Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We Win, Now What?

This is something my mom and I talked about that I've been chewing on a while.

In the Book of Mormon, we encounter the "pride cycle."  Basically, when the people are doing well, they get rich and civilize the land and everything, then they get self-centered and distracted and start getting into all sorts of trouble, then god sends something nasty their way, and as they rebuild they humble themselves and put their shoulders to the wheel, only to end up starting to do pretty well again and repeat the cycle.

We talked about why people might do this, and my thought was "boredom."  If you accomplish all the goals your culture has given you, you start running out of things to do with all the success you've had.  Even with spiritual goal available, it happens, since these spiritual goals are not very motivational in connection with everyday temporal concerns for most folks.  So, you start looking for novelty: dressing nice, trying all kinds of food, collecting expensive stuff.  Things to occupy your time, since society has accomplished its goals.
You might as well call the "Pride Cycle" the "Boredom Cycle."

We talked about the effect this has today.  More young people are moving back home with their parents.  They don't know what to do with their lives.  Is it that people became lazy all of a sudden?  Is it the culture of instant-gratification we've slipped into with computers and the internet?
I don't think so: those things are symptoms, not the root cause.  The root is boredom.
Think about it:  in the USA in particular, what common cultural goals do we have?  I'm not talking about the fiscal cliff and all that, that's just another sign of the apathy we've slipped into.
Do we all believe in the war on terror?  Environmentalism?  Nope, if you strongly believe in these things you're part of a fringe.

Do we believe in establishing American dominance over the world?  No, because we already DID THAT.  And we know it doesn't make life have more meaning: it might have while we were working on it, but once we achieved it it wasn't all that great, in fact it just made lots of people hate us and our young people lose their faith in the morality of their nation.

The point is, some previous generations had causes.  Wars we believed in, like stopping Hitler.  A "destiny" to tame the wild north-american continent.  A higher standard of living for our children.   But once we accomplished those things, we in the "middle-class" were left wondering what to do next.  Religion is a fading influence in the lives of young people because it doesn't really offer satisfaction to many, but even with religious belief many young people feel directionless.  There are causes that can be believed in, sure, but our culture as a whole has run out of things to believe in, and has turned to mindless entertainment just to stay alive.

When I am pretty suicidal, I play video games and watch tv.  It keeps me from thinking about the meaninglessness of my existence.  It's my opinion that our entire culture has begun to do the same.  And as the world slips toward disaster in a thousand ways, the jaded youth of the upcoming generation are not uninformed, their just indifferent, because they have nothing to save the world for.


  1. This post hit a little too close to home. Most days, I get home from work (where I work a very reasonable 50-ish hours or so, considering my profession), and I just want to veg out and not think about too much. I work myself up for short stints of motivated play time or homework checking with the kids. But other than that...yeah. I'm just amusing myself to death.

    And I can't help but feel that being able to rant on Facebook about something makes me feel like I'm doing something, even though it's essentially a mastrubatory experience. Its illusion of efficacy is worse than doing nothing at all--because doing nothing might eventually motivate me to do something meaningful.

  2. I don't have a well-supported opinion on the main points about boredom, but I have a tangential comment about the pride cycle. It's crap. It's from a book neither of us believe. Not worth analyzing as representative of reality or actual patterns in society (can you think of ANY examples in history?). It's one of many ways the church seems to reinforce insidious assumptions about performance-based love:

    * God blesses you only when you're obedient. Implicit in cultural norms and Sunday School discussions of this cycle is the assumption that the same holds true for love and acceptance.
    * Material prosperity is a big part of how God blesses the faithful. If you obey, everything's peachy and you're rich.
    * If things aren't going well for you, you must be sinning and prideful.

    I just finished a paper about my LDS family and the ill effects of related assumptions. Sorry if it's a little fresh and rant-ish.

    1. You have a good point about not believing the book :)
      I was discussing with my mom, who does believe, so the discussion gave it the benefit of the doubt. I only present it in the post because that's what got me thinking about it.

      As far as examples go, I agree there is no very good parallel in history that springs to mind (at least for me), but I do see prosperous times that directly preceded a crash of some kind that seemed impossible compared to the good times of the immediate past. The 1920s USA, Pax Romana, etc. I don't know that it's cyclical in the BoM sense, nor is there any element of god's wrath in my own interpretation, but a prosperous people who has accomplished its culture's goals does seem to lose its steam in a way. The real ends of human existence transition from survival and cultural mandates to simple pleasure-seeking because there's nothing left to do. (This has nothing to do with wickedness, I'm very averse to the notion that one generation is inherently more or less moral than another)

      Just my rambling theory, and now I'd rambled in response to your post longer than your post, and not really about the same thing :P
      I should really just delete it, but I kinda like posting things!

  3. I identify with this so much. For every goal I can think of striving for and accomplishing, I then think that after I have accomplished it, I will only think, "Now what?" I'm hopefully graduating in about a year. But so what? What am I going to do after that? Find a job that I hate? That's one thing that's been gnawing at me lately: I don't have an interesting career path planned. My future just seems mundane. Even thinking of possibly finding a humanitarian cause just seems to make me feel guilty—my white guilt would still sting and any work I could do would just seem to be a futile attempt to make up for my privilege.

    My habit is to label these thoughts, i.e. boredom with life, as "first-world problems." But that just makes me feel worse, though. And I'm guessing even people who aren't bored and who must really fight to survive often question the advantages of even trying. Even with a defined goal, you could still find life to be meaningless.

    Thanks for letting me emo out.