The Great Malaise
We are living through a period potentially destined to be known as “The Great Malaise”, an era distinguished by a significant rise in suicide rates, deaths from drug overdoses, soaring inequality, and escalating instances of depression and anxiety. This epoch is not just defined by these grim statistics but also by a profound existential hunger—a yearning for meaning in a universe that seems indifferent to our existence.
At the core of this distress lies a growing disillusionment with the American Dream—the belief that limitless possibilities await and that each generation will surpass the previous. Yet, what happens when we, no longer consumed by daily survival, must confront harsh realities?
The universe does not revolve around us; our egos are mere illusions of permanence, and as a species, we often deny these truths, losing ourselves in materialism, consumerism, and other escapisms that uphold a false sense of self in line with our egos.
A telling sign of this malaise is the increase in what experts call ‘deaths of despair,’ often stemming from substance abuse or suicide, reflecting profound societal distress. Recognizing that much of what we cherish is illusionary, we can shift our focus to what truly matters: being of service to others, prioritizing truth and love, and fostering a sense of community, belonging, and unconditional acceptance.
The American Dream: A Fading Mirage
The American Dream, once a beacon of hope, opportunity, and a symbol of individual prosperity and upward mobility, now appears more elusive, perhaps even illusory. Younger generations face a reality where their prospects seem dimmer than those of their parents, a disparity exacerbated by escalating income inequality since the 1980s. Increasingly perceived as a myth, the American Dream is losing its appeal and credibility.
This change reflects a deeper existential awakening: the recognition that the pursuit of material success — the so-called ‘American Dream’ — might be an illusion, leaving many to grapple with a void that neither possessions nor status can fill. Consequently, people are increasingly seeking greater meaning beyond material acquisitions like cars and homes, signifying a collective yearning for a deeper sense of purpose in a world that often feels devoid of it.
The False Comfort of Consumerism
Our society often equates happiness with material possessions, but this notion of consumerism is another form of escapism, diverting us from the harsh truths of our existence.
This ingrained belief, fostered from childhood, persuades us to measure our worth by our acquisitions rather than our inner values and aspirations, leading to a profound disconnect from what genuinely nurtures the human spirit.
The Worship of Money Has Been Redefined as Capitalism
Today’s society places a premium on financial success and superficial achievements over self-awareness and self-actualization. In various religious centers, ostentatious displays of wealth are common, often coupled with denigration of the marginalized. In the past, such greed was openly acknowledged, like the worship of Mammon, the Phoenician deity of avarice.
Now, we label this pursuit as “capitalism,” celebrating its most self-centered advocates. During the pandemic, certain affluent groups endorsed policies reminiscent of ancient sacrificial practices, prioritizing wealth and political influence over communal well-being.
Acts Of Service: The Essence of Community
True community involves serving others. Our society, which glorifies rugged individualism and capitalism, often overlooks the fact that no one is entirely self-made. Our successes are intertwined with our ancestral achievements, luck, and determination. Socioeconomic background plays a critical role in one’s life trajectory, yet we all share a common journey and ultimate destination.
To foster a fair and fulfilling society, we must enhance our social safety nets, ensuring equitable opportunities for a meaningful, self-actualized life. Unfortunately, our current economic system often pits us against one another, leading to widespread resentment and societal division.
Envisioning a Self-Actualized Future
In the imminent future, our relationship with work is poised for a profound transformation. As general AI surpasses human intelligence and robots undertake tasks once limited to human strength and skill, we stand on the cusp of a paradigm shift. This technological evolution will not just redefine labor; it will offer us an opportunity to reassess our place in the universe and our pursuit of meaning.
Freed from the necessity of manual labor, humans will be able to engage in work driven not by survival, but by passion and interest. This shift opens the door to a deeper understanding of our existence, challenging us to confront the reality that we are not the universe’s focal point and that our egos are but transient illusions.
In a society resembling ‘Star Trek’, money may become an obsolete concept. Here, each individual could realize their full potential, unshackled by the traditional constraints of labor and economic necessity. Supported by universal education, healthcare, and a basic income, people would be empowered to pursue truth, love, and service to others—values long overshadowed by materialism and consumerism.
Advanced technologies, from anti-aging treatments to 3D-printed organs, will extend human capabilities, reflecting a shift from a society defined by escapism and ego to one grounded in community and shared purpose. The potential for human-brain interface technologies further expands this vision, offering possibilities for continuous regeneration and new realms of existence.
This envisioned future challenges us to embrace a new sense of self and community, where our value is not measured by possessions or status, but by our contribution to the collective well-being and our pursuit of genuine fulfillment. As we step into this new era, we must decide if we will continue to cling to outdated paradigms or embrace a future where our shared humanity and quest for meaning take center stage.
The Dark Path Forward
Alternatively, there looms a more ominous trajectory, one which may seem more probable than the hopeful vision described earlier. This darker path, already manifesting in our current reality, is marked by the erosion of democratic values and the rise of authoritarian tendencies. It is a path where the hunger for meaning and a sense of belonging in an indifferent universe is overshadowed by the pursuit of power and control.
As we witness the criminalization of protest, attacks on free press, and the manipulation of narratives through AI, we’re confronted with the harsh truths of our existence. This societal direction forces us to face the reality that we are not the central actors in the universe’s grand play, that our egos and perceived permanence are illusory. Yet, instead of embracing this awareness, there’s a collective retreat into the very escapisms that define us: materialism, consumerism, and the propagation of false beliefs that bolster our fragile egos.
This path is a stark reminder of our species’ struggle to accept our non-centrality in the universe, our impermanent nature, and the illusory aspects of our individual and collective egos. It’s a path where the vital aspects of being—service to others, truth, love, and fostering inclusive communities—are cast aside in favor of a relentless pursuit of power and wealth.
The Future Remains Unwritten
As we stand at this crucial juncture, the future’s contour is ours to shape. Will we choose a path that transcends the current malaise, one that fosters a sense of community and shared purpose in a seemingly indifferent universe? Or will we descend into a dystopian reality, driven by the very illusions and escapisms that disconnect us from what truly matters—service, truth, love, and community?
The decision we make now will not only determine our future but also define our legacy as a species in the grand narrative of the universe. The time to act is now, with the awareness that our collective choices will carve the path forward.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Depression Facts & Statistics.” https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drug Overdose Deaths.” https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Suicide Data and Statistics.” https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/suicide-data-statistics.html.
- DeLeire, T., and Kalil, A. “Does Consumption Buy Happiness? Evidence from the United States.” ResearchGate, 2010 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225414204_Does_Consumption_Buy_Happiness_Evidence_from_the_United_States
- Easterlin, R. A. “Consumption and Happiness: An Introduction.” SpringerLink. link.springer.com.
- “Great Barrington Declaration.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Barrington_Declaration.
- “Harvard Study Shows Exactly How Poverty Impacts Children’s Success.” Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-study-shows-how-poverty-can-hamper-childrens-cognitive-functions/.
- “How Social Media is Widening the Ideological Divide in America.” Universe Narratives. https://universe.byu.edu/2022/04/10/how-social-media-is-widening-the-ideological-divide-in-america/.
- Impact Monash Business School. “Does Consuming Make You Happier?” https://impact.monash.edu/economy/does-consuming-make-you-happier
- Pew Research Center. “Trends in U.S. Income and Wealth Inequality.” https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/.
- Psychreg. “How Consumerism Affects Our Well-Being.” https://www.psychreg.org/consumerism-affects-well-being/
- “Rugged Individualism.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugged_individualism.
- The American Psychological Association. “The High Price of Materialism.” APA Monitor on Psychology, June 2004. https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents.
- The Impact Investor. “Consumerism: Exploring Impacts & Solutions in Modern Society.” https://theimpactinvestor.com/consumerism/.