This question came up on conversation a couple weeks back in Coachella Valley and it’s been on my mind ever since. It’s honestly been years since I felt anything I could call “anxiety.” Even back when my heart was full of hate and my pen spewed nothing but vitriol,i I was eerily accepting of my choices and my fate. I wasn’t anxious in the slightest.
But that doesn’t seem to be the broader experience going into the new decade.ii Although I’m optimistic about the future, there’s a lotta folks “stressed out” about, well, everything. To help explain this to myself as much as you, I’ve enlisted some new faces, all of whom seems to have been giving this question a lot more thought over the last few years. Quoth “Hotel Concierge” from 2018 :
Back in 2016, human meme Ken Bone earned a backlash for the contents of his Reddit history, which was ridiculous—if tepid politics and softcore preggo porn are the worst of your vices you deserve to be sainted—but raises the question, could any of our chat logs take the heat? Doubtful. The circles of hell have been built deep over the past fifty years, the list of sins writ in blurred legalese. I’m not worried about Black Mirror histrionics, but rather about how this plays out in the micro, with millennials paralyzed by the pointlessness of pursuing any action that wilts under scrutiny, which is all of them, how dare you be happy when 10,000 children are sold into sexual slavery each year? “actually, i’m not happy. i have anxiety.” Well, whatever works. [...]
This is definitely a part of the reason why my generation is collectively chewing its fingernails into nubs. We’re not all trained actors!iii And it’s bloody hard to keep all the “correct” narratives straight IRL. And we’re rightly ashamed at how badly we’re tripping over our shoelaces on the stage of the grand theatre called “Life.” So we posture a lot to make up for it. Which is ironic because if we were better actors in the first place, we wouldn’t need to act so much to make up for our bad acting! Of course, it’s not all the individual’s fault. Nothing is. There’s also genetics and parenting to blame, the latter of which is tightly correlated to a broader culture of shame. Continueth HC :
This is the final answer to the cui bono of shame: A gender war masking a culture war masking a class war masking a generational succession—not a war, but a massacre. Whether or not the young mercantilists know it, they are defining the signals of class, the avocado toast “meaning” of “meaningful work,” that will spawn TED talks—say, “How the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement impact the Tech industry”—and will in adulthood will get them jobs, underpaid but better than nothing, making their employers look woke, selling products to other youngsters trying look woke, submitting to the system in exchange for relative status over the most shameful of all: their parents. [...]
I’ve been hard on millennials in this essay, but you’ve got to remember, most of them grew up without fathers. Oh, maybe an adult male was present from 6-9 pm and on weekends, but scarcely did he succeed at passing down strength. Nor did anyone else.
Why? Perhaps the elders were weak themselves. Perhaps they were strong, but not strong enough to overcome the fear of imparting anything too personal, too contrarian, of raising the kid wrong and being shamed. Perhaps they simply didn’t care. Perhaps it was a systems issue. Time spent with family varies inversely with class. The poor sleep six cousins to room fogged with asthma, the rich outsource child-rearing to nannies and boarding schools, in between there’s a gradient of extracurriculars leading to the college adieu. Perhaps some parents tried, tried hard, but their message was drowned out by the white noise of culture. Perhaps it was inevitable that in the crusade to sever all local ties, shame and society would split the family, that last knot of loyalty between individuals.
Or perhaps the past generation chose not to instill strength, tried to raise passive and enfeebled children that would not to dare overthrow them. If so, they were sadly mistaken. “Unlucky man, may you never learn who you are”—sounds like Narcissus, but that’s from Oedipus Rex. Didn’t work out for Laius and Jocasta. The noble path is to train the next generation to be as strong as possible, to fight the duel with honor and so the winners have reason to care for the losers until the hourglass runs out—mercy is not charity when the defeated have something to give. Instead, what did your parents offer? “Sorry, life isn’t fair.” That was the most unfair thing your parents did, they never taught you how fair life can be. Well, joke’s on them: the brightest minds of my generation fell into howling madness and we didn’t need drugs or tie-dye to topple our ancestors and settle into the groove of our wasted lives. All we needed was shame, wi-fi, a niche to obsess over, and an excuse to tap out.
Parenting is hard, it’s true, but that’s no excuse. Participation trophies don’t exist in business, in the workplace, in personal relationships, or anywhere outside of the contrived games of masochists, so… why encourage the weakness fostered by these painful bits of plastic ? Anyways, that’s another vector. And adding benzene to that dumpster fire is the whole media landscape, both lamestream and “social.” Quoth Conrad Bastable on the latteriv :
Social Platforms’ need for engagement pushes actions at the Personal scale to conform to the standards of the Global scale by repeatedly surfacing Personal content to the rest of the Globe for judgement. Which forces the inmates to self-regulate: either conform to the Globe’s Lowest Common Denominator Compound Lens that can protect them or take no action at all. The old Narrative Gatekeepers now demand control of the stories to avoid having to confront the idea that their Narratives suck.While this may benefit those Gatekeepers, the rest of us need something more, something that this current landscape has reduced: Great Stories. Everything else results in inaction. [...]
“People interpret the same facts in different ways!” is not a result of some new and nefarious force undermining your Truth and changing things for the worse. It’s a consequence of you being exposed to more people who before might have been a part of your Outgroup — people who you didn’t even notice and perhaps still prefer not to — a consequence of exposure to more Narratives. You can have a Homogeneous Conforming Culture or a Heterogeneous Progressive Culture. Don’t expect them to behave the same way, and make sure you know what you’re pining for when you celebrate the past for its shared Truth. [...]
There are no small gated communities because there are no gates strong enough to keep the Internet at bay, no privacy, even your group chat messages get shared and reblogged and viewed in the most inciting context, rewarding the share-er with the most precious social currency: attention. [...]
Of course, Real Life for actual humans is a series of Iterated Games, which means all of us who participate in the Social Medium are aware that we might, at any moment, be put on blast by the entire fucking world, viewed only in the context of whichever Narrative put us on that Global Stage by “virtue” of giving us the greatest penetration through the largest number of Compound Lenses. [...]
This process — taking the personal and repeatedly making it global, which then forces the personal to conform to the global — might be a metaphor for that stuff I mentioned earlier: “As Technology and Politics continue to Democratize Power in America-” The upside is that each of us gets more power (thanks for reading, follow me on Twitter!), the downside is that nowhere is safe because each of us is surrounded by more power than any individual has held since Truman (hyperbole). The downside is the power’s ubiquity makes us feel more constrained, not less, and the only protection is to conform or to not act at all.
All of which is to say that the whole “Politically Correct” bullshit is wreaking psychological havoc on no small part of the population and turning them into Ned Flanders, but without a loving family and Jesus to save them. It’s tough to say exactly what percentage of “millennials” or any other demographic group is being intellectually and emotionally buried by this dance on a thousand broken eggshells, but it’s fair to say that it’s oppression on a scale greater than or equal to the oppression of whatever minorities have their feelings hurt in a world where openness and transparency are valued. So that’s another vector. Then there are the broader macroeconomic trends, which are either a sub-set of, or encompassing of, cultural/fashion trends giving voices to the voiceless. Maybe they’re just intertwined and overlapping, but either way, the number of voiceless and generally “unnecessary” people, at least from the narrow lens of financialised feudalism, is only growing, which is only adding to the societal concern of both soon-to-be-serfs and soon-to-be-lords, neither of whom can quite remember how this whole “intentionally unequal” thing is supposed to work in practice. Quoth Mr. Bastable from another excellent piece of hisv :
There’s an instinctive urge to reach for Feudal solutions like Universal Basic Income here (“Take it and Tax it!”), and I’m not saying those are right or wrong in any particular case, and I see how the failures of Financialism loop back towards Feudalism, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Financialism is a system designed to reward the compounding of success. To the extent that you “reallocate” (euphemism) capital away from the people who are, like it or not, most-efficiently compounding it, you will necessarily be reducing the Total Wealth available to the whole group at Time = T+1 [...]
Financialism has fewer points-of-contact for Wealth creation as compared to Globalism/Industrialism, but touching those points results in higher returns than ever before due to the power of Leverage: being able to borrow from your Future self means you can more easily compound your advantages. The increased Wealth of those who are successful under Financialism pushes prices up at the same time as Wealth-touching employment opportunities at the median shrink vs. prior Globalist/Industrialist opportunities.vi Such pressure on society creates a tension that pulls things towards Feudal solutions… [...]
If you want to run Financialism, bear in mind that you need much fewer people to efficiently direct Capital flows than you do to actually build & sell things (hardware or software) so unless you transition to Financialism directly from Feudalism you’re going to have a lot of people who suddenly don’t “touch” the Wealth-building process anymore (not involved in the process == zero opportunities to Capture Wealth), but who once did and remember how nice that felt. Political and Cultural implications of this abound.
In diagram form :
My ultimate hope is that this is mostly just a narcissisticvii “millennial” thing foisted on the unfortunate “tweener” generation and that the dance-loving, meme-crazed, TikTok-enabled Gen Z takes the future of financialised feudalism in stride, and with a sense of humour. Seems like the only well-adjusted approach is acceptance.
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- See archive from 2014-2016. That was in my IRC days when I was deep in the “MP Fan Club” and seriously thought that the entire civilised world as we knew it was mere months from extinction and that “the script” was about to magically “flip” and everyone in the Bitcoin WoT would be crowned kings overnight. Talk about narcissism! And unrealistic expectations! As if the monumental inertia of the entire world could be inverted at the speed of a PGP signature verification… At this point, I’m not sure that Bitcoin early adopters will ever have diplomatic fender flags flying on their Mercedes G63 AMG 6×6 Brabus Editions, if I ever seriously did (tbh a small part of me dared to dream!). We’re mostly a quiet, reserved, nerdy bunch who started this journey with starry-eyed libertarian idealism and ended with lives nowhere near as militant as would be required for an actual changing of the guard. No doubt that Bitcoin is a weapon of mass destruction, a hugely powerful instrument of change that is hard to fully grasp the implications of, but it’s also one that’s far more likely to be used to its full potential by existing terrorists than by “terrorists” who were merely asking for directions to the Seasteading Institute but were given WMDs instead. ↩
- While there are plenty of “studies” you can read about this, social commentators like Naval Ravikant are arguably more persuasive and sensitive sources :
The modern mental illness is anxiety.
The symptom is inability to fall asleep.
The evidence is pills, meditation apps, opioids, and sleep trackers.
The causes are oversocialization and overstimulation.
The desire to annoy no one, to harm no one, can equally well be the sign of a just as of an anxious disposition.
- Archived. ↩
- Archived. ↩
- For more on this point regarding Financialism’s power to push up prices, I’ll direct you to another of Conrad’s classics “The Uncharity of College: The Big Business Nobody Understands” (archived). ↩
- On narcissism, quoth samzdat :
Narcissism is the moment when identity becomes absolute. It shares a lot of features with Hoffer’s frustration (not a coincidence), but it is more modern. It’s the result of frustration everywhere, not merely in the office. Narcissism essentially comes from a weakness of self. There’s a lack of clear boundaries, of judgments between good and bad, making everything a strange hodgepodge of “images” rather than concrete actions. When everything becomes image rather than action, you can’t judge the value of any act. You can only judge what it “looks like”. But when all of society is doing that, it means that you’re being judged on everything. After all, you may not always be acting, but you are always appearing. When it’s your appearance that determines worth, there is no moment to rest. There’s a social invasion.