Recently in my Facebook feed I encountered a post whose author was incensed with the positivity cult of the pseudo-spiritual people of my generation (Gen Y) and proceeded with a "fuck everything" sort of rant, utilizing the expletive 62 times. I'm sure it was superficially cathartic for both the author and the reader, and though it is now a couple of years old, it is still getting reposted, indicating the underlying rage no doubt legitimately felt by a generation of people who have been conned into a game that is destroying them and the rest of the world.
From the Social Justice Warriors to the Libertarians to the Neo-New Agers, Westerners under the age of 40 are increasingly exasperated in the expression of their undirected anger toward The System, which is the 2016 version of the Hippies' The Man. Social progress has made The Man more gender inclusive, and so, keeping with the pace of the times, The System is a more politically correct Straw Personified Entity against which to rail. Depending on the ideological leanings of the railer, The System might go by the name Capitalism or The State or Neo-Liberalism or even Civilization. The number of people utilizing their smartphones to decry Civilization with Pokemon memes while sipping a Flat White is now at critical levels.
Due to two generations of reprehensible parenting, we are reaching the point where the 1.5 billion people of the West are nearly devoid of anything that might approach what was once called a work ethic. It is true that people spend an unprecedented amount of time at their jobs, but this is quite distinct from work, and in our abstracted, over-mediated world, this distinction is no longer evident to several generations. The world of business and employment is not really work per se, but a sophisticated game of signalling for deciding how to split the spoils of technological and scientific progress. To call this Capitalism is as absurd as to call it Civilization.
There is actually no respect for capital, in the proper usage of the term (not the financialized use we are now accustomed to but rather the idea of an asset with an upfront investment that continues producing over and over), and it certainly isn't civilized. The Barbarians are not outside the gates-they are inside. The barbarism of hyping up 8-year olds on amphetamines and imprisoning non-violent people for life is no less barbaric than the drowning of gays in cages by ISIS, it only differs in kind. One is a slow, spiritual torture that drains the life from people, puts their entire existence in fear and paranoia, and continually dehumanizes them day after day. The other is an acute, excruciating physical torture that comes to a swift end.
If people were actually able to see the damage being done to them in the time-scale of a lifetime, they might prefer ISIS to Google and Coca-Cola and the societal apparatuses required to sustain them.
Were it not for the historical accident of the silicon chip and the persistence of Moore's Law, we would find that we had consumed nearly all of the capital-physical and cultural-built over the past 2,000 years. Western Civilization was in its nadir after the Second World War, and we simply lucked out that there was a last-minute shot in the arm to reinvigorate it before death.
But maybe it wasn't. Perhaps Western Civilization died in the Second World War and the microchip revolution revived the dead. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the technological advances of the last 70 years have merely produced a hideous three continent Frankenstein whose (largely successful) mission has been to Frankenize Asia and Africa in the process.
I write all of this to reiterate that the undirected anger of the youthful generations is not unfounded-indeed we are perhaps not even angry enough. It is not merely that our individual lives have been scammed away from us, but rather that in a few generations the entire cultural legacy of 2,000 years has been left to ruin, and because we have become so ignorant of history, we cannot even appreciate how despairing this fact should be.
But the proper response is not "Wokemon" memes or smug tirades from Umair Haque on Twitter or "fuck everything" rants from life coaches. This puerile infantilism serves no end other than to stroke the ego of their authors and make the people who Like and Retweet the posts feel like they did something that day.
No, the proper response is to actively embrace the complex difficulties and sufferings of working to right the course of our civilization's ship. For our generations whose idea of long-term relationships is a year, and who expect career bliss by the age of 25 and "fuck you money" by 40, the thought of working toward goals that will likely only be achieved a century or more after their death is going to be unpleasant.
The process of grieving over this reality is one that, the sooner it is finished by more individuals, the faster the progress on the goals themselves will begin to come along. The denial and anger stages have been taking too long.
"But surely it can't really be this way...surely there is an easy way out" are adolescent sentiments that must give way to a resolute maturity willing to endure whatever is required to ensure the triumph of principles.
You may easily complain that you do not have the time or the energy for all of this adulthood. The cost of existence seems so high in 2016 that barely surviving is difficult enough, and when you do have a slight bit of free time, you need it to recover from the slogging misery of surviving. You may say that you need those nights out sloshing with alcohol to regain your sanity. You may cry that your life needs the novelty of travel and stimulation that can only be attained by remaining part of The System that you so readily enjoy saying "fuck you" to on Facebook. Like Chinese handcuffs, you try to jerk yourself out only to quickly conclude "see! It's impossible, I'm stuck. There's no way out."
But in those quiet moments of lonely sobriety, you know you are just lying to yourself. You know you are letting yourself be conned because secretly you still crave the approval of your social circles, still long for the badges of accomplishment on which our Frankenstein civilization is constructed. You may decry consumerism because you can't afford a BMW, but you will gladly pat yourself on the back the moment you can buy a Tesla. But you know it's really the same in the end.
The question is only when you will finally be forced to confront the vapidity of your extended adolescence and determine that it is indeed time to grow up. Will it be now, by choice, when you still have the physical constitution to be of use to the world-while you still have the fervency of mind and fortitude of spirit to create and build? Will you put down your heaping spoon of empty criticism and pick up a shovel and hammer while you can still wield them or will you wait until the music stops, the booze stops flowing, and in your debilitated, hungover stupor after twenty years of vitality have been spent to no result and you can no longer find enough sense of yourself and values to put yourself in the middle of the connection of events?
The price of true adulthood is high, but the cost of not doing it is much higher. We have endured two generations of extended adolescents-we cannot survive any more. The wringing of hands in feigned helplessness, the ironic distance, the pretense of nobodyness, the airs of egalitarian humility are all false idols worshipped in the vain hope that pained seriousness and true solemnity will not in the end be truly necessary.
But these idols have already betrayed us, and we gain nothing by pretending we haven't been hoodwinked. The difficult work of cleaning up the mess of our orgy of denial will not be pleasant, but it is more rewarding than anything else we could be doing. Dedicating ourselves to the basic work of producing healthier food, conducting science that is connected to the improvement of human lives, working through our psychological troubles so that our relationships with ourselves and others are more genuinely peaceful and harmonious and not superficially so, the caring for our bodies so we are not dependent on complex bureaucracies for medicine that is more harmful than good, the preservation of our cultural heritage and information that was created at incalculable cost-all of these worthy pursuits will prove more rewarding, more fulfilling than all the recognition of building the next Y Combinator-backed billion dollar startup, all of the Instagram Club nights, and other idle fantasies our glamor-glorifying age tempts us with every time we light up the screen on our phones.
The answer is not, as it might be popularly conceived, dropping out, but rather settling in. The reality is that there is no "System" there is no "Man," there are only individuals acting in their perceived self-interest. The accumulation of these interests is what we call, for lack of a better term "Society," which does not have interests of its own, but serves rather as a mask for the interests of individuals who prefer to be dishonest about their interests.
Seeking to blame impersonal entities for your own suffering or the suffering of others belies the reality that each of us is engaged in contributory negligence that plays its part in upholding what we know to be the ills of postmodern life.
Modernity wanted us to believe that every individual was of central importance. It said that through democracy and markets, each of us had a critical role to play in the world. It invited us to take ourselves too seriously, and it's legacy, as a result, was two world wars, the Holocaust, the Bomb, and the mass failures (and starvation) of Communism. Recoiling in horror from these genuine atrocities, Western postmoderns don't want to take anything seriously at all, but they take themselves seriously in their non-seriousness, leading to the self-important symbolic narcissism of the Internet commentariat.
The ubiquity of people who take themselves seriously only as critics has made it a hazard for anyone to stand up for something of value, to take something outside of themselves seriously, and as a result to make themselves into serious adults. The fear of adulthood which so animates the cynical class of bloggers and tweeters to attack anyone proposing a disciplined, serious course to the human struggle must not intimidate the rest of us from picking up the pieces of modernity and postmodernity and trying to build something in the wreckage.
There is no room left in this world for the critics and the cynics. There is nothing left to tear down. Those who want to live in an improved state, a better humanity, must put away their own childish things, tune out the cynics and naysayers, suspend disbelief about the odds facing us, and set to work building and rebuilding, work that is mutually exclusive to sniping from the sidelines at those who are willing to endure the heat of the day and exhaust themselves in the arduous pursuit of worthy and noble ends.