Why is Everybody on the Brink of an Existential Crisis?

Not everybody is on the brink of an existential crisis, but most people who think deeply about their lives probably are on the brink. I think it’s because these people are not interested in accepting package-deal answers provided by traditional religions, especially those who live in a highly technological society that seems to break new ground every week, changing the ways people live. Religions have provided answers to the fundamental questions for a very long time, and now those options for meaning no longer exist for many people. What are they left with? Not much.

The scientists don’t provide very much meaning for life, it’s not their job anyways, as they say. Scientists and inventors might possibly use their trend-setting work to face their own existential issues (although I doubt this is common), but the most they can offer others is the Gospel of Technology. Technology increases comfort and helps people ask more specific questions, but it does not give answers to the fundamental questions.

Wealth is probably another factor. Wealthier people have more time to wonder about their existence and, yet, they can feel more alienated as their work feels less and less connected to others. Wealthier people get depressed from said alienation. Less wealthy people live shorter lives with less leisure time and, thus, can’t spend endless time contemplating who or what to trust. They have to make their pick and start living. They might be more likely to choose religion or some similar ethical-philosophical package because they have lives to live, Gods to trust, and children to lead.

Post-traditionalist philosophers have been remarkably unhelpful in helping modern people cope with the meaning of their existence. Camus and Sarte couldn’t even find an affirmative reason to live- to forgo suicide and go on with life. Camus said life was absurd and meaningless, and therefore you should embrace it. Sarte wrote “The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope,  without illusions … and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He  experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man.”

Glowing reviews of existence these are not.

Here are a few options I can see for finding meaning in modern society (and the reason why each one is less than satisfying):

  • Theoretical science (most people aren’t professional scientists and don’t understand their findings well enough to find solace on a Sunday morning- if indeed the scientists find it themselves)
  • Obsessing over technology (technology ultimately improves only means, never ends)
  • Lots of sex with lots of people (presumably your partner(s) is looking for the same elusive meaning and likewise trying to escape their meaninglessness; nobody can provide what they don’t have)
  • Building up cohesive moral structure piece-by-piece (Google that and get back to me. Life is too short to redo everything)
  • Living by a universal applicable rule, such as Universally Preferable Behavior theory or the non-aggression axiom popularized by libertarians, and banking on the idea that by following that rule you will find meaning (the ultimate meaning of rules requires faith in the rightness of those rules, a faith eerily shared by traditional societies)
  • Politics (again this is only about means, not ends. Politics shares with its synonym “efficiency” that need to get things done as quickly as possible. But what things need to get done?)
  • Music (allows you to reconstruct good feelings of the past, but the sudden meaningfulness lasts only around 3 minutes)
  • Material wealth or being a workaholic, finding meaning in what you can produce because that is what you can finally see (wealthier people are the most suicidal and depressed people on the planet, the very ones on the brink of existential crises)
  • Following fashions and trends, especially with the advent of social media (fashions are fickle; it is unclear how one can find ultimate meaning by seeking the approval of young people, who haven’t finished growing)
  • Positive Thinking: denying badness and finding sanctuary in human progress or evolution and finding meaning in being a small part of it (just read today’s newspaper and you’ll find a mixed bag at best)

Rejection of the traditional values of society, without readily finding any life-affirming alternatives, leaves many people on the brink of existential crisis.

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