The shit of the 21st century is demotivating me to do... pretty much anything

I was born in 1971. I think it must be weird for young people growing up today, since, sure, they have never known a world without the internet, but they have also never known a motivated world, either. (This pertains to the US in particular but I know it also mostly works for Japan, a country I lived in for awhile…)

I think most people my age would agree, things used to be different:

  • People used to have faith in the government–even in corporations!
  • People used to perceive certain people as leaders, who actually seemed to lead.
  • People were hopeful about their own and their kids’ future.
  • People were excited about technological progress.
  • Men and women were positive about each other (in the macro sense, not just about their own partner, etc.).

In the 21st century, we’ve seen one failure of leadership and The System after another: 9/11, the economic collapse of 2008, the coronavirus pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine. Big business seems lost and rudderless, and its “leaders” at best seem to have no new ideas and at worst, like Zuck and Musk, are imploding.

It’s not as though the world is worse than it was in, say, 1945. The funny thing is that, almost in every country after WWII, despite the death and destruction, people were extremely positive. Japan had just been bombed to shyte and completely humiliated, but you will find some of its best cinema and a lot of very positive content in the 1950s and 1960s. As for the US, despite the deaths of hundreds of thousands of comrades in arms, the survivors came back and participated in what is seen as one of the best and most positive eras in the country’s history.

No, what gets me down is the grinding negativity about everything in the US now with no real hope for the future. And the reality is that, unlike in 1970s - 1990s, we know that our economy and the business world are bullshit. The scales have fallen from our eyes, and we know that what used to pass for leadership was, a lot of the time, just a presentation, an aesthetic, with not much behind it. (E.g., Ronald Reagan–but at least he was positive!–and I do think that counts for something.)

I’m a translator/interpreter/copywriter by trade, and I’m just ending a three-year gig that actually went very well, and I’m grateful for it, but I do not feel like hauling ass and perking up my website and making new business cards–or whatever. It’s all horseshit. I don’t mean life itself. I mean this veneer we’ve constructed.

In contrast, back in 2006, I was a believer. Market yourself! Network! I was naive. We all were. And I feel we’ve all woken up at this point (across the political spectrum, actually, though the right is handling things very poorly. Very poorly.). And we’re not handling it well.

I’m not motivated to polish this into some glittering essay, but I think the point is clear. Thanks for your thoughts!

These days I need to seek out and find goodness in people in things. For example, the Monterey Park shooter was disarmed by an ordinary guy who prevented a second bloody massacre. That single act of heroism gives me hope that people will step up and do the right thing when they have to.

I worry about the divisiveness in the country, and honestly don’t see that changing anytime soon. Back in the 60s the country, at least before the Vietnam War, was much more united than it is today. The far left and far right were much smaller and the moderate middle voted for politicians who were progressive and wanted to improve things. That’s clearly no longer the case.The rich are getting richer, and the poor are left to fend for themselves. Basic housing has become less affordable, and the American Dream is slipping away for the average working family.

Since up and leaving the country isn’t an option for me, (I don’t know where I would go even if I could afford it), I have to focus on the positive and block our the negative so I don’t get depressed about the present and the future. I can’t change the future, and fro the 20 or so years I have left on this earth I want to enjoy my grand-kids and squeeze as much joy out of life as I can. If I was 20 or 30 I would be looking at things very differently.

What keeps me going is that while society may be crappier and crappier today with each passing decade, the technology just gets better and better. That inevitably floats all boats for standard of living even as people get nastier.

I grew up in the 70’s and it was a shitshow as well. Nixon and Watergate, Vietnam war, Fords pardon of Nixon, Carter and inflation and the Iranian Hostage situation (and I liked Jimmy). It was a mediocre boring time for me. I say the decline happen with the assassination’s of our progressive leaders in the 60’s like MLK and the Kennedy’s.

In the early 80’s computers came into being and I for one felt uplifted from the dreary existence of previous generations. It was in the early 90’s that I noticed that people found it OK to just lie and act outraged to get their way, and it just gathered steam since then.

Do you think so? I think we are in the midst of technological stagnation. No anybody’s fault–we picked the low-hanging fruit in the 19th and 20th centuries and are now stuck with incremental progress.

Re AI, probably the biggest thing right now (at least in people’s minds), I think something like strong AI is not really going to be good for humans. I think one result of technological progress is the commodification of everything. I work in marketing, and it odd to see these huge Japanese companies finding that no one gives a shit about anything they make, whereas in the early 80s the Sony Walkman was a genuine cultural phenomenon. I think strong AI (or even weak versions before we get there), will commodify intellectual work without a commensurate reward.

And yet, if strong AI were genuinely impossible, I would find that prospect very disconcerting as well…

Yeah, I don’t think there is an escape from this in terms of geography. We can speculate about what countries are run better than others, but are any said to be particularly positive these days? (I know Japan isn’t!)

I agree that I wouldn’t know what to do if I were young now. In distinct contrast to other generations, Zoomers seem to have given up rebellion and opposition almost entirely and retreated to their own online worlds.

Absolutely. I think the post-War social contract/system/etc. began its decline around 1970, had a brief resurgence in the 1980s and then with the internet bubble in the 1990s, and was dead by the early 2000s. But there was still a lot of positivity in these decades.

If you were a kid in the 1970s, as I did, I would say that, even though things were starting to go to shit and I experienced some of the shit too (e.g., oil shocks), the inertia of positivity from past decades was still there.

I think our expectations have increased as well, which makes the feeling of dissonance stronger. I was born in 1983. I was taught that I would be prosperous and successful as long as I got an education in something I was passionate about. I was also taught that student debt was “good debt.” Being married with kids was the default. And for many, it was expected that your family would help you out in a rough patch. Your parents would help you raise your kids. Your kids would take care of you when you became old.

I entered university in a prosperous economy and exited into a post 9-11 world at the beginning of one of the worst recessions in US history.

I’m not particularly complaining about my own trajectory, because I’ve made out well due to good fortune. But there are a lot of people in my generation who expected a much different reality. And a lot of people who had kids early in life also taught their kids a distorted view of what the world is actually like today. They didn’t tell them to expect financial hardship and settle for jobs and that maybe being a homeowner or affording kids was out of reach. Because that’s not what they were taught to expect.

So you have entire generations of people who are being constantly slapped in the face with a reality they were not prepared for.

That’s in addition to the cultural and political takeover by corporate interests who push extreme consumerism down people’s throats. Houses are built bigger and bigger every year. Cars become more and more luxurious. We are constantly demanding more and bigger and shinier and caught in an endless cycle of overworking and overspending. Generally speaking.

Not to mention a news cycle designed to promote maximum engagement through fear and outrage. And algorithms designed to distract and disorient us.

There are major systemic problems from racism to health care that need to be addressed. But feeling motivated to do anything has to start from within. I no longer feel overwhelmed by the negativity in the world because I’ve trained myself to be appreciative of the good in people and in the world. And I’ve aligned myself with a cause I believe in and I get to do work every day that helps me feel like I make a difference in my community. And I’m learning only recently to step off the consumer treadmill and really appreciate what I already have. So maybe start with a daily list of things you’re grateful for and go from there. Nothing is too small.

Many good points!

Yes, this was the narrative. And it’s hard to blame society for dousing in it, as these narratives help motivate people and push the world forward. But when these narratives blow up, it sucks.

Right. To me the bigger blow than reduced economic expectations has been being forced to see that the system is hollow overall. No one protected us from 9/11 or the economic collapse.

Me too. I had my best years ever during the pandemic, but it was still fucking depressing.

Yes, and I wonder what parents are telling their kids today. Of course, that’s just one source of The Narrative. (I don’t think I’ve ever propagandized my 17-year-old much in this way…)

Sadly, the economic system more or less requires it!

I agree with you. But then I have friends who get demotivated and depressed as well, and sometimes I feel as though I am carrying everybody. But I do feel motivated to help others because I do believe we will eventually reach a future that is better for all.

I guess it’s good to have been raised by hippies! :grinning: I’m about the same age as you and have the opposite perspective. When I was a kid, I was told that most politicians and all corporate executives were crooks, and saw little evidence to the contrary as I grew up. In the 80s, we had the spectre of nuclear annihilation looming over us, as well as the AIDS epidemic, the Iran-Contra scandal and multiple recessions. Mainstream culture was relentlessly homophobic. Our government was actively supporting apartheid in South Africa. No President or Vice-President had ever been anything other than a white man.

Serious talk: If you had asked me at age 18 which politician I would most want to see elected President someday, I would replied “The Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. His name is Bernie Sanders”. It took longer than we thought, but people are catching on! Sure, a lot of things suck these days, and the danger of slipping into overt fascism seems much greater than it did; but the difference is that today we have hope, precisely because so many people are no longer buying the bullshit that was almost universally lapped up when we were kids.

One word: Vietnam.
Another word: Watergate.

I agree. I think Vietnam was especially a big blow. That was abject failure (Watergate could at least be portrayed as the “system working” in the end).

I’m roughly the same age as the OP, and I trace a lot of current misery to 9/11. Or rather, our response to it.

For all of the, “we are all New Yorkers today” sentiments, I see most of our behavior in the aftermath as mob rule. We were largely terrible to people of Middle Eastern descent, we initiated wars that did fuck all to solve any actual problems, and we turned aviation into a dystopian nightmare. Flying used to be fun. That really hurts me. I wonder if a president Gore would have done things differently?

In the meantime, we still have a country where simply changing jobs or being out of work for a while imperils people by lack of insurance. And while it’s true poverty has steadily declined in the world, I think many of us still experience great stress over our futures. I make a good living, but still have no idea if and when I might retire because I made the mistake of not having the “right” kind of jobs, with certain benefits.

I perceive there are a lot of people experiencing desperation. That’s bad. I read an article a year or so back about free dental clinics periodically treating people in Appalachia, and they were absolutely overwhelmed. People flocked there, having little other prospect for that kind of treatment. When you are losing your teeth and think you can’t actually do anything about it… that’s really bad.

And I think desperation leads to all kinds of societal problems. Bigotry, violence, apathy. I think it’s all influenced by hopelessness and desperation.

I’m losing some of my motivation about stuff too.

Indeed. I was raised by squares who more or less believed the standard line.

OTOH, while I was a cynical teenager in the 1980s rebelling against my Catholic upbringing, among other things, I still thought there had been progress. Racism had been more or less wiped out, and feminism, or at least the basics thereof, had become accepted. My parents, as square and conservative as they were, never said anything against these things.

I agree that we are headed in a better direction with fewer illusions than before and that the scab of the illusions had to be picked off.

Where I think we’re failing, however, is in (as Liberals) putting forth leaders who are able to paint a believable picture of a better future and stay positive about it. For example, I think climate change is a problem that we need to solve, but the endless pissing and moaning about it is driving me fucking crazy. And, on the Liberal side, it’s mostly been finger-pointing at the bad, bad people who are preventing us from saving the planet in 5 minutes if they would only get out of the way.

I think real leaders have a vision, they can communicate that to others, and they are good at keeping people motivated. I don’t see leaders in any country nowadays who are good at that (whether on the right or left).

Yeah, I think it was the death of the US as we knew it.

He couldn’t have done worse! The dystopian nightmare of flying, however, was more of a global fuckup, though the US may have been its biggest instigator.

It’s absolutely disgraceful.

I wonder, however, what’s really possible at the end of the day in terms of social benefits. Japan does a pretty good (though, IMO, not amazing) job of getting healthcare to its citizens, but its public debt level is absolutely atrocious. Also, pension benefits to seniors are not great, so there is actually a trend, and not a small one, of seniors committing crimes so that they can go to prison and have a place to live and food to eat.

And that’s a country that has not had to spend much on its military or on social ills like fighting crime, but it still has to go into massive debt to pay for some of the basics.

As someone who has crawled my way out of severe depression more times than I can count, I would never say it’s just a mindset problem. What we can all agree on (I hope) is that there’s no way to suddenly snap yourself out of it. It requires a process like healing. But part of that healing is often… well, changing your mindset. Not in a superficial way but just accumulating tools and ideas and ways to cognitively restructure so that over time, eventually, you can make yourself more resilient to depression and hammer out something approaching happiness.

I just… I’ve gone through long periods of feeling helpless but I always found a way to keep trying to change my circumstances. If my life can be defined by anything it is my sheer perseverance in the face of overwhelming obstacles. So I believe that most problems in life can be addressed. Not fixed necessarily, but worked around, improved upon, or in the very least, viewed in a different way. And when people don’t do anything at all to improve their circumstances, I’ll admit it, it drives me nuts!

So that’s my ultimate attitude toward… all this. Yes, it’s bad, but there have always been bad things. People have survived the Black Death and the Holocaust and every sort of horror imaginable, and there have always been innovation and kind people doing their best to make things better.

What I was trying to say upthread is that it’s not just that things aren’t what we expected, but that materialism and corporate interests have taught us to expect more than people expected in the past. Home ownership is more expensive in part because homes are much larger than what people expected 50 years ago. What the American Dream means today is quite a taller order than it was in the past, because we not only expect a (bigger) home but we also expect an emotionally fulfilling career and self-actualization and constant entertainment and all sorts of things people in past did not have the luxury of worrying about.

And women often have the added expectation of both a career and children in a world where many men still have antiquated ideas of a woman’s role in the family. I can tell you as a woman in an egalitarian household, married to a feminist man, it’s still really hard! I almost lost a job I loved during the pandemic because we had a baby, our planned childcare bailed with no notice and someone had to take care of the kid. Guess who it had to be, just by the numbers? Is my job objectively less important because I make less money? No, it’s not.

You get the point!

Those were the revealers, but I’m not sure that faith in government and corporations was, apart maybe from some brief periods, ever actually justified, especially if you weren’t on their bad side.

I’m reminded of folks on Reddit who nostalgically hold up the Nineties as this golden age of peace, prosperity, and general quality of life. I always guess that they spent that decade as children and are white and middle class.

You have forgotten all about the Keystone Kops lowest-bidder “security” that predated the TSA. They were far worse than TSA is now. Everything else people like to bitch about is simply crowding. Twice as many people fly now versus just before 9/11 and substantially no airports are any bigger. Just busier.

Airline security started in the late 1960s after the flood of hijackings to Cuba. The “golden age” of the airport / airline experience was before then. OTOH, fares then were 10x what they are today after corrected for inflation.

I traveled a lot back then, and I’d say the tone of things has gotten way worse, and that affects people. Confiscating water bottles and full sized bottles of toothpaste. Being processed like cattle - it didn’t feel the same pre-9/11. Maybe it sounds like small potatoes stuff to be upset about, but it didn’t have the large scale, entirely new cabinet position endorsed officiousness that the TSA brought to air travel.

Even as a crewmember, I find it demeaning and stupid, and when I’m done with my flying career I plan to never get on an airliner again.

Not to say airport security was ever pleasant, but that and a lot of things seemed to just… lose any sense of humor that might have existed pre-9/11. That’s how it feels to me.

The thing is, the 90s were lot more positive than the current era on the whole. I was 18 - 28 in the 90s and still feel that way.

9/11 changed everything. It drew a hard line in reality.

Were the 90s relatively worse for people who were not white and middle class? I don’t see that.