How to Improve Your Life When Society’s Messaging Holds You Back
Personal responsibility, self-improvement, and mental toughness have all become counter-culture.
I won’t stand for it.
Even if that means I make less money because I don’t write in a way that agrees with “the narrative,” even if I’m part of a dying breed of people who think you can, in fact, lift yourself up by the bootstraps. Even if most fold into a way of thinking that will eventually degrade their lives.
Maybe you think I sound hyperbolic, but the canary in the coalmine has sung.
You’re being fed messages that are going to produce a handful of outcomes:
- You’ll become entirely dependent on ‘the system’ — a system that hates you
- You’ll enjoy some success, but you won’t get close to your potential because you were tricked into giving it away
- You’re just going to live in this limbo state of increasing anxiety and shrinking prospects. Never totally down and out, but slowly bleeding your soul away until you die
So what the hell am I talking about?
I’m talking about the narrative society feeds you, why it feeds it to you, why even smart people fall for it and promote it, and what you can do about it.
Society’s Ultimate Goal
Whenever I use the term ‘society’ I’m just talking about the collective interests of people in our society. Mainly, people at the top. A variety of people have different incentives to make certain actions.
Without getting too deep into explaining it, ‘society’ benefits from you feeling weak, dependent, and more interested in the good of the collective than the good of yourself.
Sigmund Freud put it well:
“Civilized man has exchanged some part of his chances of happiness for a measure of security.”
In order to keep the machine going, they need to suppress your goals and aspirations.
To do that, they need to create convincing messaging that causes you to make ill-advised personal decisions that benefit the ‘collective,’ which really means that it benefits the people at the top who oversee the collective.
Lately, there have been different little derivatives of this main message that’s been coming from the societal puppeteers.
You can sum up the messaging in this way:
Nothing is ever actually your fault. It’s always someone else’s fault — could be the government itself, your employer, people who judge you based on your race, gender, or skin color. There is no such thing as right or wrong. You can do whatever you want and you should never be judged for it. There’s no such thing as sub-optimal decision making. No cultural ideas, beliefs, or trends, are objectively better or worse than others. Life should be a free for all where you get to do whatever you want without consequence. Because of the platforms I write on, I have to keep things pretty vanilla and have some plausible deniability. But, if you know, you know.
Why “The Narrative” is So Difficult to Fight
When you argue against the promoters of ‘the narrative’, you sound like the bad person.
I listened to a podcast last night with James Altucher and Angela Duckworth, author of Grit — a book about the obvious benefits of being resilient. She talked about the fact that she got flack from people who said her work was insensitive to people in ‘marginalized communities,’ or whatever jargon du jour they used.
Well, isn’t it a good idea — an especially good idea — for people in adverse circumstances to display grit? I’d say so. But her detractors use this little sleight of hand trick where they’ll take the worst possible interpretation of your message.
Saying something like ‘grit is beneficial’ gets turned into ‘the author is totally insensitive to the plight of other human beings.’ Detractors continue to use this rhetorical trick anytime you bring up anything about the individual’s own agency to make their own decisions and improve their lives.
These types, controlled by the puppeteers, focus on people with the appearance of needing help, but the people giving the help never stopped to ask whether the people themselves asked for it.
I break this group of people into two different camps:
- People who push these messages with disingenuous intentions, e.g., people at the top who benefit from this messaging
- Well-intentioned people, swayed by the puppeteers, who are trying to help, but don’t realize the counterproductive outcomes of their actions
There’s a third group of people who both try to help and understand the nuances and complexities of life, but these folks are few and far between because nuance and flexibility aren’t nearly as profitable and easy to promote as binary ideas.
I could keep going on here, but the point is that there’s an uphill battle to climb if you are someone who wants to succeed because to succeed, you do have to understand nuance, you will have to go against the mainstream narrative, and people will try to pull you down for believing in yourself.
So, what do you actually do about it?
I have a combination of ideas you can use to both see the chessboard and understand how to navigate it.
Ask Yourself This Question
To get yourself to snap out of groupthink and begin to think for yourself, ask yourself who benefits from a certain type of messaging.
Always understand that incentives drive behavior.
Let’s say there’s an organization dedicated to defeating ‘x.’ Ok. They get funding to help fight ‘x.’ Some of the leaders of the organization get press, fame, and money for being a leader in the fight against ‘x.’
The fight against ‘x’ keeps hundreds of thousands of people employed — people in organizations who fight it, the media who cover it, politicians who run on the idea of defeating it.
What incentive does anyone have to, you know, actually defeat ‘x’? If they solve the problem, they’re no longer needed. The fame, money, and press go away for the leaders. People lose jobs.
Do you see what I’m getting at? Not only do they not have any incentive to defeat ‘x’ but they have every incentive to make ‘x’ seem worse than it actually is.
Am I being cynical or deadly accurate?
Fill in the gaps for yourself. You’re smart.
Use This As Fuel to Build Your Own Life
You should get upset at just how little people believe in you. You should show disdain for the infantilizing messages that come from society.
I remember having a conversation with a woman about a book I was going to write about helping people become creative professionals, e.g., becoming an author. She said, “But what about the poor black kid who doesn’t have a pencil to write books?”
I know she meant well. I know the people who say things like this have good intentions. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The soft bigotry of low expectations is, by far, the most severe form of discrimination our society faces.
Even take something like Medium’s recent policy to ban “click-bait.” They’re really telling you that they know better about what you want to read than you do. As a result, many people don’t get to read what they want.
This is a feature of basically every single policy that goes against what the market wants and what the people want — everyone ends up with nothing. They think they know how you should live your life better than you do.
Wake up. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, you’re being spoon-fed some sort of message that tells you, in some shape or fashion, that you are powerless to control your own life.
Not only do they think you’re powerless, they think you’re stupid enough to take the messaging hook ,line, and sinker. Most people are. And it’s sad. But you should get pissed that they dare think that you would fall for it.
These people who profit from these messages encouraging mediocrity, lack of sovereignty, learned helplessness, apathy, and a seething undercurrent of outrage underneath all the above?
They don’t like you. They despise you. Ultimately, they think they’re better than you.
They’re the supremacists.
Don’t Get Jaded: Go Your Own Way
I’m not a cold Machiavellian type of person. I want everyone to be able to have a good life. But collectivist thinking isn’t the right way to go about it.
Even if you’re wrong in the long-run, you’re better off believing that your success or failure in life is entirely dependent on you. Make the assumption that the people at the top are never going to help you.
It’s funny. Deep down, we all know the truth.
Trusting people in power to better optimize your life has never worked in the history of ever. Politicians on all sides make promises they never keep, yet we still put our faith in them. People get emotional, to the level of religious crusading, over these ideas instead of focusing on themselves.
Why? Because focusing on yourself is psychologically painful. That’s it.
It’s painful for many reasons:
- You will feel like an outsider and you’re wired to fit into the group because it makes you safer
- ‘Society’ will make you out to feel like you’re the one who’s insane when in fact the madness is in the crowd
- When your decisions pay off, they pay off big, but when you’re wrong you take the whole blow because you can’t blame your failures on anyone else
- You have to deal with a society filled with people with highjacked minds, constantly, every single day
- The overall idea that you could have a much much better life than you have right now, but you don’t have it simply because you don’t work hard enough, is often too painful to stomach
Why go through all this? Because the potential payoff is enormous.
I’m not rich. I’m not famous. But I found something I enjoy doing and followed through with it because I believed in myself instead of society. I have control over my time and barring lavish experiences I can do whatever I want.
After you stomach all of that and understand what’s really going on, you start to do the work while looking at the messages you receive with a B.S. fitter.
You pick and choose your spots to share your contrarian views and you just work. You reserve your messages for people who might be receptive to it.
For me, that means people like you who made it to the end of this blog post. For others that means finding like-minded friends and colleagues who share that vision of self-improvement and autonomy.
Then, you build the engine to fuel your autonomy. Your business, your content, your platforms, etc. You escape the matrix by playing your game instead of society’s game. You just need enough of a mini-empire to sustain you and the people you care about. Once you have that, you’re free.
Then, you roll with the punches as they go along.
Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds. Platforms are continuing to suppress and censors certain opinions. A lot of people are falling for the fake empathic messaging. Some people are waking up, but many are still asleep.
You just have to play the game and see what happens.
If I wanted to make a bullish prediction, I’d say that enough people realize how damaging this infantilized view of the masses really is that they not only stop accepting it but fight against it. Enough people escape the matrix themselves that enough other people see that it’s possible and the cycle continues until we have a small but robust group of people who can be somewhat of a roadblock against this messaging juggernaut.
But you need to stay aware and adapt, always, that’s the ultimate lesson.
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