Friday, 5 March 2021

Lack of Meaning to Life in our Modern Western Culture

I read the following article that I entirely agree with and I highly recommend people read it.

Meaningfulness, Its Moral Implications and the Path Forward

Article says:

[T]he average person will spend about 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. Most people report saying they are not satisfied with their current job and are mostly disengaged. In sum, the average person spends one-third of their lives unengaged and unfulfilled.

and

The majority of occupations under poorly-regulated capitalist societies manifest themselves to turn workers into cogs in machines; most work is either unengaging or tedious, which sucks the spirit out of the worker and leaves them drained for when they actually have time to do what they might find meaningful. 

I agree, and I have said much the same myself.  See the 5th paragraph in my Is there a better alternative to capitalism?  

Work doesn't have to be like this.  People need to be intimately and emotionally involved in the product they're creating, or the service they're providing.  I do not subscribe to the widespread belief that how much we get paid for some work is responsible for how much effort we put into it and, hence, our productivity.  Indeed, I wonder what evidence or justification there is for believing this?  Instead, I strongly suspect that what motivates people to work hard is the sense of achievement in producing something that other people really appreciate, together with the knowledge that not many others have the requisite skills to do what you've done. It's working towards some goal that has real value, and for others to exclaim "wow" when they see the result. It's pride in producing something, or providing some service. This, in turn, also makes the work enjoyable. So productivity and enjoyment go hand in hand. Unfortunately, as the author of the article points out, work in our modern industrialised capitalist society generally isn't like that. And, on that note, this article also may be of interest.  

Oh well, at least we have our loving spouses to greet us when the workday finishes? Well... as the article goes on to say:

Half of marriages end in divorce and nearly half of those that don't end in divorce are riddled with unhappiness—the latter frankly being a conservative estimate.

What we're all after is love, a total and complete mutual appreciation of another person's essence, a total empathetic identification with their being that will turn our souls inside out.  But, it seems, in the real world, that this is very rare.  Whether or not this is just simply the way we are, and love -- at least as I have defined it -- is extraordinarily difficult to attain, surely we can improve upon this present dire state of affairs? If love is not achievable, surely at least a life-long friendship with one's spouse is? 

Again, I think at least part of the problem here is the nature of capitalism where success and prestige are measured by one's wealth, whilst affiliation and empathy for others all too often takes a backseat.  We are all in competition with each other.  We are compared, all too harshly by our partners and others, against the "success" of our peers.  This can give rise to mutual resentment.

But surely our well-being and happiness are significantly enhanced by our other relationships? What about our close friends, work colleagues and so on?  The article says:

54 percent of adults also report that they regularly feel as if no one knows them well, nearly half report frequently feeling lonely or left out. Forty-three percent report that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others, and 59 percent feel that those around them do not share their interests and ideas.

Speaking on a personal level, I don't think anyone knows me! Least of all shares my interests and ideas, although, to be honest, I'm surprised that this figure is as high as 59%.

It seems to me that a lot of us live bleak, unfulfilling, lives, both at work and at home. And to what end? A decent wage allows us to buy the latest technological gadgets, but do they really bestow long term happiness? Not so far as I can see. I continually encounter people who declare they are depressed.

I have read that depression is virtually absent in hunter-gatherer societies.  Crucially, in those societies, life was full of danger.  Close brushes with death with the consequent comradeship and camaraderie when others save your life, and you theirs. The collective outpouring of emotions, the bitter and sweet taste of life in the raw. All this with the implicit feeling that death is just another journey and all will come right in the end.

Of course, I'm not suggesting a life full of danger is ideal.  But I do suggest that life ideally should be an adventure. A journey with ongoing meaningful experiences. And grounded with the feeling of purpose.  And that death is just another journey, rather than oblivion. That the Universe is full of love and meaning, and we are part of it.

I think that the way we live in our modern western industrialised world, together with our Weltanschauung, is simply not desirable. Happiness is not measured by our wealth, nor our technology. And our technology is destroying the planet to boot.  So, a radical change is required. A new way to live. A new relationship with the planet. A new outlook regarding what we are and our place in the world. But I can't see anything changing in a very long time. 

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