Meaning and Millennials

“I think that often people come to the conclusion that life is meaningless because that is a better conclusion to come to than the reverse, because if life is meaningless, well then who cares what you do. But if life is meaningful, if what you do matters, then everything you do matters, and that puts a terrible responsibility on the individual. And I think that people are generally unwilling to bear that.”

-Jordan Peterson

Professors Jordan Peterson and John Vervaeke are colleagues in the University of Toronto Department of Psychology. They share an interest in the study of life’s meaning and reject moral relativism as nihilistic. They’re students of science and metaphysics.

Vervaeke, psychology specialties: Perception, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience
PhD 1997 University of Toronto, Philosophy
BSc 1991 University of Toronto, Specialist in Cognitive Science
MA 1985 University of Toronto, Philosophy
HBA 1984 McMaster University, Philosophy, Summa Cum Laude

Peterson, psychology specialties: Social, Personality and Abnormal
PhD 1991 McGill University, Clinical Psychology
BSc 1984 University of Alberta, Psychology
BSc 1982 University of Alberta, Political Science

Their voices are sorely needed as the Humanities move ever deeper into postmodern despair, absurdity and self-deception; and Science faces political pressure to abandon scientific method as sexist and/or racist.

Our educational system has gone to a lot of trouble to replace such sources of meaning as family, competence and merit by deconstructing individual responsibility into a collectivist competition for victimhood participation trophies. Reason is similarly challenged: There are no truths, only interpretations.

This has negative consequences, especially for those who grew up during this cultural shift. To be sure, much of what follows doesn’t apply to most Millennials, but we see evidence daily that there’s a problem.

One example: We’re told Millennials in the workplace desire “purpose over paycheck.”

Purpose should be easy: “You do this. We pay you.”

Instead, it seems likely “purpose” in that phrase substitutes for “precisely aligned with my life values and goals,” or “meaningful.” There’s nothing wrong with such an aspiration, but it isn’t realistic. For one thing, your colleagues would all have to be of one mind. That’s one reason jobs that provide life meaning are not common. Even self-employed I couldn’t be sure my job would always fulfill a particular “purpose,” including meeting payroll. And who could make sure the customers would co-operate? But, some people expect job “purpose” to be supplied by others.

In any case, as we’ll see, Millennials don’t appear to be finding deep meaning through their employment. That might indicate they are incapable of finding it in themselves.

And why would they be? They’ve been conditioned by effusive praise to expect meaning to find them. Meaning becomes external. Like a job. Or ‘Likes’ on Facebook.

A Millennial meaning deficit is strongly suggested by the fact that Millennial suicide rates are soaring: They experience high rates of depression: And they may be the “quintessential postmodern generation.”

They’ve been cut adrift in a sea of narcissism by their parents and their professors, who should have taught them moral values and how to think, but handed them participation trophies and moral nihilism instead. Many Millennials have come to expect constant and instantaneous validation of their merit, whether they’ve displayed any or not. That applies to their opinions too, many of them are convinced that simply taking offense grants them some sort of moral authority.

They’ve been misled about their capabilities. They’ve been lied to about their prospects. They’ve been suckered into huge student debt by what amounts to academic fraud.

A growing cultural anomie should not be surprising. Nor should we wonder why Millennials flock to hear Jordan Peterson, and increasingly John Vervaeke, speak for two hours about how to find meaning. For a dozen lectures.

Reason and meaning are under siege because of guilt by association with Western Civilization. Peterson and Vervaeke are playing defense. Some examples:

I’d say watch the whole thing, but this link will start at 2:04. Watch until you want to stop. TWT is 20:49.
Jordan Peterson *NEW* The Meaning of Life

Here’s an interview about meaning: John Vervaeke: The Meaning Crisis (39 minutes) Again, the whole thing is worthwhile, but the link starts at 18:32. There, Vervaeke puts his finger on the epistemological question raised by Postmodernism. It’s a serious question.

Vervaeke has recently started a series of lectures on YouTube: ‘Awakening From the Meaning Crisis.

Renaissance men

Tyler Cowen blogs at Marginal Revolution and he is Holbert L. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Director of the Mercatus Center.

He is also a polymath. Here, he interviews another of my favorite polymaths.

Jordan Peterson on Mythology, Fame, and Reading People

A snippet:

When I wrote my first book, which was Maps of Meaning, I was very curious about whether the tension between the communist viewpoint and the Western viewpoint, roughly speaking, was merely a matter of opinion, which is something you might think if you were a moral relativist, or perhaps even a postmodernist — that there’s a multitude of ways that you can set up a society and they’re each equally, arbitrarily valuable. And there’s an infinite set of methods by which a society might be generated. That’s one hypothesis.

As I got deeper and deeper into the analysis of both systems, I thought, “No, that’s just wrong.” There’s some things that the West got. What we designed in the West is a playable game, technically speaking, and what was designed by the communists was a nonplayable game. It was destined to degenerate across time because it couldn’t function in a real-world environment. It was an abstraction that couldn’t maintain itself if it was iterated…

…[W]hen you insist that the right way to view the world is victim versus victimizer, and then you coddle people into exaggeration of their own negative, emotion-centered pathology, you’re going to ensure that the political structure becomes more and more neurotic. If you’re aiming at something and you’re moving rapidly towards it, you’re likely to hit it. And that’s exactly what’s happening on the campuses.

Highly recommended. Interesting comments on the purpose of universities, media disintermediation, sex discrimination, and much else.

Nobody is allowed good intentions but us

Here’s what compassion gets you from the rabid Left. (Link broken intentionally. You can fix it if you really want the reference.)

Trump’s Plan to Decriminalize Homosexuality Is an Old Racist Tactic

Because “colonialism.” Don’t you know all cultures are morally equivalent? Except Western Civilization, which is oppressive.

This sleight of mind is how our Leftists forgive female genital mutilation and support boycotting the only democracy in the Middle East; while refusing to express an opinion on, or even acknowledge, the debate among some Imams regarding the proper way to kill gays – throw them off tall buildings or collapse a wall on them.

That is a very partial list of the multi-cultural ‘diversity’ the Left embraces in order to facilitate condemnation of Western culture. (The answer to the Imam’s debate is obvious: How many walls can you afford to collapse?  You can use the same building many times.)

I’d also mention how the Islamic fundamentalist debate on the treatment of trans people is proceeding, but I’m not aware of it.  Perhaps it goes unmentioned in the Quran.  If so, that’s probably good for trans people in strict Islamic countries.

But. If Trump moves to extend some protection to gays in Islamic countries that makes him a racist.

Maybe for those ‘apolitical voters who vote based on feelings’ someone could could point out that the charge of “colonialism” is just one more tired talking point for the postmodernist/critical theorist/intersectionalist wing of the party calling themselves Democrats: They aren’t to be taken seriously from a moral standpoint.

My favorite example of the bankruptcy of cultural equivalence, AKA deeply held moral intuitions, is related by Mark Steyn: The Gelded Age

In a culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of “suttee” – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:

‘You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.’

India today is better off without suttee. If you don’t agree with that, if you think that’s just dead-white-male Eurocentrism, fine. But I don’t think you really do believe that. Non-judgmental multiculturalism is an obvious fraud, and was subliminally accepted on that basis. After all, most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched tribal dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug.

Progressive humbug has become a quintessential piece of Western culture.

Counter-Enlightment mobs on Twitter

Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on ‘Enlightenment Now,’ One Year Later

That Steven Pinker piece is rich in references, long, and thoughtful. You will certainly find some things in it to which you object.

For example, I think this sentence, “But no one would suggest that the state of the environment has improved in the past 250 years anyway — on the contrary, many of the improvements for humanity came at the expense of the planet,” is gibberish. A sop, as Pinker says later, to “the relentless fatalism of orthodox environmental journalism and activism.

In fact, allimprovements for humanity came at the expense of the planet,” so Pinker has given us an understated tautology.

At least since the failure of Eden Bank and Trust, none of the progress he documents would have been possible without drawing on the Bank of Gaia. Shall we define high environmental quality as “red in tooth and claw,” with human lives “nasty, brutish and short?” While extreme environmentalists may count humanity as a cancer*, what other environmental metric should sane humans use than human well-being?

It isn’t either/or. Caring about human well-being means we need to care about the environment, and wealthier societies are far better able to do this. We are the only species who are even capable of thinking about how our activities affect other life, but we’re likely to do little of that while starving, or suffering from deadly, preventable diseases.

Pinker more or less acknowledges this disconnect starting a paragraph later, but it doesn’t excuse that sentence.

I also think Pinker is subject to living too near the edges of the Trump Derangement Syndrome cabal, but his points about Trump all have some core validity.

Enough quibbling. A recommended read, which begins:

You wouldn’t think that a defense of reason, science, and humanism would be particularly controversial in an era in which those ideals would seem to need all the help they can get.

I guess! After this weekend’s events on the DC Mall, and the ongoing vitriolic hatred propelled by rushing to preconceived judgment.

The Enlightenment bequeathed us many things. Among them, transistors.  Leading, unfortunately, to Twitter. It’s the hair trigger of a polity in which 15 year olds receive near instant death threats for simply standing still, smiling nervously in the face of a practiced adult ‘bully for profit,’** while being vilely insulted by adult Black supremacists whose probability of being slaves would be far higher (as would everyone’s) without the Enlightenment.

Pinker describes the central Enlightenment idea these collectivists want to destroy:

“Practices that blatantly violate human freedom and dignity, like slavery, serfdom, imperialism, and caste systems, are to be condemned; all other norms and customs are incommensurable across cultures and may not be judged as superior or inferior.”

It’s Enlightenment values that proscribe and yet protect pre-Enlightenment tribal hatreds. Victims of grievance ideology can’t merely ignore the progress Pinker documents, they have to paint it as evil.

*See also, The Simon Abundance Index: A New Way to Measure Availability of Resources
“[E]very additional human being born on our planet seems to be making resources proportionately more plentiful for the rest of us.

**No link to a GoFundMe campaign being run on his behalf, but the goal is $50,000.  Of which $380 has been pledged.  The beg:

On Friday, January 18th, 2019, Native American Vietnam War Veteran Nathan Phillips was mocked and harassed by a group of young men in “Make America Great Again” hats on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The disrespect and intimidation displayed by these young men were heartbreaking to me and many others across the country. Given the atrocious actions the U.S. has taken against Native American communities since colonization started in the Americas, this incident was a reflection of how much of that same ignorance and bigotry is still present in our society.

I know that this is a very small gesture relative to the harm that was caused by this specific incident and the many decades of history leading up to this. However, I hope that this GoFundMe campaign can make even a small difference for Mr. Phillips and his community.

Funds raised by this campaign will go directly to Mr. Phillips to use as he sees fit to aid himself and/or his community.

Nor any link to some far left site called Inquisitr:

“Now, the internet has responded by raising thousands of dollars to support Phillips and a non-profit organization he leads called Native Youth Alliance. The response was meant to put a positive spin on an ugly incident that has gained viral attention and to help the Native American activist, who was caught in the middle of the incident.”

Those are but two examples of fundraising off Nathan Phillips’ bullying.