I have a very soft spot in my heart for stories of people being forced to live lives that don’t matter. The classic case of this being Groundhog Day, and similar stories such as The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Much of my life has been spent trying to matter. I think the majority of people in the Modern, Western world have similar hang-ups. I used to think this was due to the fact that we (as a species) had solved the primary challenge the world throws at us, and are now floundering to find a new one. I have recently been convinced that this was a terrible misunderstanding, and instead it’s because most of us have been dramatically traumatized early in adulthood.
Imagine if right now you were told nothing you do for the next five years will matter. You cannot do anything that has any value to the people you care about. You cannot better your own life. You won’t own any property, can’t work, and won’t be allowed to keep your wages if you do work. You can’t significantly harm your life either. You’ll be fed and clothed and housed, and there won’t be legal consequences for almost anything you do. You can’t harm your reputation, because no one will take anything you say seriously. Of course, this also means your opinion has no value to anyone as well. It’s a bit like being in Groundhog Day for 5 years. All you can do is wait.
Personally, I’d get pretty damn depressed. I probably wouldn’t care to do anything. I imagine a lot of people would turn to drugs or alcohol to help burn through the five years as quickly as possible. I’d expect all sorts of psychological damage from this.
This is what we do to every teenager (with a tiny fraction of exceptions) in the USA. It would be bad enough if I was forced to endure this at my current age. When humans are in their early teens, they have a burning biological drive to start their lives, start doing things and distinguishing themselves. At that age, every year is a near-eternity. And you don’t yet have the experience to realize things can/will get better. All you know is you are trapped in an imposed hell of meaninglessness.
I nearly killed myself when I was a teen. Dropping out of college to start doing something that actually mattered was the best decision I’d made in my life up to that point (and still ranks in the Top 5 of all my life decisions). Everyone I know feels lucky to have survived their teen years, even though statistically just about everyone makes it. Our society traumatizes everyone raised within it to a massive degree, and most of us are completely blind to this. We don’t just steal five years of life from every citizen of our nation. We create permanent damage that takes decades to overcome.
The next episode of The Bayesian Conspiracy, #138, will talk about Robert Epstein’s work on this topic. I’ll link it here when it’s done. I’ve dumped my highlights from his book Teen 2.0 here, but honestly, it’s a bit of a mess. Right now I’m just asserting that we’re fucking ourselves up, all of us, and we’re perpetuation this trauma over and over on the next generation in the typical cycle we’ve all come to know and hate. And it needs to stop.