In late 1995, the authorities didn’t know who or where the Unabomber was. The biggest clue was a 35,000‐word manifesto that Kaczynski had written and anonymously mailed to the press. The FBI asked some prominent newspapers to publish it, hoping for a break in the case. It worked: Kaczynski’s brother recognized his writing style and turned him in.
You might expect that writing style to have shown obvious signs of insanity, but the manifesto is eerily cogent. Kaczynski claimed that in order to be happy, every individual “needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals.” He divided human goals into three groups:
- Goals that can be satisfied with minimal effort;
- Goals that can be satisfied with serious effort; and
- Goals that cannot be satisfied, no matter how much effort one makes.
This is the classic trichotomy of the easy, the hard, and the impossible. Kaczynski argued that modern people are depressed because all the world’s hard problems have already been solved. What’s left to do is either easy or impossible, and pursuing those tasks is deeply unsatisfying. What you can do, even a child can do; what you can’t do, even Einstein couldn’t have done. So Kaczynski’s idea was to destroy existing institutions, get rid of all technology, and let people start over and work on hard problems anew.
Kaczynski’s methods were crazy, but his loss of faith in the technological frontier is all around us. Consider the trivial but revealing hallmarks of urban hipsterdom: faux vintage photography, the handlebar mustache, and vinyl record players all hark back to an earlier time when people were still optimistic about the future. If everything worth doing has already been done, you may as well feign an allergy to achievement and become a barista.
No sense of shared sacrifice.
As humans we are social animals, we strive for being part of our tribe where we can help others and sacrifice for who we care for. Unfortunately, we don’t have much to sacrifice for in our generation. Most of the major social and economic battles were fought and won in the 20th century. Sure we have things to still fix in our society, but we don’t have an existential crisis such as the depression, WW2, Vietnam, or civil rights to motivate us to sacrifice for something greater.
Life, in general, is too easy. We have food. Shelter and job opportunities to survive. We aren’t facing an economic depression leading to mass starvation and suffering. So life is good materially, but we aren’t facing true stressors that cure the self-centeredness that allows us to focus on helping our community and making us feel worthwhile because we are needed by the community.
From Sebastian Junger’s Tribes:
There was an earthquake in Avezzano, Italy in the early part of the 20th century, and the earthquake killed something like 90 percent of the inhabitants. Something like that, it was absolutely ghastly.
And one of the survivors wrote — “The earthquake produced what the law promises, but does not deliver. The equality of all men.”
The survivors, noblemen, peasants, everybody, they had to band together to survive. And no social distinctions were made, for a little while there was a kind of, a utopia of hardship, where everyone was the same and everyone needed each other. We saw that in, I’m from New York, and we saw that in New York after 9/11.
We are constantly reminded where we stand in the pecking order. Be it click bait like 25 under 25, 30 under 30, 40 under 40, 1000 under 1000. All of these lists keep bashing into our heads we are unworthy.
It doesn’t stop there. We can instantly calculate our net-worth via mint. See how much our stocks are worth via Robinhood. Count how many people liked our facebook posts. And check how many recruiters are stalking us on Linkedin. We are constantly being shown where we rank in the pecking order and it has terrible consequences on our psyche.
Too many people are sharing their fake lives on social media and sadly people are buying into them.
Normal people’s lives are being broadcasted on social media which now creates competition between the ranks of noncelebrities. Previous generations would only see stars on the news, these people were almost deified. You didn’t compare yourself to these people because they were almost on another plane of existence, so your ego would be protected. All you would care about is how you ranked within your small town.
In the modern age, you see people from around the world bragging about their lives and how good things are, which has negative psychological effects on your well being such as social envy. This creates comparisons and hyper competitions which is terrible for your social health.
Strangers are voicing their opinions and liking/disliking our work and sadly we care about that. If you were walking down the street and some random person came up to and said, “I read your story about your vacation and I think it sucks.” A healthy reaction would be to ignore this person and continue walking. Yet, when we post things on social media we crave the likes and upvotes built into this addicting technology. We care what random strangers think of our work. We think that their validation will somehow make our lives better. Sadly even when do get the upvotes, it does nothing for us.
We spend too much time paying attention to the wrong things and not enough time paying attention to ourselves.
As I wrote in my answer to What can I do in my 20s that will benefit my future self personally and professionally?, we don’t spend enough time on reflecting on how we can be better people, we focus more on the problems covered in the national news:
37 Novels worth of news per year
But how many of those stories are rehash of other stories? How much of that information is inaccurate? How much of that information doesn’t effect you or is just pure speculation? How many of those stories are telling you what you want to hear? Finally, what’s the shelf life of that news? Will the information you’re reading now matter 1 month, 1 year, or 10 years from now?
So you read 37 novels worth of news, but if you head over to Wikipedia and read a news summary of what happened in the US in 2017, it’s only about 8,000 words or 15% of one novel. What gives? To beat a dead horse, most news is filler and waste of your time.
What do you gain by doing this?
Now, what if instead, you focused on reading quality books about events after they have transpired and are fully understood? Better yet, how about you read books that feed your: spirit (how you see the world and relate to it), your mind (how you think), and your career (how you create value in this world). How much better would your life be if you could read 30+ more books per year? And if you’re 20, by the time you’re 30 you would have finished 300 books!
Develop heightened listening skills. You’ll be happier. And you’ll be able to think clearer and work on your own projects.
What’s interesting about decreasing how much news you read is you’ll find yourself listening to people more often and becoming a better connector, which helps you to develop a stronger network. You won’t be bombarded by depressing news you can’t control. Finally, you can focus on your work and making yourself a better person so you can do good in the world.
It doesn’t mean you become a monk. Sure, continue reading the news, but next time you open another story about how terrible Trump is or how horrible the democrats are, ask yourself if you’re better off reading the news or cracking open a book that actually makes you think?
Falling birth rates creates Over-investment in children.
During the early 20th century the average American family was having around 3 kids. Now we are having somewhere around 1.9. We have smaller families, we have a lot more single child households than before, and the fewer kids you have parents tend to over-invest in that child. Your great-grandparents had not much time to micromanage your grandpa because your grandpa had 3–4 brothers and sisters. This allowed your grandpa to have to live his own life. He could play freely. Adventure throughout the town and his family wasn’t worried about the boogie man.
In today’s day age every parent is paranoid about the worst possible events happing to their one and only child. Your child has zero freedom. He can’t go around town to play with his friends. He is overbooked with after-school programs and preparing for college at the age of 10. There’s no time to be a child. Our children are suffering from over-parenting.
…which leads to an inflated ego that gets hurt when you face a world that you’re not the center of. If you’re whole entire life you’re being told you’re the best and special, and then when you enter the workforce to learn you can’t find a good job and you aren’t the center of the universe, that’s a tough blow. At insult to injury when on social media you see that your peers are doing so well.
Because we overprotect our children, they have zero coping skills for the ups and downs of life. We mistakenly thought that if we build a bubble around our kids, it will protect them. Unfortunately, this bubble is broken once our children face reality. When the bubble bursts it costs a host of mental issues. It would have been better if we allowed our kids to face adversity early so they can develop coping skills.
Research has shown that US immigrants have better mental health than Americans, and immigrant children over the age of 12 have better mental health than American children. Maybe because families from Syria or Venezlua know what true suffering is and realize how great things are in America compared to the third world.
Replacement of strong social structures with weak superficial structures. One quora poster wrote a great post on What is something that needs to be said that nobody wants to hear? He begins his post with a reference to Fiddler on the Roof.
Remember Tevye’s opening monologue? And the opening number, “Tradition”?
I’m talking about the bit that begins at 2:24 specifically. The part where Tevye says, “But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
Hold on a minute, there.
“Every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
If there are two questions which, in my personal opinion, are driving Millennials insane, herding us into suicidal depressions, and making us possibly the most miserable generation since the Exodus, it’s these.
Religion isn’t the end all be all, but it’s a network people can draw upon for strength and direction, which is badly needed in our modern world. Some people are super independent and don’t need this, but for others, religious institutions served as a place where people could find meaning and a community to make their lives easier.
But more importantly, religion makes you feel that you are not just one in seven billion, but you are part of something more and have a special mission to fulfill. It’s a much more compelling story than being a small organism on a small rock located in a gigantic universe.
As time went on, we slowly broke religious institutions down from the outside (enlightenment) and inside (religious institution mismanagement through corruption), but as Jung says, “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.” Some people have a gap in their lives that these institutions used to fill and now they must be filled with something else. But unfortunately it takes a lot of hard work to find meaning in your life, so instead, people find new gods: money, achievement, and ego. But unfortunately, these new gods are based on superficial goals that will never sate your hunger for more.
Entering the job market in the depths of the recession.
As mentioned in my answer to What do you think will change in 2019?
We just recovered from one of the worst financial disasters since the depression. Because of this, most millennials (gags at saying the word, I’m going with gen Y now) entered a terrible jobs market saddled with debt. Gen Y isn’t CHOOSING to not buy a home, they are being forced to due to their financial decisions.
When you’re told the sky is the limit for your career, and now you can’t find work that lives up to those standards, you’re in for a world of pain.
Increasing rates of student loan debt are preventing Gen Yers from buying homes or spending on current needs
According to CNBC:
Federal Reserve economists studied the impact that the $1.5 trillion in educated-related loans is having on those aged 24 to 32. They found that while it is not the principal contributor to the decline in housing purchases, it is playing a significant role.
“In surveys, young adults commonly report that their student loan debts are preventing them from buying a home,” Fed researchers Alvaro Mezza, Daniel Ringo, and Kamila Sommer said in a paper released Wednesday. “Our estimates suggest that increases in student loan debt are an important factor in explaining their lowered homeownership rates, but not the central cause of the decline.”
Home ownership among all Americans for the study period declined 4 percentage points, from a peak of 69 percent in 2005 to a trough of 65 percent in 2014. However, the decline was much more pronounced among those in the 24-to-32 group, which saw a plunge from 45 percent to 36 percent.
Upward mobility isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back in our parents days, nonstem college degrees had much more value than they do now. Being people with college educations weren’t as prevalent back then as they are now, a college graduate had much more opportunities to find stable white-collar employment that provided them with decent pay, healthcare, and the ability to buy a home. Now, most non-stem college students find themselves in temporary work with wages that aren’t providing them with the same opportunities their parents had.
According to an Atlantic article:
Carr and Wiemers used data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which tracks individual workers’ earnings, to examine how earnings mobility changed between 1981 and 2008. They ranked people into deciles, meaning that one group fell below the 10th percentile of earnings, another between the 10th and 20th, and so on; then they measured someone’s chances of moving from one decile to another. But the researchers wanted to see not just the probability of moving to a different income bracket over the course of a career, but also how that probability has changed over time. So they measured a given worker’s chances of moving between deciles during two periods, one from 1981 to 1996 and another from 1993 to 2008.
They found quite a disparity. “The probability of ending where you start has gone up, and the probability of moving up from where you start has gone down,” Carr said. For instance, the chance that someone starting in the bottom 10 percent would move above the 40th percentile decreased by 16 percent. The chance that someone starting in the middle of the earnings distribution would reach one of the top two earnings deciles decreased by 20 percent. Yet people who started in the seventh decile are 12 percent more likely to end up in the fifth or sixth decile—a drop in earnings—than they used to be.
No mandatory tour of duty to serve your country (militarily or socially).
In the 1970s the US ended the draft. And while this was celebrated as an achievement, it missed one vital point. Yes, our young people shouldn’t be forced into the armed services, but should our young people have a responsibility to complete some sort of social mission to reinvigorate the republic and their appreciation for our country?
From Sir Jogn Glubb’s “The Fate Of Empires”:
There does not appear to be any doubt that money is the agent which causes the decline of this strong, brave and self-confident people. The decline in courage, enterprise and a sense of duty is, however, gradual.
The first direction in which wealth injures the nation is a moral one. Money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men. Moreover, men do not normally seek to make money for their country or their community, but for themselves. Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, the Age of Affluence silences the voice of duty. The object of the young and the ambitious is no longer fame, honour or service, but cash….
…This lack of mobility holds even for people with a college degree, the researchers found. Many college-educated workers started their careers at higher earnings deciles than those before them did, but also tended to end their careers in a lower decile than their predecessors. Women with college degrees also started off their careers earning at a higher decile than they used to, and the presence of more college-educated women in the workforce could be making it harder for men to move up the ranks.
But how can we turn this around? How can we find meaning in our lives?
I believe all of these problems are solvable but it just takes work and dedication. I wrote an extended piece on how to overcome the issues I mentioned in What is life’s biggest “trap” people fall into and Can you share some life hacks that might help to overcome feeling useless and inferior?