This is Philip Wyeth. As I’ve been brainstorming for the third book in my series, a dystopian future where a central computer distributes Reparations for America’s colonial past, the concept of alienation has come up as a main theme.
Looking at our society today, I see fatigue and apathy everywhere. We’re detached from the process of urgent work—like farming or manufacturing—and money is not enough of a substitute reward for those tangible products of our labor. How ironic that the people who set monetary policy are our masters, because keeping up with inflation seems to be the main motivator to work these days.
At the same time, having access to so much information has actually become more of a burden than a gift. Every tragic far-away news story is something else we have to care about, but can’t influence. After every documentary we watch, we think, “Great, another subject I have to have an opinion on.”
So the heart of this is that all the individual issues on our radar are symptoms of this larger malaise. It’s characterized by loss of faith, loss of meaningful work, and loss of gratitude. This means a turning away from commonality, and instead falling into petty sniping, or a lazy altruism where you pluck dying leaves from the comfort of your hammock—but never once dare to put on gloves, fire up the chainsaw, and cut down the infected tree.
This is followed by self-congratulation for ineffective, minuscule efforts against real problems, or more often rounding up a pitchfork mob to face down inconsequential foes or easy issues.
At best, people LARPing as champions of justice are the canary in the coalmine of a society that’s shocked to find itself rudderless after getting everything it ever wanted in a device that goes in your pocket.
But rather than merge the best of what current-year technology offers with wisdom and life lessons which have lasted for thousands of years, we use this incredible tool to dox people who disagree with us into suicide; get ourselves stuck on a hamster wheel chasing the high of Instagram likes; and fall into the temptation of consuming quick perversion, rather than patiently putting in the time to craft our own worthwhile expressive art.
It’s hard to know what the solution is when it’s easy to mistake symptoms for root causes, and who we see as the enemy are just distractions.
My stab at a way forward is to acknowledge that we’ve all been indoctrinated by narratives. And they have been more effective in controlling us than religion in the Information Age, because these gods aren’t as explicitly defined as say, Jesus Christ. Being so fluid and all-encompassing, these worldviews actually demand a larger and more steady share of our mental bandwidth—rather than just Sunday mornings.
We need something new. Because we are in serious need of some dignity in this Petri dish where the narratives we were raised on are not a source of strength, but have just wound us up like tops. We waste our potential and our lives regurgitating their talking points to the next generation, without ever asking a) if they’re true, and b) if there isn’t something bigger, more meaningful, and more important to learn about or spend our time doing.
As this glaze of alienation lulls our discontentment into numbness—with the occasional massacre or market crash causing our eyelids to briefly flicker—some of us have got to find the courage to declare that these narratives are not enough to sustain us. And then, unshackled from these competing weights of the world, we can each plant a few seeds and see which new ideas take root.
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Video was originally uploaded on May 20, 2018.