Here’s a premise: imagine a culture in which you are constantly told that you are an inherently flawed being. When you grow up, you get punished for not doing what you’re told. You go to school where you have to study things you don’t see a purpose in. When you have finished school, you have to find a job which, in most cases, will not be very fulfilling and often exhausting. You will probably continually try to have enough money and if you have a family, it will be even harder to make ends meet. You feel stressed most of the time while at the same time reaching for some vague goal that everyone seems to aware of but that never really materializes as something specific. You are expected to continue, to work, to save money, to get more, to buy more, not to show any weakness while at the same time the world around you seems to become crazier and more hopeless every day. And no one really seems to care. It feels like a dark, fucked-up labyrinth with no clear exit signs. But you have to go on, until…
Until you have enough. Something has to change. But what can you do?
- Maybe you decide to go on Facebook and vent by transferring all your frustration into angry rants.
- Maybe you decide to run for President because you feel that you could use people’s frustration and anger to get even more power.
- Maybe you decide to run for President because you feel that you could help people with their anger and frustration by trying to change the system from within.
- Maybe you feel that it doesn’t seem fair that people who did nothing but escaping to your country are welcomed and flooded with gratitude while nothing you do is ever appreciated, never!
- Maybe you decide to found a political party that grows on people's fears so you get more power and feel less powerless than they do.
- Maybe you think that you only need to find the right partner who fills your void because love conquers everything.
- Maybe you decide that the way drinking makes you forget all the shit in your life is the best escape you can find.
- Maybe you decide to get a gun or a knife or a sword or an axe and show all those fuckers who you really are, make them finally notice you! Serves them right.
- Maybe you decide to found a group that attempts to change something. You have an ideology that you are convinced will change the things that are wrong in this world. All you need now are followers and media attention. And maybe weapons.
- Maybe you decide that someone is pulling the strings behind all of this and your YouTube video proving your theory got 20 clicks today already, so at least there is some gratification to be had.
- Maybe you decide that having less control over your life just because of your skin color is not fair, so you go out on the street and show your anger.
- Maybe you decide that if you don’t shoot that menacing black guy, they will never respect your uniform and your badge, and they are the only thing that make you feel powerful.
- Maybe you decide that only a therapist can help you unscramble the mess in your head and can make you feel true happiness again.
- Maybe you decide that writing headlines in your newspaper that might not really be technically correct but really calls for attention will give you some sense of control over the people who read that headline.
- Maybe you decide that having no control over your life is fine because you want to believe there is a higher being which takes care of everything.
- Maybe you decide that there seems to be no one “up there” or she/he wouldn’t let all those terrible things happen, so you stop believing in it.
- Maybe you decide that writing that story or that movie or that song or painting that picture is the only way you can really express what you really think and feel because this feeling seems important and you can’t express it any other way for others.
- Maybe you decide that only science and knowledge gives you real power because the world is too full of superstitions and myths already.
- Maybe you decide that if you get that job and work yourself all the way to the top, it will give you a satisfaction that no family could ever give you.
- Maybe you decide that this one musician or band seems to understand you better than any of your friends or parents.
- Maybe you decide that, despite having become very powerful already, you can only feel secure if you guarantee that no citizen can really speak out against you publicly.
- Maybe you decide that there is no way out if you don’t quit this job or this marriage right now and stop pretending that everything is fine.
- Maybe you decide that there is no way out if you don’t quit this life right now.
- Maybe you decide that if you get that house and that spouse and that garden and that car, you will finally feel complete.
- Maybe you decide that the media is only broadcasting negative images, misrepresenting the actual state of the world.
- Maybe you decide that it's all your parents' fault.
- Maybe you decide that writing publicly about the problems in this culture might make some people change their minds, even if you're not sure that anyone reads your thoughts or cares about them.
There are endless ways to deal with this. There is no one right way to deal with this. But this is not completely random.
“I want you to understand what I’m doing here. I’m proposing a new theory to explain what’s gone wrong. This is not a minor variation, not a smartening up of conventional wisdom. This is something unheard of, something entirely novel in our intellectual history. Here it is: We’re experiencing cultural collapse. The very same collapse that was experienced by the Plains Indians when their way of life was destroyed and they were herded onto reservations. The very same collapse that was experienced by countless aboriginal peoples overrun by us in Africa, South America, Australia, New Guinea, and elsewhere. It matters not that the circumstances of the collapse were different for them and for us, the results were the same. For both of us, in just a few decades, shocking realities invalidated our vision of the world and made nonsense of a destiny that had always seemed self-evident. For both of us, the song we’d been singing from the beginning of time suddenly died in our throats.
The outcome was the same for both of us: Things fell apart. It doesn’t matter whether you live in tepees or skyscrapers, things fall apart. Order and purpose are replaced by chaos and bewilderment. People lose the will to live, become listless, become violent, become suicidal, and take to drink, drugs, and crime. The matrix that once held all in place is shattered, and laws, customs, and institutions fall into disuse and disrespect, especially among the young, who see that even their elders can no longer make sense of them.
And that’s what’s happened here, to us. The frog smiled for ten thousand years, as the water got hotter and hotter and hotter, but eventually, when the water began to boil at last, the smile became meaningless, because the frog was dead.
Circumstances have at last shattered our mad cultural vision, have at last rendered our self-aggrandizing mythology meaningless, have at last strangled our arrogant song. We’ve lost our ability to believe that the world was made for Man and that Man was made to conquer and rule it. We’ve lost our ability to believe that the world will automatically and inevitably support us in our conquest, will swallow all the poison we can generate without coming to harm. We’ve lost our ability to believe that God is unequivocally on our side against the rest of creation.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, we’re . . . going to pieces.
But we’re not humanity, we’re just one culture—one culture out of hundreds of thousands that have lived their vision on this planet and sung their song—and that’s wonderful news, even for us!
If it were humanity that needed changing, then we’d be out of luck. But it isn’t humanity that needs changing, it’s just . . . us.
And that’s very good news.”
Daniel Quinn, The Story of B (1996)