The cultural roots of our political problems.
It’s become clear in the interim that things are not in good shape, that our problems are societal. The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis.
College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies.
Here are some of them:
Career success is fulfilling. This is the lie we foist on the young. In their tender years we put the most privileged of them inside a college admissions process that puts achievement and status anxiety at the center of their lives. That begins advertising’s lifelong mantra — if you make it, life will be good.
Everybody who has actually tasted success can tell you that’s not true. I remember when the editor of my first book called to tell me it had made the best-seller list. It felt like … nothing. It was external to me.
The truth is, success spares you from the shame you might experience if you feel yourself a failure, but career success alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.
I can make myself happy. This is the lie of self-sufficiency. This is the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment. If I can have just one more victory, lose 15 pounds or get better at meditation, then I will be happy.
But people looking back on their lives from their deathbeds tell us that happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships. It is found by defeating self-sufficiency for a state of mutual dependence. It is found in the giving and receiving of care.
It’s easy to say you live for relationships, but it’s very hard to do. It’s hard to see other people in all their complexity. It’s hard to communicate from your depths, not your shallows. It’s hard to stop performing! No one teaches us these skills.
Life is an individual journey. This is the lie books like Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” tell. In adulthood, each person goes on a personal trip and racks up a bunch of experiences, and whoever has the most experiences wins. This lie encourages people to believe freedom is the absence of restraint. Be unattached. Stay on the move. Keep your options open.
In reality, the people who live best tie themselves down. They don’t ask: What cool thing can I do next? They ask: What is my responsibility here? They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love.
By planting themselves in one neighborhood, one organization or one mission, they earn trust. They have the freedom to make a lasting difference. It’s the chains we choose that set us free.
You have to find your own truth. This is the privatization of meaning. It’s not up to the schools to teach a coherent set of moral values, or a society. Everybody chooses his or her own values. Come up with your own answers to life’s ultimate questions! You do you!
The problem is that unless your name is Aristotle, you probably can’t do it. Most of us wind up with a few vague moral feelings but no moral clarity or sense of purpose.
The reality is that values are created and passed down by strong, self-confident communities and institutions. People absorb their values by submitting to communities and institutions and taking part in the conversations that take place within them. It’s a group process.
.. So-called clean lifers, typically educated 20- to 29-year-olds, pursue healthy living as a way of asserting control and finding comfort in an unstable world
.. “They feel they can make a difference, and this influences their spending choices,”
.. “This means more saying no: no to alcohol; no to unhealthy habits; no to animal-based products and, increasingly, no to unmeasured or uninformed spending.”
.. In the past people ages 35 to 50 were the biggest users of Calm.com Inc.’s meditation app, but recently those in their 20s have matched them in numbers.
.. “This age group is influenced by their peers, especially on social media, and within that there’s this echo chamber continuously talking about meditation, mindfulness and healthy living,”
.. “Talking about how drunk you got the night before used to be a badge of honor, but this new generation would roll their eyes at that.”
.. Ms. Brown isn’t a vegetarian, but says she likes having the option and lately has asked friends for vegan cookbook recommendations. She visits farmers markets about twice a month for produce and regularly makes her own peanut butter. “It’s nothing too special, but it has less sugar and it tastes a little fresher,” she says... Young adults are in particular need because many of their parents didn’t cook meals from scratch, Mr. Ediger says. “They might not have learned recipes or how to follow recipes.”.. Young adults now use pour-over coffeemakers at twice the rate of the general population and are replacing their electric-drip machines with the simple porcelain devices.. “There’s nothing more minimalist than a pour-over cone on top of a cup with a filter and coffee and pure water poured on top of it,” he says. “It’s a very Zen-like, ritualistic process.”.. Young knitters and crocheters, ages 18 to 34, are learning the craft at about twice the rate of those aged 35 to 54.. Most yarn crafters say it gives them a sense of accomplishment and helps them cope with stress, she says... Young adults seeking to balance indulgence with portion control helped drive sales of Chicago Metallic’s Slice Solutions brownie pan set, which includes dividers to create 18 brownies... “Millennials and Gen Zers have a much greater sense of balance, they’re less guilty about indulgences because they’re better to their bodies every day,” says Mr. Mirabile. “With boomers, we didn’t start working out until things started falling apart.”.. When hanging out with friends, Ms. Desai prefers doing an activity, and has hung her completed artwork in her home. “There’s a sense of accomplishment when you have a good time and you complete something,”Comments:.. Reluctant millennial here. Some of this behavior, as commenters pointed out, is virtue signaling, and I have to roll my eyes at transparently hipster activities like yoga and urban knitting, but other than that, much of this seems healthy and indicative of people who are a lot more conscientious about their lifestyle. Some of this is a reaction to the shallowness of the smartphone-addicted lifestyle.
But it’s also a reaction to the Boomer generation, which for the most part is terribly unhealthy (and set an awful example for their progeny.) My parents are both in good shape, but they’re outliers who barely qualify for the Boomer label, anyway (being a teenager at some point in the 60s is a prerequisite.) Growing up around obese, leather-skinned Boomers who make lots of bad decisions (and threw their offspring under the Debt Bus) has a way of motivating young people toward a better lifestyle.
.. You know, back around the mid-60’s we had a group of young people who were going to ‘change the world’, they protested the Vietnam war, advocated lots of free sex, along with all the other hippie nonsense of the day. Those people are now running many of our universities and businesses. Didn’t work out that great for the rest of us, nor will these twits be of much benefit.
Wonder how they feel about the legalization of weed and other drugs?.. Consuming less, perhaps, but every bit as self-absorbed as Millennials and Boomers.
‘Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.
.. There is something comical about Mill’s self-implosion; it’s as if he had spent years looking forward to a sailing trip only to suddenly realize, upon embarkation, that he hated boats.
.. It wasn’t because he thought he had the wrong goals. Mill never did abandon utilitarianism, though he later modified Bentham’s doctrine in subtle ways. Instead, Mill tells us that his crisis was born in a concern about whether happiness is really possible in the perfect world he sought to achieve — a world without struggle:
[T]he question was, whether, if the reformers of society and government could succeed in their objects, and every person in the community were free and in a state of physical comfort, the pleasures of life, being no longer kept up by struggle and privation, would cease to be pleasures.
.. possibility is that he is worried that, if we ever were to achieve an ideal social world, we would quickly take it for granted, or become “spoiled.” It’s a familiar tale: the child that always gets what he or she wants ends up forever unsatisfied and always wanting more (psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill)
.. the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once upliftingly put it, “life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom.” When we are not consumed by the desire to achieve something (food, shelter, companionship, wealth, career, status, social reform, etc.), we are tortured by boredom.
.. “The octave consists only of five tones and two semitones,” he explains. By the laws of mathematics, there is only a finite number of possible tonal combinations. What will happen to music (and, indeed, composers) when there are no more combinations to be discovered? And what will life be like when the work of social reform is done?
.. Some part of us prefers to struggle or quest after an ideal, rather than attain it.
.. In movies and literature, for instance, our favorite protagonists tend to be flawed or troubled in some way.
.. It was only after he began reading, not philosophy, but the poetry of William Wordsworth, that he was fully convinced he had emerged.
.. Mill was searching for a reliable source of joy, one that could survive the unbearable goodness of the world he sought to achieve.
.. The answer, he discovered through reading Wordsworth, is to take refuge in a capacity to be moved by beauty — a capacity to take joy in the quiet contemplation of delicate thoughts, sights, sounds, and feelings, not just titanic struggles.
When you look at what Donald Trump has actually accomplished in the first 100 days of his presidency when it comes to adding American jobs, stimulating the economy and fixing the tax system, a four-word phrase comes to mind: big hat, no cattle.
.. Meanwhile, several of Trump’s big economic promises — eliminating the Import-Export Bank because it supposedly promotes crony capitalism, labeling China a currency manipulator, quickly unveiling a trillion-dollar infrastructure program — have not been fulfilled. He excoriated the Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rate regimen during the campaign, but now he likes it... As someone who’s written about Trump on and off since the 1980s, I am surprised by none of this. He’s always been great at talking but not so great at doing. He routinely boasted about his New Jersey casinos — but they ultimately went through five Chapter 11 bankruptcies under his leadership. He touted his purchase of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, which also went into bankruptcy. He routinely exaggerated the floor count in some of his high-rise buildings... most, if not all, of U.S. hiring and expansion plans for which Trump has claimed credit were already in the works or had nothing to do with him... Meanwhile, thousands of cashiers, the second-largest job category according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are disappearing without Trump doing or saying a thing about it that I can see... Obamacare added millions of new patients to health-care rolls without expanding the supply of doctors and nurses to keep pace with an expanded patient population. That’s a problem, too... I saw a proposed tax cut on high-income people who are paying tax surcharges to help lower-income people get Obamacare coverage. Those cuts and cuts in other Obamacare-related taxes would have been paid for by trimming subsidies and benefits to Obamacare recipients and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leaving 24 million people without health insurance... 89 percent of households pay more Social Security and Medicare tax than federal income tax