For most of the human race’s existence, we’ve been playing a game called Survival. The rules are mind-bogglingly complex, change all the damn time, and are not fair. But humans managed to hold on long enough try many different ways to win, and had the previously unheard-of ability to record their attempts and pass on what they learned to the next generation. Eventually humans discovered a system for figuring out what the rules are – The Scientific Method. Knowing enough rules meant you could game the system, and humans became the first Reality Munchkins. Combined with new methods of coordinating action (capitalism) they actually managed an unprecedented feat – they Beat The Game.
In the developed world, Survival is a solved problem. Starvation has been neutralized. Untreatable fatal diseases are rare. Violent death is rare. Most people can expect to live with minimal discomfort into their 70s or 80s without existential risk.
People don’t take enough time to acknowledge that we’ve Beat The Game. We should do so more often.
Of course, you don’t stop playing just because the game has been won. That’s why there is an Expansion. Unfortunately, we seem to be awful at the Expansion.
It’s disheartening how many of my friends have linked Depression Part Two with “YES! THIS!!” I was there myself for a time. Almost everyone I know (including myself) treated the symptoms of this with an unholy desperation, mainly consisting of drugs and distraction. Now that we’ve solved Survival, what else is there to do? We used to do things to survive. Now why do anything at all? Will it make any difference to our survival?
Not that any of us thought of it that way. But over and over, what I hear and what I remember is a despair at the purposeless and meaninglessness of life. “I don’t know why I bother.”
This changed for me once I had a goal. Something to strive for. It wasn’t even a very lofty goal, it was simply something I wanted, and was willing to work toward. My life changed completely, and very rapidly. It seems that this is what the Expansion to life consists of – Find A Goal. Not even achieving it… simply finding one. And unless my sampling is extremely skewed, it seems that the vast majority of middle America really sucks at this new game. We were taught all our lives how to win at Surviving, and that’s the game we expected to play. Being thrown into the middle of this new challenge without a compass, a map, or even eyes to see the terrain with is more than scary – it is dangerous. Most people I know have been suicidal at some point. Many still get occasional pangs. Some have made attempts. We solved Survival just to be shut down at the next level.
We need to figure out the rules to the Expansion. I’ll try to narrow the search a bit over the next few posts, but I don’t know of any methodology of doing so systematically yet.
The answer that seems most consistently effective — in that, I haven’t seen any others work — is to reframe the game to be survival for the longer-term, and for humanity as a whole. There are still plenty of existential threats looming, and for those capable of internalizing that, it is the next step in the survival game. Problems are inevitable, after all. (Re: Deutsch’s Beginning of Infinity)
But that’s not for everyone. Even many very smart rationalist folk struggle with the burden of “heroic responsibility” — with knowing it could all come crashing down if *we* don’t do something. And honestly I’d prefer a culture that doesn’t constantly try to instill anxiety about the coming dangers. Let those considerations be in the background, focused on by experts, and only implicitly built into the structure of society. So that, eg, flood walls go up on schedule as needed without delay — and without fear! (Dreams of a competent culture…)
I don’t think there even *is* a normie solution; maybe we can blame the contemporary politics fixation on people not having anything better to do, and not finding better goals. That’s a lot of raw human potential getting harnessed/harvested by a few incessant memeplexes. How to break this pattern and instill a new, long-term will to live in individuals and our culture is the “political” challenge of the next age.
Anyway, I read this a few weeks/months ago (not sure how I found it then given its 2013-nature…) and the metaphor seemed to have stuck, then this morning I realized I had something to say about it!