Bubbles of Consciousness Percolating in the Broth of the Universe

I’ve been working on this post for some time (at least in my mind), and today I read this post on waitbutwhy (great site btw) that reminded me of some thoughts. It also brought a few disparate thoughts together, from my summer injury, from recent reading, and even from some distant memories.

When I was in college, there was this girl that had a thing for me. Her name was Joy. Joy seemed nice enough, but I wasn’t physically attracted to her. Oh, and also I thought she was a wacko-bird. A sampling: “Do you ever just look at trees clinging to a cliff face and just think how hard that tree must struggle to survive? How it must find water and nutrients and cling to that cliff face every day?”

Well, today, Joy, I apologize. Several times since the summer when I’ve been able to go for a walk outside, I’ve been fascinated, truly fascinated by looking at trees.

The first time this happened, I saw not just a tree amidst a tangle of other trees, but I saw, and even felt, its trunk and branches and leaves. I noticed how each leaf and branch was an individual that was barely distinguishable from its brothers, cousins and neighbors. But I noticed each tree for itself, not just as a background collage of brown and gray and green.

On another occasion, the sky was particularly blue; the sun was perfectly orange, not just by color, but by the way it warmed my face in the cool autumn air; the dry tall wetland grass was a sea of golden husks that seemed to filter the light to imbue the entire scene with a warmth that perfectly matched the temperature. Even the wind was blowing just enough to provide a cooling breeze and to make distant trees sway just enough to draw one’s attention.

As I marveled at the dark green of the trees contrasted against the deep blue of a cloudless afternoon sky, I felt a strange sense of existence. The tree, the sky, the breeze, the grass and even the sun – in that moment I felt that we were all made of the same stuff. And there we were, all existing, together. I felt, more so than thought of, the miracle that the guts of one dying star had arranged itself in a manner to produce not only that scene, but also the scene’s ability to contemplate itself through me. It reminded me of a quote (Einstein I think) that reads: “There are two ways to live life: one as if nothing is a miracle, and the other as if everything is.”

The mindblowing aspect of the whole scene was not that there “I” was, a unique “me” viewing a scene that was outside of “me”. It was that “I” was the scene and the scene was contemplating itself. At the same time, occurring billions of times across the world (and perhaps trillions of times across the universe), other pieces of the universe were contemplating themselves. It was as if the universe is a giant broth of stuff, just simmering. All across the face of this vast universe, little bubbles of consciousness percolate from the depths of the broth, rise to the surface and pop.

The percolating, the awkward rise as you get banged around, can be disconcerting, but it’s the popping that usually concerns us and constantly weighs on us. But the popping only matters if you think of yourself as the bubble instead of the broth.

There is no spoon.

PS To the extent the purpose of life is to replicate itself (hat tip to waitbutwhy for the pointer), wouldn’t it be the biggest fucking trip if the universe were like that too – it is a thing, with trillions of tiny things inside of it that eventually learn how to reproduce the bigger thing. Heat death of the universe? Fuck that, we (or someone in another galaxy) will eventually figure out how to trigger the next big bang. Otherwise, our universe — we — will not evolve and will become extinct.

The universe – the grandest life form, about which we know nothing.

the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful

the Universe, she’s dancing now
they got her lit up, lit up on the moon
they got stars doing cartwheels, all the nebulas on the tune
and the Universe, she’s whispering so softly I can hear all
the croaking insects, all the taxicabs, all the bum’s spent change
all the boys playing ball in the alleyways
they’re just folds in her dress

the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful

Gregory Alan Isakov, The Universe

Pope Francis, part deux

“If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart; if you aren’t a conservative when you’re old, you don’t have a brain.”  – Some Guy

Some Guy is a guy I work with who said this to me once. I’ve thought a lot about it, trying to understand what he meant by it. It’s clearly not a statement of fact. It’s not really an opinion, either – it’s more than that. I finally settled on the idea that it’s a statement of values.

I don’t know whether he would view it this way, but my interpretation is that the words “liberal” and “conservative” do not necessarily mean in the political sense that they are used these days in the United States. In this instance, “liberal” is more about social change; and “conservative” is more about social stasis.

Viewed through this lens, the statement is one about how young people, with little at stake, are more open to seeing the harshness of the costs of the existing economic and political system and, in particular, the harshness borne by certain groups disproportionately. Whether by compassion, thirst for wealth or power, or some other motive, young liberals are also more open to changing the status quo, which inevitably means a shifting of wealth and power from those who have it to those who do not. In this context, it is obvious why the older generations, with a lifetime of accumulated investment in the existing system, would rationally resist change and the resulting shift of wealth and power.

I suppose this tension is natural, and I don’t propose any fix for it. As I wrote above, I think the statement is ultimately a statement of Some Guy’s values. Maybe at one time he smoked pot, walked around naked at Woodstock and spoke of free love, but he now loves his couch on wheels of a Lexus and his fat 401(k).  Maybe he feels guilty; maybe he feels like he got the best of both worlds; who knows?  Anyway, to the Pope!

Pope Francis, it would seem, would disagree with Some Guy, with his call for a more equal distribution of goods to the world’s poor. In an earlier post I made the claim that my only problem with his statements was his faulty understanding of what a “free” market is. Well, I was wrong.

The more I thought about it, the greater the dissonance it suggested to my mind. Pope Francis, it would seem, calls for those with wealth and power to give some of it up for the good of all. That is all fine and good, and he can believe whatever he wants.

But my question now is this: is the Catholic church included in that? He moved out of the fancy papal digs to live in a hotel, he drives a beat-up Peugeot or whatever, and he’s been lauded for doing other such humble-ish things.

But I’m not buying what he’s selling.  Imagine the vast wealth of the Catholic church – the church properties, the church residences, the cars, the furnishings, the jewelry, cash on hand and who knows what else. Has he done anything with them? Has he taken any of the savings that he’s generated personally (savings only in the sense of not spending so much money as his predecessors) and given it to the poor?

What would really impress me is if the Pope followed the instruction to “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Matthew 19:21, King James Version. I assume that is entirely in the Pope’s control, but is that what he suggests? Is he leading by example?

Or…or is it that he, the head of one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations on Earth over the last 2000 years, has only called on all the other wealthy people and powers to give up some of theirs? Is it offensive of me to suggest such a thing? I don’t think so; after all, 2000 years gives you plenty of time to rack up a few skeletons in the closet – selling of indulgences led to Martin Luther’s revolution; what will priestly pedophilia and its cover up lead to?

So, if Pope Francis really cares for the plight of the poor and really believes that redistribution of existing wealth is the cure, I call on Pope Francis to put the church’s money where his mouth is, lead by example, and fulfill scripture to boot.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Each of the links below are recommended, but for the sake of brevity, a few take-aways to frame today’s material.

lareviewofbooks.org/essay/post-scarcity-economics
The opening line is brilliant: “We live like gods, and we don’t even know it.” The next paragraph shares a few examples of things that are fairly common for many living in the U.S., but which would have been unimaginable for even kings a scant century ago: flight, eating tropical fruit in the winter, ipods.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/how-pope-francis-misunderstands-the-world/282276/
Although styled as a critique of the Pope’s view of the state of poverty as far too myopic, for our purposes, it is sufficient to note that the article reviews some historical trends regarding GDP, crime, disease and life expectancy and notes that never before in human history have we had it so good.

http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/i_hope_my_father_dies_soon/
Scott Adams shares the plight of his father, dangling painfully to life, unable to access assisted suicide to end his life which is described as: “His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed…[he is] in this state of perpetual suffering…I’d like to end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But…for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.”

Many of those living in developed countries live in luxury unparalleled in history. Even I, so far from “the 1%” decried by the Occupy crowd, would have to rank my quality of life in the top 0.01% of all humans to ever have walked the earth. I never before thought I lived like a king, but by broadening my view to include the proper historical context, I don’t think I can now refute the assertion.

Not only is the quality of my life unparalleled in human history, the quantity of my life (and my entire cohort) is likely to be unparalleled. War is not likely to take me, given that I’ve avoided it so far and I’m not likely to be the first drafted in any future scenario requiring that. Childbirth complications, starvation, polio, bacteria, influenza, malaria, HIV/AIDS, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis, tetanus, bubonic plague, measles and likely dozens of other diseases have been or can be prevented, cured or managed by modern medicine, sanitation and agriculture.  Even the new killers of the developed world, which are mainly lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, can be held at bay for long periods of time. As a result, I can expect – EXPECT! – to live for 70+ years.

Notwithstanding this abundance of life, it hasn’t made us more accepting of the inevitable. Perhaps the most famous lines capturing our instinct to recoil upon the verge of our (or a loved one’s) death are these lines penned by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This raises a serious question: just because we are repulsed at the thought of our own death and we have the tools to delay it much beyond our “natural” lifespan, is it wise to choose, as a default, to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”?  It almost seems as if the guiding assumption of medicine, and government, is to extend life. But what exactly does it mean to extend life?  Extend it compared to what?  More importantly, for what purpose? It appears that we have no purpose – we extend life merely, and thoughtlessly, because we can, on the assumption that it is the “moral” thing to do.  But what about when we’re wrong?

On Politics in the U.S.

I touched on a few of these points in a previous post, but herein I expand:

Politicians.  I can’t distinguish between politicians. Republican or Democrat, they’re all the same to me.  It’s a big game and the purpose of the game is for the individuals in the game to maximize their personal gain.  Whether it’s power or money or fame or whatever, politicians want to keep their jobs and they will say and do whatever it takes to do so.  As a result, I don’t believe anything a politician says they believe.

Republicans.  The Republican headline is that they are fiscally and socially conservative, preferring a limited government while ensuring maximum freedom is reserved to individuals.  This is mostly bullshit. 

  • Fiscal conservatism.  Just look at budget deficits for the last 30 years (at least) to see that Republicans are not actually fiscally conservative.  The reality is that they like to spend money just as much (or more!) as Democrats, only on different things.
  • Social conservatism.  If you equate “social conservatism” with Southern Baptist morality, then, sure, Republicans are socially conservative, but they are also just as weak or hypocritical as anyone else.  Just think of Republican leaders caught in affairs or other shenanigans. So much for practicing what they preach.
  • Limited government.  I don’t believe the federal government has shrunk (by any measure) under any Republican leadership in my lifetime.  In their view, the government should be limited…unless it is to pay for the things that Republicans want to spend money on or to enforce their socially conservative principles, in which case, government is great!
  • Maximum freedom.  Freedom is permitted only to those who believe and act in ways that are consistent with their socially conservative principles.  The rest are constrained, but it’s ok, because Republicans know best and the rest should humbly accept the lessons offered by these masters.

Democrats.  The Democratic headline seems to historically have been “Hey, we’re not Republicans.”  Congratulations.  Your lack of definition makes your self-interested amorphism less susceptible to attacks on the basis of obvious hypocrisy, but whatever your selling (this cycle), I’m not buying.

The tax code. I don’t think it’s wise to use the tax code to try to encourage this or that behavior.  So much of modern politics is “how will we use the tax code to favor our constituents or our party’s base at the expense of ‘the others’.”  This is problematic.  I would impose a flat tax with no credits or deductions available to anyone. All transfer payments would need to be specified and paid in outgoing checks from the U.S. Treasury. Subsidies that are currently hidden would be explicitly and openly made to corporations, industries and people, so we all know where everyone stands without tax code rhetoric to blind us.  The ambiguity inherent in the current tax code hides of multitude of sins, which is why politicians love it.

Divided Government.  Given my cynicism, you might think I’m an anarchist or communist or monarchist or antichrist or some other –ist.  On the contrary, governing is the process of establishing a ruling authority over people, and of all the options I have studied (I use the term here very loosely), the framers of the Constitution chose brilliantly. The brilliance of this country (and many other modern countries) is in its structure – division of power.  This division is multifaceted, among three branches of government, between the federal and the states, among the 50 states, between “the people” (the House) and the states (the Senate). This is a tremendously powerful idea, and one that gives me great comfort.  Notwithstanding the fact that sociopaths run this (and every other) country, at least I can take comfort in the fact that there’s no one sociopath who runs this country unchecked.  Division of power ensures that some of the sociopathy on one side cancels out the sociopathy of the other, and we stumble along the edge of tyranny without actually falling off.

Participating in Politics.  Vote for whomever you want for whatever reasons you want, but it doesn’t really matter most of the time. But be watchful for when one person or party gets to be too powerful (or crazy or some other negative adjective), and join or incite the populace to keep them in check. How involved you want to be otherwise is up to you.  In deciding how much time and energy is reasonable to devote to participating or watching politics, I wholeheartedly and wholemindedly endorse and recommend the view espoused in this recent op-ed by David Brooks:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/03/opinion/brooks-the-stem-and-the-flower.html?_r=0

Intellectual Porn

“The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.”
– Abraham Lincoln.

Internet porn is a feast for the eyes and the penis.  In the space of a few minutes, your brain can see hundreds, if not thousands, of tits and ass.  Your penis may even be simplistic enough to think that this spread of T&A is all available for mating.  It’s a lot to process.

The problem with internet porn is that it is not satisfying.  It requires ever greater novelty and numbers to maintain an interest, and even an erection.  And it lacks certain aspects of real sex that may, from a certain angle, even increase its appeal compared to real sex.  It presents an idealized version of a woman – a woman sans complaint, who never lacks desire for the viewer, who never requires anything for herself or who’s never un-showered or smelly or otherwise not ready to be taken in any environment, from any angle, at any time.  She’s PERFECT!  I’ll take two…thousand….per minute.  Got a delivery system for that?

The insidious thing about internet porn is that while it temporarily satisfies the penis, it does not satisfy the soul, and even worse, it lowers the viewer’s capacity for enjoying real sexual intimacy.   It is fake sex.  Real sexual satisfaction can only be arrived at via the process of real sex.  Real sex includes a real woman – a woman who sometimes can go for periods of time without complaint or needs (whether in the bedroom or out), but more often than not has unsexy real-world problems and stresses; who sometimes wants you and sometimes doesn’t; who sometimes is freshly showered and totally prepared for a rendezvous, but more often than not is busy doing or worrying about other things when the mood may strike.

Real sex also requires more time and energy than simply walking up to a woman, lifting up her skirt (who wears pesky underwear!?) and going at it for 30 seconds like a couple of baboons in the wild.  The foundation of satisfying real sex is an investment in a woman’s soul, which requires regular and routine maintenance. To the foundation, a framework of finding time in a busy life to focus on each other must be erected.  A roof and walls of sensual touching and talking finishes the basic structure.  Only then is the table set for the real feast to begin.   For more on this fascinating subject, watch an excellent talk entitled the Great Porn Experiment given by Gary Wilson at TEDxGlasgow, available at the time of writing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSF82AwSDiU.

Internet quotes are the intellectual’s equivalent of internet porn.  In the space of a few minutes, your brain can consume tens of quotes, distilling hundreds of years of wisdom into the space of a few sentences.  One might even be forgiven for a sense of smugness as one nods in agreement with this quote or that.  Using quotes as a reminder of former explorations is one thing, but trolling quote sites, such as Pinterest, as the main source of intellectual nourishment is wholly another.

The problem with internet quotes, as with internet porn, is that this is fake intellectualism, and it is just as insidious.  It robs the viewer of real intellectual pursuit, while leaving the viewer believing he has been edified as a result of an intellectual pursuit.  In the meantime, a pattern is born where the viewer spends less and less time actually thinking of the topics covered by these quotes while being spoon-fed stylized intellectual T&A.  It can be quite intoxicating, but only superficially, since no real learning occurs.

Much like real sex, real thought requires a build up.  It requires intimacy from foundation to framework to roof and walls.  Even the meandering or boring detours contain insight.  Fleshed out with a broader context, the thought embodied in a quote gains more meaning, not less. Distillation doesn’t give you “the good stuff”; it leaves behind the impurities that gave the thought its essential character.

More importantly, by meandering through real writing, like a disciple with a master, a reader learns a process – a process that can then be replicated when one begins to walk alone.  The nuance of one’s experience can be lost when one knows only how to seek the headlines.  The world perhaps becomes more black and white, and the reader loses the ability to see and accept the gray world as it really is and concomitantly loses the ability to navigate the complex thoughts, emotions or situations that will invariably arise in the real world.

Wisdom, therefore, is not a commodity, despite its widespread distribution.  It cannot simply be consumed via voyeuristic intellectuo-tourism.  It can only be arrived at as the product of a head-long journey into the unknown; otherwise it’s just some nice words in a pretty font.

The Pope is wrong

No, no, this isn’t a post about religion. It’s about economics. Reuters recently declared that the Pope “attacked unfettered capitalism as ‘a new tyranny’…” 

The gist of the economic portion of his “apostolic exhortation” is that “the prevailing economic system” “reject[s] the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”  He goes on to discuss society’s responsibility for caring for the poor and to blast income inequality, etc.

Now, I have no problem with the Pope’s concern for the poor. I have no problem with his call for state control over the economy. I have no problem with any of the religious stuff in the document (and I’m not Catholic). I won’t quarrel with any of it! It’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it! Preach on brother! Whatever!

My one and only problem with this document? He attacks a “prevailing economic system” that doesn’t exist! I don’t know of any economic system anywhere that is free from state control. Even Republicans in the U.S. who scream about free markets and government regulation and bureaucracy and blah blah blah lack the courage to create a truly free market in the United States.

“What?” you say. “I’m a Republican, and by God we believe in free markets! Cut taxes and regulation to unleash the creative force of America and we’ll raise tax revenue by creating more growth!” Yes, yes, yes, I hear you. Now sit down and wipe that spittle from the corner of your mouth.

First of all, I’d like to distinguish between the wealth-creation part of the economic system and the wealth-re-distribution part of the economic system. From a purely wealth-creation view, your choices fall on a spectrum. You can have dispersed control (a free market) or centralized control (a planned economy) or some mixture of the two. This determines how you decide where capital and resources are allocated. For my part, I think a free market will do this job more efficiently than a planned economy – and more efficiency means more aggregate wealth and less aggregate waste. Witness the last 100 years of human history, and there’s a reason China has exploded in productivity as it has opened up its markets. But that’s just my opinion and is neither here nor there.

The wealth-re-distribution aspect I like to think of as synonymous with taxes, which seems to be state-controlled across the globe. The problem, it seems to me, is that sometimes the taxation part is lumped in together with the wealth-creation part.  This can happen explicitly like in a purely socialist system or it can happen implicitly, like in the United States, when the tax system is used to incentivize or de-incentivize capital and resource allocation. And here is where Republicans fuck it up.

Republicans love the rhetoric surrounding “cutting taxes” because they have a nice story about it by linking it to wealth creation (notwithstanding that such government intervention is the very essence of socialism!). But it’s really just an indirect transfer payment to Republicans’ favored constituents.  No, the U.S. Treasury doesn’t necessarily cut a check to corn farmers or corporations or whoever gets subsidies or tax breaks (and they are too numerous for me to even begin to touch on it), but it’s a re-distribution of wealth nonetheless. At the same time, Republicans scream about the direct transfer payments that Democrats prefer to make to their favored constituents. Call me a cynic, but in both cases, politicians are just buying votes! If Republicans had balls, they’d legislate what they say they believe – everyone would be taxed on a basis separate from taxation’s impact on wealth creation, i.e., they would just let the market create whatever it’s going to create without trying to exercise centralized control over it (i.e., tax incentives) and they’d tax the wealth coming out of it at whatever rate they argue for. This way, all you have are direct, non-hidden transfer payments and you can argue over what payments to make to whom and how much.  All above board!  But politicians don’t like that.  A post for another day.

Anyway, Pope Francis, that’s my problem with your statement – there is no such thing as an economy free from state control, even the world’s largest “free” market economy is not anywhere close to free. If you’re going to rant against something, at least call it by its real name.

P.S.  Ok, so when I said “my only problem”, I was exaggerating, but the rest of the Pope’s statement is so confused and lacking as to defy response, so I won’t attempt it, i.e.:

    • From para 202:  “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any prob­lems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”  Ummm…what? Care to identify the ‘structural causes of inequality’ for us? Care to identify any market that has ‘absolute autonomy’? No? How about explaining the causality in the statement ‘inequality is the root of social ills’?
    • From para 56: “While the earnings of a minority are grow­ing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ide­ologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Con­sequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules… The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of in­creased profits, whatever is fragile, like the envi­ronment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” Hate to break it to you, bro, but you’re not describing capitalism – you’re describing every society, under any economic system. Chavez? Not hurting for money (when he was alive). Castro? Nope. Stalin, Mao, Khrushchev, Caesar, Genghis, Hitler? Not them either.
    • From para 53: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the sur­vival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.” From para 56: “…the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good…”  I don’t know about you, but if you think a rich individual is powerful, what about an individual wielding the power of a state? Think Putin is a paragon of piety? What about those other leaders listed above? Want any of them running around again? I’m sure they’d humbly accept acting in the service of vigilance for the common good.
    • Throughout, there’s this weird juxtaposition of “consumerism is bad, stop consuming so many goods” and “the poor would be happy if only we gave them more goods!”  I mean, I know what he’s getting at, but all together, it just isn’t a cogent view of how to deal with the problem, or perhaps it betrays the lack of an educated understanding of what the problem even is!

Notwithstanding the problems of a constitutionally limited representative democratic republic, such as the United States, and a “free”(ish?) market economy and the tyranny, nepotism, political favors, etc. inherent therein, weighed against the centuries of other systems, I’ll take my chances with decentralized control.

As far as Popes go, I like the guy – shaking things up, practicing what he preaches.  But…maybe stick to the religious angle, your view of economics and state power leaves much to be desired.

Struggling with a Life that You Didn’t Think You’d Have

I am somewhat disappointed in this article Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.  It’s not that I didn’t chuckle at the truth contained therein.  It’s not that I think the article was wrong in any particular way.  But it’s myopic.  It’s not the whole story.

The gist of the article if you haven’t read it or if it becomes unavailable is that:

1)   Happiness = Reality (minus) Expectations.  If reality exceeds expectations, you’re happy; if vice versa, you’re unhappy.

2)   Generation Yers are Delusional [in their expectations and, due to facebook image crafting, believe everyone is doing much better than they]

3)   Therefore they are unhappy.

Setting aside for the moment the obvious problems with oversimplification, I was more focused on the myopia that lead the author to think this was unique to Generation Yers – or even to Generation Yers’ career happiness.

First, whether or not this is uniquely American, I do not know (but at least in *********, the country of my ancestry, this is not the case), but there is an assumption in the U.S. that a career (and perhaps by extension the consumption it permits) is the sole or main measure of human worth or a life’s success.

A few years ago, while my life was consumed by a “prestigious” and “sophisticated” job that generated a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance, I slowly realized that I was fat and unhappy, bordering on depressed (or fully seven layers in, according to my wife).  I began to look at everything I was doing as completely pointless.  Nothing mattered.  I suppose it was a problem of perspective – given a large enough time or geographic scale, one could fairly claim that nothing anyone does matters.

But then, the epiphany!  If nothing matters objectively, then anything can matter subjectively!  If God or the Universe or History cares not what I do, then I can do whatever I want.  But what is it I want?  The Happiness Blog pointed me in the right direction with a valuable lesson – You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.  Happiness was no longer an ephemeral concept without my grasp.  Because nothing matters, anything can matter, and we decide what matters.  It’s nothing more than a choice.  And choices have consequences or trade-offs.

Now, a few years removed from a consuming job, and at the expense of my career, I have chosen to have a life rich in experiences.  Most of these experiences involve love – my family, my closest friends, my other friends, my hobbies.  I chase what matters to me even though none of these things Matter in the sense that there’s a “Big Book of Matter” written by God or the Universe that determines what things matter and what things don’t.  Nothing is but what we make of it.

Second, struggling with a life that you didn’t think you’d have is not a problem singular to Generation Yers.  It’s so obviously one of general human application that it is…befuddling that commentators focus so much on the “spoiled” Generation Y.  Guess what?  Life will teach them hard lessons in due time.  The fact that some commentators await Gen Yers’ introduction to the potholes of life with glee says much more about the commentator than the subject of comment.

Finally, this article, although not explicit, appears to contain what many of these types of articles contain – implicit inter-generational blame.  The absurdity of inter-generational blame is apparent, regardless of the direction, but it’s most absurd when a child is mocked and blamed for absorbing lessons taught and beliefs instilled.  In the case of this article, Gen Yers are implicitly mocked for “believing they are special” because their parents told them “that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches.”

In short, we’re all just animals on a rock floating in space making meaning in our brief span of consciousness.  Generations before us have done it; generations after us will do it.  What makes this generation of young adults worthy of singling out for praise, mockery or any other comment?