Today, much in our world appears to be fucked. Not Nazi Holocaust–level fucked (not even close), but still, pretty fucked nonetheless. Stories such as Pilecki’s inspire us. They give us hope. They make us say, “Well, damn, things were way worse then, and that guy transcended it all. What have I done lately?”—which, in this couch-potato-pundit era of tweetstorms and outrage porn is probably what we should be asking ourselves. When we zoom out and get perspective, we realize that while heroes like Pilecki save the world, we swat at gnats and complain that the AC isn’t high enough.
Heroism isn’t just bravery or guts or shrewd maneuvering. These things are common and are often used in unheroic ways. No, being heroic is the ability to conjure hope where there is none. To strike a match to light up the void. To show us a possibility for a better world—not a better world we want to exist, but a better world we didn’t know could exist. To take a situation where everything seems to be absolutely fucked and still somehow make it good.
Bravery is common. Resilience is common. But heroism has a philosophical component to it. There’s some great “Why?” that heroes bring to the table—some incredible cause or belief that goes unshaken, no matter what. And this is why, as a culture, we are so desperate for a hero today: not because things are necessarily so bad, but because we’ve lost the clear “Why?” that drove previous generations.
We are a culture in need not of peace or prosperity or new hood ornaments for our electric cars. We have all that. We are a culture in need of something far more precarious. We are a culture and a people in need of hope.
“I have tried to live my life such that in the hour of my death I would feel joy rather than fear.”
One day, you and everyone you love will die. And beyond a small group of people for an extremely brief period of time, little of what you say or do will ever matter. This is the Uncomfortable Truth of life. And everything you think or do is but an elaborate avoidance of it. We are inconsequential cosmic dust, bumping and milling about on a tiny blue speck. We imagine our own importance. We invent our purpose—we are nothing. Enjoy your fucking coffee.
In the infinite expanse of space/time, the universe does not care whether your mother’s hip replacement goes well, or your kids attend college, or your boss thinks you made a bitching spreadsheet. It doesn’t care if the Democrats or the Republicans win the presidential election. It doesn’t care if a celebrity gets caught doing cocaine while furiously masturbating in an airport bathroom (again). It doesn’t care if the forests burn or the ice melts or the waters rise or the air simmers or we all get vaporized by a superior alien race. You care. You care, and you desperately convince yourself that because you care, it all must have some great cosmic meaning behind it.
Here’s what a lot of people don’t get: the opposite of happiness is not anger or sadness.1 If you’re angry or sad, that means you still give a fuck about something. That means something still matters. That means you still have hope.2 No, the opposite of happiness is hopelessness, an endless gray horizon of resignation and indifference.3 It’s the belief that everything is fucked, so why do anything at all?
Hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness, and depression. It is the source of all misery and the cause of all addiction. This is not an overstatement.4 Chronic anxiety is a crisis of hope. It is the fear of a failed future. Depression is a crisis of hope. It is the belief in a meaningless future. Delusion, addiction, obsession—these are all the mind’s desperate and compulsive attempts at generating hope one neurotic tic or obsessive craving at a time.
When people prattle on about needing to find their “life’s purpose,” what they really mean is that it’s no longer clear to them what matters, what is a worthy use of their limited time here on earth—in short, what to hope for. They are struggling to see what the before/after of their lives should be.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have these narratives we’ve elected to buy into for whatever reason. It doesn’t matter if the way you get to hope is via religious faith or evidence-based theory or an intuition or a well-reasoned argument—they all produce the same result: you have some belief that (a) there is potential for growth or improvement or salvation in the future, and (b) there are ways we can navigate ourselves to get there. That’s it. Day after day, year after year, our lives are made up of the endless overlapping of these hope narratives. They are the psychological carrot at the end of the stick.
We are the safest and most prosperous humans in the history of the world, yet we are feeling more hopeless than ever before. The better things get, the more we seem to despair. It’s the paradox of progress. And perhaps it can be summed up in one startling fact: the wealthier and safer the place you live, the more likely you are to commit suicide.30
Hope doesn’t care about the problems that have already been solved. Hope cares only about the problems that still need to be solved. Because the better the world gets, the more we have to lose. And the more we have to lose, the less we feel we have to hope for.
To build and maintain hope, we need three things: a sense of control, a belief in the value of something, and a community.
“Control” means we feel as though we’re in control of our own life, that we can affect our fate. “Values” means we find something important enough to work toward, something better, that’s worth striving for. And “community” means we are part of a group that values the same things we do and is working toward achieving those things.
We’ve all had the experience of knowing what we should do yet failing to do it. We’ve all put off important tasks, ignored people we care about, and failed to act in our own self-interest. And usually when we fail to do the things we should, we assume it’s because we can’t sufficiently control our emotions. We’re too undisciplined or we lack knowledge.
To generate hope in our lives, we must first feel as though we have control over our lives. We must feel as though we’re following through on what we know is good and right; that we’re chasing after “something better.”
It’s better to find hope in lowly places than to find none; that without our unruly impulses, we are nothing.
The Classic Assumption says that if a person is undisciplined, unruly, or malicious, it’s because he lacks the ability to subjugate his feelings, that he is weak-willed or just plain fucked up. The Classic Assumption sees passion and emotion as flaws, errors within the human psyche that must be overcome and fixed within the self.
We cling to this narrative about self-control because the belief that we’re in complete control of ourselves is a major source of hope. We want to believe that changing ourselves is as simple as knowing what to change. We want to believe that the ability to do something is as simple as deciding to do it and mustering enough willpower to get there. We want to believe ourselves to be the masters of our own destiny, capable of anything we can dream.
The fact is that we require more than willpower to achieve self-control. It turns out that our emotions are instrumental in our decision making and our actions. We just don’t always realize it.
This is the Classic Assumption, the belief that our reason is ultimately in control of our life and that we must train our emotions to sit the fuck down and shut up while the adult is driving. We then applaud this kidnapping and abuse of our emotions by congratulating ourselves on our self-control.
The Feeling Brain drives our Consciousness Car because, ultimately, we are moved to action only by emotion.
The Feeling Brain is the wisdom and stupidity of the entire body. Anger pushes your body to move. Anxiety pulls it into retreat. Joy lights up the facial muscles, while sadness attempts to shade your existence from view. Emotion inspires action, and action inspires emotion. The two are inseparable.
Every problem of self-control is not a problem of information or discipline or reason but, rather, of emotion. Self-control is an emotional problem; laziness is an emotional problem; procrastination is an emotional problem; underachievement is an emotional problem; impulsiveness is an emotional problem.
Emotional problems are much harder to deal with than logical ones. There are equations to help you calculate the monthly payments on your car loan. There are no equations to help you end a bad relationship. And as you’ve probably figured out by now, intellectually understanding how to change your behavior doesn’t change your behavior.
It’s incredibly easy to let your Thinking Brain fall into the trap of merely drawing the maps the Feeling Brain wants to follow. This is called the “self-serving bias,” and it’s the basis for pretty much everything awful about humanity.
The self-serving bias simply makes you prejudiced and a little bit self-centered.
This is why cultish leaders always start by encouraging people to shut off their Thinking Brains as much as possible. Initially, this feels profound to people because the Thinking Brain is often correcting the Feeling Brain, showing it where it took a wrong turn. So, silencing the Thinking Brain will feel extremely good for a short period. And people are always mistaking what feels good for what is good.
The overindulgence of emotion leads to a crisis of hope, but so does the repression of emotion.
The person who denies his Feeling Brain numbs himself to the world around him. By rejecting his emotions, he rejects making value judgments, that is, deciding that one thing is better than another. As a result, he becomes indifferent to life and the results of his decisions. He struggles to engage with others. His relationships suffer. And eventually, his chronic indifference leads him to an unpleasant visit with the Uncomfortable Truth. After all, if nothing is more or less important, then there’s no reason to do anything. And if there’s no reason to do anything, then why live at all?
The person who denies his Thinking Brain becomes impulsive and selfish, warping reality to conform to his whims and fancies, which are then never satiated. His crisis of hope is that no matter how much he eats, drinks, dominates, or fucks, it will never be enough—it will never matter enough, it will never feel significant enough. He will be on a perpetual treadmill of desperation, always running, though never moving. And if at any point he stops, the Uncomfortable Truth immediately catches up to him.
Wherever there is pain, there is always an inherent sense of superiority/inferiority. And there’s always pain.
When confronted with moral gaps, we develop overwhelming emotions toward equalization, or a return to moral equality. These desires for equalization take the form of a sense of deserving. Because I punched you, you feel I deserve to be punched back or punished in some way.
It’s our natural psychological inclination to equalize across moral gaps, to reciprocate actions: positive for positive; negative for negative. The forces that impel us to fill those gaps are our emotions. In this sense, every action demands an equal and opposite emotional reaction.
Equalization is present in every experience because the drive to equalize is emotion itself. Sadness is a feeling of powerlessness to make up for a perceived loss. Anger is the desire to equalize through force and aggression. Happiness is feeling liberated from pain, while guilt is the feeling that you deserve some pain that never arrived.
When we stop valuing something, it ceases to be fun or interesting to us. Therefore, there is no sense of loss, no sense of missing out when we stop doing it.
Our Feeling Brains warp reality in such a way so that we believe that our problems and pain are somehow special and unique in the world, despite all evidence to the contrary.
These narratives we invent for ourselves around what’s important and what’s not, what is deserving and what is not—these stories stick with us and define us, they determine how we fit ourselves into the world and with each other. They determine how we feel about ourselves—whether we deserve a good life or not, whether we deserve to be loved or not, whether we deserve success or not—and they define what we know and understand about ourselves.
We react to protect the metaphysical body just as we protect the physical.
any attempt to break free from those values through new or contrary experiences will inevitably be met with pain and discomfort.37 This is why there is no such thing as change without pain, no growth without discomfort. It’s why it is impossible to become someone new without first grieving the loss of who you used to be.
“The stronger we hold a value,” he wrote, “that is, the stronger we determine something as superior or inferior than all else, the stronger its gravity, the tighter its orbit, and the more difficult it is for outside forces to disrupt its path and purpose.
Today, appealing to the hopeless is easier than ever before. All you need is a social media account: start posting extreme and crazy shit, and let the algorithm do the rest. The crazier and more extreme your posts, the more attention you’ll garner, and the more the hopeless will flock to you like flies to cow shit. It’s not hard at all.
Nonreligious people bristle at the word faith, but having faith is inevitable. Evidence and science are based on past experience. Hope is based on future experience. And you must always rely on some degree of faith that something will occur again in the future.
Evidence belongs to the Thinking Brain, whereas values are decided by the Feeling Brain. You cannot verify values. They are, by definition, subjective and arbitrary. Therefore, you can argue about facts until you’re blue in the face, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter—people interpret the significance of their experiences through their values.23
The majority of human history has been dominated by a belief in supernatural forces and, most important, the hope that certain actions and beliefs in this life would lead to rewards and improvement in the next life.
Ideological religions generate hope by constructing networks of beliefs that certain actions will produce better outcomes in this life only if they are adopted by the population at large.
The problem with evidence and ideologies is that humans have a tendency to take a little bit of evidence and run with it, generalizing a couple of simple ideas to entire populations and the planet.
Interpersonal religions give us hope that another human being will bring us salvation and happiness, that one individual (or group of individuals) is superior to all others. Interpersonal religions are sometimes combined with supernatural beliefs and ideological beliefs, resulting in pariahs, martyrs, heroes, and saints.
You need to find a way to protect that faith from the inevitable criticism that will be flung its way. The trick is to adopt a belief that creates a self-reinforcing us-versus-them dichotomy—that is, create a perception of “us” versus “them” in such a way that anyone who criticizes or questions “us” immediately becomes a “them.”
Leaders need their followers to be perpetually dissatisfied; it’s good for the leadership business. If everything were perfect and great, there’d be no reason to follow anybody.
True freedom doesn’t really exist because we all must sacrifice some autonomy for stability. No one, no matter how much you love them or they love you, will ever absolve that internal guilt you feel simply for existing. It’s all fucked. Everything is fucked. It always has been and always will be. There are no solutions, only stopgap measures, only incremental improvements, only slightly better forms of fuckedness than others. And it’s time we stop running from that and, instead, embrace it.
Nietzsche called this belief system, in which those who end up ahead do so because they deserve it, “master morality.” Master morality is the moral belief that people get what they deserve. It’s the moral belief that “might makes right,” that if you earned something through hard work or ingenuity, you deserve it. No one can take that from you; nor should they. You are the best, and because you’ve demonstrated superiority, you should be rewarded for it. Conversely, Nietzsche argued, the “slaves” of society would generate a moral code of their own. Whereas the masters believed they were righteous and virtuous because of their strength, the slaves of society came to believe that they were righteous and virtuous because of their weakness. Slave morality believes that people who have suffered the most, those who are the most disadvantaged and exploited, deserve the best treatment because of that suffering. Slave morality believes that it’s the poorest and most unfortunate who deserve the most sympathy and the most respect.
Natural philosophers, as scientists were called in Isaac Newton’s time, decided that the most reliable faith-based beliefs were those that had the most evidence supporting them. Evidence became the God Value, and any belief that was no longer supported by evidence had to be altered to account for the new observed reality. This produced a new religion: science.
The scientific revolution changed the world more than anything before or since.10 It has reshaped the planet, lifted billions out of disease and poverty, and improved every aspect of life.11 It is not an exaggeration to suggest that science may be the only demonstrably good thing humanity has ever done for itself. (Thank you, Francis Bacon, thank you, Isaac Newton, you fucking titans.) Science is singularly responsible for all the greatest inventions and advances in human history, from medicine and agriculture to education and commerce.
science did something else even more spectacular: it introduced to the world the concept of growth. For most of human history, “growth” wasn’t a thing. Change occurred so slowly that everyone died in pretty much the same economic condition they were born in. The average human from two thousand years ago experienced about as much economic growth in his lifetime as we experience in six months today.12 People would live their entire lives, and nothing changed—no new developments, inventions, or technologies. People would live and die on the same land, among the same people, using the same tools, and nothing ever got better. In fact, things like plagues and famine and war and dickhead rulers with large armies often made everything worse. It was a slow, grueling, miserable existence. And with no prospect for change or a better life in this lifetime, people drew their hope from spiritual promises of a better life in the next lifetime. Spiritual religions flourished, and dominated daily life.
Once believed in, a supernatural deity is impervious to worldly affairs. Your town could burn down. Your mother could make a million dollars and then lose it all again. You could watch wars and diseases come and go. None of these experiences directly contradicts a belief in a deity, because supernatural entities are evidence-proof. And while atheists see this as a bug, it can also be a feature. The robustness of spiritual religions means that the shit could hit the proverbial fan, and your psychological stability would remain intact. Hope can be preserved because God is always preserved.
Ideologies, because they’re constantly challenged, changed, proven, and then disproven, offer scant psychological stability upon which to build one’s hope.
Nietzsche was on top of this before anybody else. He warned of the coming existential malaise that technological growth would bring upon the world. In fact, this was the whole point of his “God is dead” proclamation. “God is dead” was not some obnoxious atheistic gloating, as it is usually interpreted today. No. It was a lament, a warning, a cry for help. Who are we to determine the meaning and significance of our own existence? Who are we to decide what is good and right in the world? How can we bear this burden?
Nietzsche believed that any worldly attachment—to gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, or history—was a mirage, a make-believe faith-based construct designed to suspend us high over the chasm of the Uncomfortable Truth by a thin rope of meaning. And ultimately, he believed that all these constructs were destined to conflict with one another and cause far more violence than they solved.15 Nietzsche predicted coming conflicts between the ideologies built on master and slave moralities.16 He believed that these conflicts would wreak greater destruction upon the world than anything else seen in human history. He predicted that this destruction would not be limited to national borders or different ethnic groups. It would transcend all borders; it would transcend country and people. Because these conflicts, these wars, would not be for God. They would be between gods. And the gods would be us.
Like a surgeon’s scalpel, hope can save a life, and hope can take a life. It can uplift us, and it can destroy us. Just as there are healthy and damaging forms of confidence, and healthy and damaging forms of love, there are also healthy and damaging forms of hope. And the difference between the two is not always clear.
I’ve argued that hope is fundamental to our psychology, that we need to (a) have something to look forward to, (b) believe ourselves in control of our fate enough to achieve that something, and (c) find a community to achieve it with us. When we lack one or all of these for too long, we lose hope and spiral into the void of the Uncomfortable Truth.
Experiences generate emotions. Emotions generate values. Values generate narratives of meaning. And people who share similar narratives of meaning come together to generate religions. The more effective (or affective) a religion, the more industrious and disciplined the adherents. And the more industrious and disciplined the adherents, the more likely the religion is to spread to other people, to give them a sense of self-control and a feeling of hope. These religions grow and expand and eventually define in-groups versus out-groups, create rituals and taboos, and spur conflict between groups with opposing values. These conflicts must exist because they maintain the meaning and purpose for people within the group.
Hope depends on the rejection of what currently is.
Amor fati, for Nietzsche, meant the unconditional acceptance of all life and experience: the highs and the lows, the meaning and the meaninglessness. It meant loving one’s pain, embracing one’s suffering. It meant closing the separation between one’s desires and reality not by striving for more desires, but by simply desiring reality.
Hope for nothing. Hope for what already is—because hope is ultimately empty. Anything your mind can conceptualize is fundamentally flawed and limited and therefore damaging if worshipped unconditionally. Don’t hope for more happiness. Don’t hope for less suffering. Don’t hope to improve your character. Don’t hope to eliminate your flaws. Hope for this. Hope for the infinite opportunity and oppression present in every single moment. Hope for the suffering that comes with freedom. For the pain that comes from happiness. For the wisdom that comes from ignorance. For the power that comes from surrender. And then act despite it.
The only thing that frees us is that truth: You and I and everyone we know will die, and little to nothing that we do will ever matter on a cosmic scale.
Yellow highlight | Location: 1,777
the reality is that this truth scares them because it liberates them to responsibility. It means that there’s no reason to not love ourselves and one another. That there’s no reason to not treat ourselves and our planet with respect. That there’s no reason to not live every moment of our lives as though it were to be lived in eternal recurrence.
Eventually, though, we realize that the most important things in life cannot be gained through bargaining. You don’t want to bargain with your father for love, or your friends for companionship, or your boss for respect. Bargaining with people into loving or respecting you feels shitty. It undermines the whole project. If you have to convince someone to love you, then they don’t love you. If you have to cajole someone into respecting you, then they will never respect you. If you have to convince someone to trust you, then they won’t actually trust you.
What matters are a person’s intentions. The difference between a child, an adolescent, and an adult is not how old they are or what they do, but why they do something.
The best way to teach an adolescent to trust is to trust him. The best way to teach an adolescent respect is to respect him. The best way to teach someone to love is by loving him. And you don’t force the love or trust or respect on him—after all, that would make those things conditional—you simply give them, understanding that at some point, the adolescent’s bargaining will fail and he’ll understand the value of unconditionality when he’s ready.
Kant cleverly deduced that, logically, the supreme value in the universe is the thing that conceives of value itself. The only true meaning in existence is the ability to form meaning. The only importance is the thing that decides importance.
The Formula of Humanity states, “Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.”
The Formula of Humanity is merely a principle. It doesn’t project some future utopia. It doesn’t lament some hellish past. No one is better or worse or more righteous than anyone else. All that matters is that conscious will is respected and protected. End of story.
The only logical way to improve the world is through improving ourselves—by growing up and becoming more virtuous—by making the simple decision, in each moment, to treat ourselves and others as ends, and never merely as means. Be honest. Don’t distract or harm yourself. Don’t shirk responsibility or succumb to fear. Love openly and fearlessly. Don’t cave to tribal impulses or hopeful deceits. Because there is no heaven or hell in the future. There are only the choices you make in each and every moment.
Yellow | Location: 2,160
Politics is a transactional and selfish game, and democracy is the best system of government thus far for the sole reason that it’s the only system that openly admits that. It acknowledges that power attracts corrupt and childish people. Power, by its very nature, forces leaders to be transactional. Therefore, the only way to manage that is by enshrining adult virtues into the design of the system itself.
It used to be that being the victim of violence meant somebody had physically harmed you. Today, many people have begun to use the word violence to describe words that made them feel uncomfortable, or even just the presence of a person they disliked.3 Trauma used to mean specifically an experience so severe that the victim could not continue to function. Today, an unpleasant social encounter or a few offensive words are considered “trauma,” and necessitate “safe spaces.”
Developmental psychology has long argued something similar: that protecting people from problems or adversity doesn’t make them happier or more secure; it makes them more easily insecure.
Our emotional reactions to our problems are not determined by the size of the problem. Rather, our minds simply amplify (or minimize) our problems to fit the degree of stress we expect to experience. Material progress and security do not necessarily relax us or make it easier to hope for the future. On the contrary, it appears that perhaps by removing healthy adversity and challenge, people struggle even more.
Pain is the universal constant of life. And human perception and expectations warp themselves to fit a predetermined amount of pain. In other words, no matter how sunny our skies get, our mind will always imagine just enough clouds to be slightly disappointed.
This constancy of pain results in what is known as “the hedonic treadmill,” upon which you run and run and run, chasing your imagined ten. But, no matter what, you always end up with a seven. The pain is always there. What changes is your perception of it. And as soon as your life “improves,” your expectations shift, and you’re back to being mildly dissatisfied again.
You can’t get rid of pain—pain is the universal constant of the human condition. Therefore, the attempt to move away from pain, to protect oneself from all harm, can only backfire. Trying to eliminate pain only increases your sensitivity to suffering, rather than alleviating your suffering. It causes you to see dangerous ghosts in every nook, to see tyranny and oppression in every authority, to see hate and deceit behind every embrace.
The point is, not only is there no escaping the experience of pain, but pain is the experience. This is why hope is ultimately self-defeating and self-perpetuating: no matter what we achieve, no matter what peace and prosperity we find, our mind will quickly adjust its expectations to maintain a steady sense of adversity, thus forcing the formulation of a new hope, a new religion, a new conflict to keep us going. We will see threatening faces where there are no threatening faces. We will see unethical job proposals where there are no unethical job proposals. And no matter how sunny our day is, we’ll always find that one cloud in the sky.
Living well does not mean avoiding suffering; it means suffering for the right reasons.
There is a third type of system, and that is the “antifragile” system. Whereas a fragile system breaks down and a robust system resists change, the antifragile system gains from stressors and external pressures.
The Buddha said that suffering is like being shot by two arrows. The first arrow is the physical pain—it’s the metal piercing the skin, the force colliding into the body. The second arrow is the mental pain, the meaning and emotion we attach to the being struck, the narratives that we spin in our minds about whether we deserved or didn’t deserve what happened. In many cases, our mental pain is far worse than any physical pain. In most cases, it lasts far longer.
While pain is inevitable, suffering is always a choice.
Death is psychologically necessary because it creates stakes in life. There is something to lose. You don’t know what something is worth until you experience the potential to lose it. You don’t know what you’re willing to struggle for, what you’re willing to give up or sacrifice. Pain is the currency of our values. Without the pain of loss (or potential loss), it becomes impossible to determine the value of anything at all.
Antifragility is therefore synonymous with growth and maturity. Life is one never-ending stream of pain, and to grow is not to find a way to avoid that stream but, rather, to dive into it and successfully navigate its depths. The pursuit of happiness is, then, an avoidance of growth, an avoidance of maturity, an avoidance of virtue. It is treating ourselves and our minds as a means to some emotionally giddy end.
We seem to have forgotten what the ancients knew: that no matter how much wealth is generated in the world, the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our character, and the quality of our character is determined by our relationship to our pain.
Fortunes are made and lost around things that help people improve upon or avoid pain.
There are two ways to create value in the marketplace:
1. Innovations (upgrade pain). The first way to create value is to replace one pain with a much more tolerable/desirable pain.
2. Diversions (avoid pain). The second way to create value in a marketplace is to help people numb their pain. Whereas upgrading people’s pain gives them better pain, numbing pain just delays that pain, and often even makes it worse.
People don’t make decisions based on truth or facts. They don’t spend their money based on data. They don’t connect with each other because of some higher philosophical truth. The world runs on feelings.
“Give the people what they want” is a pretty low bar to clear, ethically speaking. “Give the people what they want” works only when you’re giving them innovations, like a synthetic kidney or something to prevent their car from spontaneously catching on fire. Give those people what they want. But giving people too many of the diversions they want is a dangerous game to play. For one, many people want stuff that’s awful. Two, many people are easily manipulated into wanting shit they don’t actually want (see: Bernays). Three, encouraging people to avoid pain through more and more diversions makes us all weaker and more fragile.
The only true form of freedom, the only ethical form of freedom, is through self-limitation. It is not the privilege of choosing everything you want in your life, but rather, choosing what you will give up in your life.
Diversions come and go. Pleasure never lasts. Variety loses its meaning. But you will always be able to choose what you are willing to sacrifice, what you are willing to give up.
Greater commitment allows for greater depth. A lack of commitment requires superficiality.
Fake freedom is seeing the world as an endless series of transactions and bargains which you feel you’re winning. Real freedom is seeing the world unconditionally, with the only victory being over your own desires.
Loneliness is also a growing issue. Last year, for the first time, a majority of Americans said they were lonely, and new research is suggesting that we’re replacing a few high-quality relationships in our lives with a large number of superficial and temporary relationships.
Today’s tyranny is achieved by flooding people with so much diversion, so much bullshit information and frivolous distraction, that they are unable to make smart commitments.
Over the last couple of decades, people seem to have confused their basic human rights with not experiencing any discomfort. People want freedom to express themselves, but they don’t want to have to deal with views that may upset or offend them in some way. They want freedom of enterprise, but they don’t want to pay taxes to support the legal machinery that makes that freedom possible. They want equality, but they don’t want to accept that equality requires that everybody experience the same pain, not that everybody experience the same pleasure.
Evolution rewards the most powerful creatures, and power is determined by the ability to access, harness, and manipulate information effectively.
Don’t hope for better. Just be better.
Be something better. Be more compassionate, more resilient, more humble, more disciplined.
We require three things to feel motivated and satisfied in our lives: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Roy Baumeister’s model of “meaningfulness”- In this model, we need four things to feel that our life is meaningful: purpose, values, efficacy, and self-worth.
What’s interesting is that narcissists will even justify their pain with claims of their superiority. Ever hear the phrase “They hate me because they’re envious”? Or “They attack me because they’re afraid of me”? Or “They just don’t want to admit that I’m better than they are”? The Feeling Brain merely flips its self-worth on its head: we’re not being harmed because we suck; we’re being harmed because we’re great! So, the narcissist goes from feeling that the self deserves nothing to feeling that the self deserves everything.
It’s interesting that most polytheistic religions haven’t had this obsession with conversion that the monotheistic religions have had. The Greeks and Romans were more than happy to let the indigenous cultures follow their own beliefs. It wasn’t until slave morality that the religious Crusades began. This is probably because a slave morality religion cannot abide cultures that hold different beliefs. Slave moralities require the world to be equal—and to be equal, you cannot be different. Therefore, those other cultures had to be converted. This is the paradoxical tyranny of any extremist left-wing belief system. When equality becomes one’s God Value, differences in belief cannot be abided. And the only way to destroy difference in belief is through totalitarianism.
Albert Camus put it well when he said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.”
We all require a “Goldilocks” amount of pain to mature and develop. Too much pain traumatizes us—our Feeling Brain becomes unrealistically fearful of the world, preventing any further growth or experience. Too little pain, and we become entitled narcissists, falsely believing the world can (and should!) revolve around our desires. But if we get the pain just right, then we learn that (a) our current values are failing us, and (b) we have the power and ability to transcend those values and create newer, higher-level, more-encompassing values. We learn that it’s better to have compassion for everyone rather than just our friends, that it’s better to be honest in all situations rather than simply the situations that help us, and that it’s better to maintain humility, even when we’re confident in our own rightness.
It’s prosperity that causes crises in hope. It’s having six hundred channels and nothing to watch. It’s having fifteen matches on Tinder but no one good to date. It’s having two thousand restaurants to choose from but feeling sick of all the same old food. Prosperity makes meaning more difficult. It makes pain more acute. And ultimately, we need meaning way more than we need prosperity, lest we come face-to-face with that wily Uncomfortable Truth again.
During periods of prosperity, more and more economic growth is driven by diversions. And because diversions scale so easily—after all, who doesn’t want to post selfies on Instagram?—wealth becomes extremely concentrated in fewer hands. This growing wealth disparity then feeds the “revolution of rising expectations.” Everyone feels that their life is supposed to be better, yet it’s not what they expected; it’s not as pain-free as they had hoped.