The article ‘I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life’ went massively viral, getting hundreds of votes and comments on Reddit and Hacker News, which is how I heard about it. The reason it was so viral is because readers could relate its central themes, those being loneliness, ennui, inadequacy, ‘being average’ in a society that prizes individual exceptionalism, but importantly, the virality of the article is indicative of changing cultural and social mores, but also acceptance of such changes. In the post common themes I discuss themes of articles that go viral. By tapping into such themes and narratives, despite the niche appeal of the article (generally, those with IQs below 115 or so cannot relate to its themes or don’t care), it went more viral than even articles about mainstream topics such as sports and entertainment.
From the article:
For all these years of quick changes and rash decisions, which I once rationalized as adventurous, exploratory, and living an “original life,” I have nothing to show for it. I have no wealth, and I’m now saddled with enough debt from all of my moves, poor decisions, and lack of career drive that I may never be able to retire. I have no career milestones and don’t care for my line of work all that much anyway, but now it’s my lifeline, as I only have enough savings to buy a hotel room for two nights. I have no family nearby, no long-term relationship built on years of mutual growth and shared experiences, no children. While I make friends easily, I’ve left most of my friends behind in each city I’ve moved from while they’ve continued to grow deep roots: marriages, homeownership, career growth, community, families, children. I have a few close girlfriends, for which I am grateful, but life keeps getting busier and our conversations are now months apart. Most of my nights are spent alone with my cat (cue the cliché).
Anyone with with an above-average IQ can relate to this regardless of gender, politics, or sexual orientation. Millennials are burning out, and the ‘quarter-life crisis‘ has become the new mid-life crisis. Not long ago, conservatives and even some liberals would have been more dismissive, with platitudes and unhelpful exhortations to “work harder” and “suck it up,” but now sentiment has changed. Even someone who posts on /r/the_Donald is like “yeah…I have been there. I have a lot of student loan debt. I wish I could provide more for myself and or my family. Every year I feel like I lose contacts.” As evidence of this shift, in January 2018 when Joe Biden said he had “no empathy” for young people who compared today to the struggles of the 1960s, predictably, he got considerable backlash from the ‘left’, but also rebuke from the ‘right’, too, for being out of touch.
In a popular culture and society that idolizes the rich and successful, who appear to have exciting, fulfilling lives–billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson–what if you’re ‘only average’–then what do you do? Millions of smart but average people are looking for advice on coping with mediocrity, because by virtue of statistics, most people must be average. Because this is a problem most people by statistical certainty will face, conservative and liberal alike, such articles tend to go viral, as discussed in Deconstructing a viral article: In Praise of Mediocrity.
Yet there is the contradiction of seeking to overcome mediocrity and at the same time embracing or accepting it. One one extreme there is this so-called ‘hustle culture’ that is pervasive among young people as exemplified by articles such as Inside the Strange Yet Profitable World of Retail Arbitrage, which went hugely viral, yet on the other extreme you have article like this in which there is a sort of resignation and acceptance to one’s fate of mediocrity.
I used to consider myself creative — a good writer, poetic, passionate, curious. Now, after many years of demanding yet uninspiring jobs, multiple heartbreaks, move after move, financial woes, I’m quite frankly exhausted. I can barely remember to buy dish soap let alone contemplate humanity or be inspired by Anaïs Nin’s diaries. Honestly, I find artists offensive because I’m jealous and don’t understand how I landed this far away from myself.
Given her credentials and writing ability, it’s evident her IQ is easily a standard deviation above average, which ties in with the shared narrative concept as smart readers could relate to her story. She immediately builds credibly with the reader. This is invaluable for virnalness.
My apathy is coming out in weird ways. I’m drinking too much, and when I do see my friends on occasion, I end up getting drunk and angry or sad or both and pushing them away. And with men I date, I feel pressure to make something of the relationship too soon (move in, get married, “I have to have kids in a couple of years”; fun times!). All the while still trying to be the sexpot 25-year-old I thought I was until what seemed like a moment ago.
A lot of smart, high-IQ millennials and gen-z, although weighed down by student loan debt, seek individualistic self-determination and don’t want to ‘settle down’ and have kids, which I predicted many years ago. Everyone can relate to this, including many on the ‘right’ such as Trump supporters who also agree that things have gotten too hard for young people, and that the ‘boomer idealization’ of family formation and a home by 25, is unobtainable or impractical. Jobs for high school grads are scarce and poor paying, making college an expensive necessity. Many on the ‘high-IQ right’ such as Vox Day, along with the smart-left, are leading the backlash against boomers, and this makes it a shared narrative. Smart people understand that delaying family formation in your 20’s to build wealth (even if that means living with your parents) so you can start a family and buy a home in your 30’s, is a better choice.
For example, consider the Reddit comments below:
As evidenced by the immense number of up-votes, the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ can agree that not only does early pregnancy increase the risk of poverty, but that an increasingly competitive and difficult economy and job market necessitates delaying family formation. The opinion that women should delay family formation for education and a career is a fundamentally left-wing one. The difference now, however, is that many conservatives can at least understand and relate to why women choose careerism and education over family, whereas in the past there was less of an attempt at understanding and more reflexive judgmentalism. But also because it agrees with the conservative ‘ethos’ of self-sufficiency; many conservatives have transitioned from being socially and economically conservative to now mostly economically conservative.
As a hacker News poster writes, the backlash against boomers is related to the backlash against coddling and helicopter parenting. Due to overprotective parents, too much self esteem, and inflated expectations, many young people are poorly adapted to an increasingly competitive economy:
I think the parents of many 20 and 30-somethings played a role in so many young(ish) adults failing to launch.
American parents could learn a thing or two about parenting from previous generations and from a lot of immigrant families: nobody owes you anything, plan for a rainy day, find a partner you love and commit to them, work hard, cherish friends and family even when it’s difficult, etc.
I think parenting has over-corrected from the overly didactic and stern parenting of previous generations to endless “follow your bliss” and “you can do anything” — which is causing a lot of young people to spin their wheels for decades at a time, never growing up while their body is growing old. It’s a shame to see.
As yet another example of a contradiction, although there is admiration for liberal arts majors pursuing knowledge over money-making, at the same time there is the acknowledgement that young people need to be responsible for their choices and set realistic expectations. If you want to major in Chinese history, good for you, but you may find it more difficult to find a good-paying job than if you major in electrical engineering, so keep that in mind.
The article continues:
I used to think I was the one who had it all figured out. Adventurous life in the city! Traveling the world! Making memories! Now I feel incredibly hollow. And foolish. How can I make a future for myself that I can get excited about out of these wasted years? What reserves or identity can I draw from when I feel like I’ve accrued nothing up to this point with my life choices?
Disillusionment is a shared narrative. It does not have to be a failed relationship, but a failed job offer, a financial opportunity that fell through, a job that did not seem as good as promised on the job description, etc. To quote Talking Heads song – Once in a Lifetime “Well… how did I get here?” That is what many 20 and 30-year-olds are asking, who suddenly find themselves dropped off in a strange world called adulthood they still cannot understand despite a third of their life already being over.
Making matters worse, the tried-and-true formula of going to college, getting a degree, and getting a job is not working for some, as another person notes:.
And what I mean by that is, that those who have come of age over the past 20 years have spent pretty much their entire lives being read a recipe for success. Go to college -> get a degree -> get a job -> live a successful live. It’s a simple step by step plan that every single person in our lives have reinforced ad nauseam, because for most of the 20th Century that has been the surest path to a happy middle class life.
The problem is that of course every single step in that path is now significantly more difficult than it was 20-30 years ago when our parents’ generation did it. You can’t just go to college anymore. It costs 10x what it did in the 80’s and you can’t even compare the cost to the 50’s or 60’s. It’s also way more competitive getting into a top school. Even if you manage to get into college and pay for it, it’s no longer good enough to just get a degree. You need to get a degree in the right thing and or find a way to differentiate yourself from the other 1 million students who graduate each year, because oh by the way our generation is the most well educated in the history of the world. Even if all those things go right finding a job is harder than ever. People retire later if at all now so the market is flooded not only with too many well educated applicants but the multitude of experienced candidates competing for the same entry level jobs. And even if you get a job, the crushing levels of student debt and the fact that wages haven’t kept up with inflation, basically mean that it’s incredibly hard to live a successful life on your own.
College grads are not just competing with other grads for low-paying positions, but also older people who are delaying retirement as benefits such as pensions become a thing of the past.
As the comments and the viralness of the article My $100,000 Student Loan Debt shows, academics and other smart people (not just on the left, but also many on the alternative right, too) can appreciate the aesthetic value of knowledge and experience in and of itself, whether it’s taking a college course on philosophy or reading about philosophy at a library, as opposed to the Sisyphean pursuit of materialistic gain, which is what mainstream society says is important. This anonymous 35-year-old woman wasted her youth on trivial stuff, but is that worse than be being a 35-year-old locked into the rat race and can barely keep up with the car and home payments and who hates his job?
This Reddit comment stood out:
This is why religion persists despite being a parasitic memeplex with sharp barbs: it reinforces the concept of debt to God, debt to society, and debt to our forebears and responsibility to our descendants. There is a reason why the Amish consistently return to their communities after being exposed to the fucking bullshit of our modern world. (Seriously, read about the Amish. They are super varied, super interesting. Many don’t even oppose technology whole cloth, just specific inventions that disrupt social cohesion. Obviously I don’t advocate actually being Amish, but there is deep wisdom in the way they structure their communities and families)
And this highly up-voted comment on Hacker news, which echoes Dr. Peterson’s pragmatic interpretation of Christianity and themes of self-improvement and finding meaning:
I feel like, if you strip away the outward trappings and dogma, this is what religion is good for. Not in a “believe in Jesus” or “trust in God” kind of way, but in a “how to orient your life” kind of way. Which is to say, the actually useful portion of religion generally teaches that your best life is probably not focused on you. It isn’t about finding yourself, or being true to yourself, or really thinking about yourself at all. It’s in being of benefit to the human beings around you. And in serving those around you, you become something that is worth being.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, there are poor people around you. There are parentless children, drug addicts, parks that need cleaning, animal shelters that need dog walkers. You can always do something meaningful with your life. Try that, and see what kind of relationships you make. Look at and actually see a homeless person. See how that makes you feel. See if your worrying about your own future maybe drops away, or gets morphed into something you can do something with. See what kinds of other people you run into that way. Focus on, if not bringing joy to other people, then at least making their lives better. See if that doesn’t – as a pure byproduct – change your own self-worth. Or maybe just make you less focused on it.
As discussed in Improving Ourselves to Death, another overarching theme that explains the viralness is the recent backlash against modernity and its cousin, democracy. But also as shown by the sudden and huge popularity of Jordan Peterson, a sort pragmatic secularist gnostic revival, as a force against consumerism and superficiality. This parallels the post-2013 decline of ‘online atheism’, which I predicted and wrote about. It’s not just neoreactionaries who oppose modernity, but many high-IQ people on the left, too, and libertarians and centrists, who argue that modernity is the root of many of the problems facing society today. But not modernity as in technological progress, but careerism, lack of fulfillment, conspicuous consumption, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,’ household debt, and so on. Neophiles and progressive looks to the future for answers; conservatives and reactionaries look to the past for things that for centuries or millennia have worked but have been forgotten or discarded. But this does not mean a cloistered existence devoid of enjoyment and fun. Many of the same people who can relate to reactionary themes can also find value in exploring and traveling the world, and pursuing adventure and intellectual enrichment even if not financially expedient.
Unlike the prudish conservatism of the pre-Bush era and the prudish liberalism of the Tipper era, smart people of all political stripes are tired of the stigmatization and categorization of those who are different or have unconventional/unorthodox lifestyles and beliefs, and are tired of the moralizing and preaching. When Bernie Sanders many years ago chided the rich to “pay their fair share,” many people responded, including other liberals, that rich pay the most income tax; they are already paying their fair share. The post-2013 decline of political moralizing and the rise of centrism is discussed in further detail in Intellect: The Universal Solvent. George W. Bush famously introduced the phrase ‘compassionate conservative’ to the the political lexicon, but we’re now seeing it go a step further with the rise of ‘non-judgmental conservatism’. It’s very individualistic, and it’s main emphasis is a repudiation of economic collectivism and rejection of moralistic social-justice leftism. It rejects moralizing, yet acknowledges that some internal values are superior to others. For example, it believes strongly in personal finance and and frugality at the individual level but this does not mean it it fiscally conservative at the national level. It may acknowledge that America may be a better country economically than, say, France, but this does not mean American culture is objectively better. It has a much stronger emphasis on the internal value system (at the individual level) than the external one (how society should be).
An example of this is how the right changed its mind on internet pornography usage (which is a personal, hence, internal choice), from as recently as a decade ago being uniformly opposed to it, to now mostly being indifferent to it. Even among conservatives who oppose it, similar to women foregoing motherhood for careers and college as discussed above, there is still an attempt to understand (rather than making judgments of one’s moral character) why young people are finding escapism though porn, such as attributing it to an increasingly confusing society where social norms and expectations are constantly changing, than just preaching about how bad it is. Same for video game usage, which many on the right are embracing, and many conservatives can understand the appeal of video games, such as providing cheap entertainment for men, versus decades ago seeing it as a waste of time. Similar to above, there is attempt to understand the economics and social psychology of video game usage, as the excellent Quillette article Video Games and the (Male) Meaning of Life demonstrates:
As of last year, 22 percent of men between the ages of 21 and 30 in the U.S. with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year—up from only 9.5 percent in 2000. And there’s evidence that video games are a big reason why. According to a recent study based on the Census Bureau’s time-use surveys, young men without college degrees have replaced 75 percent of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer, mostly playing video games. From 2004 to 2007, young, unemployed men without college degrees were spending 3.4 hours per week playing video games. By 2011 to 2014, the average time spent per week had more than doubled to 8.6 hours.
The economists conducting the study, led by the University of Chicago’s Erik Hurst, strained to figure out whether men who were already detached were playing video games to pass the time, or whether video games were actually causing them to drop out. Evidence pointed to the latter. Their research indicated that improved technological entertainment options, primarily video games, are responsible for between 20 and 33 percent of reduced work hours. The trends are different for women, who have not seen the same increase in gaming at the expense of work hours and are more likely to return to school when out of work. For many men, however, games have gotten so good that they have made dropping out of work a more appealing option.
As the gamergate controversy has shown, there was a 180 degree change in sentiment, from liberals being pro-gamer to now being anti-gamer. The recent moral panic over leaked audio of Louis C.K. in an unreleased set making jokes about gender pronouns and Parkland shooting survivors, is evidence of a similar reversal in the world of stand-up comedy, with the social-justice left becoming the cultural prudes. Arbitrary rules such as ‘no punching down’ means strait, white comics are limited to only making jokes about other strait white people.
The Trump-era brand of conservatism, unlike the conservatism of the 80’s and 90’s, has much more of an emphasis on the external value system than the internal one, which is why economic and immigration issues dominate instead of issues pertaining to personal choices such as single-motherhood, out-of-wedlock birth, and abortion. Dan Quayle in a speech referenced the fictional TV character Murphy Brown to criticize single-motherhood, whereas in 2017 Pence walked out of an NFL game after players kneeled during the National Anthem. The difference is that the former is an repudiation of an internal system and the latter in refutation of an external one, that being police brutality and systemic racism.
People can even relate to being the ‘cat lady’ who shuns social interaction for introspection and mindfulness. Related to the post-2013 rise of ‘nerd culture’, instead of being the the most popular person in the room, everyone wants to be the smartest. People want to be like Elon Musk, who is famous for his world-changing inventions, wealth, and great intellect and insight than being a vacuous ‘people pleaser’. As the rise of ‘expert culture’ shows, when you’re smart and competent, you become popular because other smart people seek your expertise. Mr. Money Mustache exemplifies this convergence of intellect and popularity, whose blog is immensely popular because by conveying a high IQ (which he obviously has) people take him seriously as an expert on early retirement. He didn’t become as successful as he is by pleasing as many people as possible or reading a useless Dale Carnegie or Norman Vincent Peale book, but by demonstrating competence.
I’m trying, Polly. I am. I’m dating. I’m working out and working hard. Listening to music I enjoy and loving my cat. Calling my mom. Yet I truly feel like a ghost. No one knows who I am or where I’ve been. I haven’t kept a friend, lover, or foe around long enough to give anyone a chance. What’s the point? I don’t care for my job. I’m not building toward anything, and I don’t have the time or money to really invest in what I care about anyway at this point. On top of that, society is telling me my value as a woman is fading fast, my wrinkles require Botox (reference said poor finances), all the while my manager is asking for me to finish “that report by Monday.” Why bother?
Many young people can relate that they are merely carrying out the motions, with no sort of purpose, enthusiasm, or end goal. Rather than heroes on a journey who are greeted with open arms and immortalized, like ghosts, they are invisible to society and their contributions ignored.
So what can explain this shift? American conservatism has changed a lot since the days when Rush, Fox, and Drudge dominated, all of which appealed to an older and middle-aged demographic and still mostly do. Millennials were in their early teens, and there was not nearly the same sort of media obsession with the 20- to 30-year-old bracket that we’re seeing with today’s 20- to 30-year-olds. The economy and national sentiment was still in high spirits from the 90’s economic expansion and over five decades of post-WW2 domestic peace. All that changed with 911 and then furthermore with the 2008 financial crisis. Suddenly conservatism had lost its appeal to Obama, who signified a repudiation of failed conservative policies. The conservative establishment realized that they could not ignore millennials, who by now had grown-up and were facing drastic economic adversity such as high unemployment, enormous student loan debt, and low wages. This created a shit in conservatism from being less about cultural issues, which tend to be more important to older people, to more about economic issues, which are more important to younger people. Second, the post-2014 rise of ‘woke culture’ on social media such as on Twitter and Tumbler, has lead to a sort alliance between conservatives, centrists, and classical liberals to take back creative and artistic freedom from the repressive social-justice left.