered ‘food’ watching T.V. 24/7. It’s scary how close we are to this fictional movie.
The conversation about equality should end at basic human rights. Whether or not we’re there is up for debate, of course, but we’re pushing it in many areas and it’s obvious. It’s all political theatre driven by the fact that people are willing to do almost anything but look in the mirror.
Trust me, you don’t want to be one of these people and continue to play this game. Just stop. I’m not saying life has been fair to you. I’m sure, in many ways, it hasn’t. But what are you going to do about it? The answer to that question matters a million times more than the state of society.
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