I am asking you to want something
It seems like nobody really wants anything and nobody cares. Is this a new problem?
Nobody wants anything anymore. I get the sense that most people simply don’t care very much about anything at all.
Is this a new problem? It is rare for problems to actually be new, they are more commonly old problems that we instead pridefully confuse for new problems. I can’t help shake the feeling that this is a uniquely modern problem, though. If not uniquely modern, at least clearly reflected in modernity.
A slightly better way to frame this might be to say that it is uniquely inexcusable in today’s society. It is not a new problem, it is just that we now have fewer excuses than we ever have before. Never has it been easier, in all of history, to want something. The world has never been better set up for somebody to want something and actually get it than it is today. Never. Politically, culturally, socially, technologically, you name it—things have never been better set up for the average person to want something and actually get it1.
But today we find ourselves in what I would call a crisis of wanting. A slew of modern trends (all going in the wrong direction) are telling us that this issue of nobody actually wanting anything is a very real problem today:
The percentage of young adults in the US living at-home is higher than it’s ever been since The Great Depression (the pre-COVID trend here is already alarming enough)
Degree inflation has utterly consumed higher education—an overwhelming number of our young adults end up saddled in debt, unable to get a job, and still viewing themselves as children/teenagers
Global fertility rates have been falling for decades—making a sort of Malthusian doomsday prophecy here is also wrong and neither do we all need to be having babies at 23 years old, but at some point most of our adults do need to be adults, this is basic math
What do these trends have in common? All of these problems are problems that stem from a lack of wanting, a lack of change—they are a continuation of the status quo. You simply never decide to move out; you simply never decide to stop going to school; you simply never decide to think about next week, next month, or next year; you simply never decide to find a life partner; you simply never decide to look at reality and deal with it, you grab your phone instead.
These are not bad decisions, they are non-decisions. They are what happens when you don’t decide. They are made passively, not actively. You can barely say they were even made at all. Decisions like these just are. They exist by default. In fact, they are usually a case of someone else making a decision for you. Without explicitly wanting, you cannot claim ownership over what you are doing—odds are you’re simply doing what somebody else wants you to do. Somebody, somewhere, is wanting and you better be sure that it’s you.
To be fair, it may be a bit deeper than a lack of wanting—what I am really trying to say is the following: the average young adult in the United States has more choices than they have ever had before, yet they fail to make a single one. Consider the fact that more than 1 million immigrants arrive in the US each year: immigrants know what they want (by definition, moving somewhere new is a nontrivial decision) and when they come to the US what they’re clamoring for are more choices, the very same ones that many people here are sitting idly on.
At 23, my grandparents were fleeing a brutal communist dictatorship in Cuba with nothing but the money in their pockets and a baby on the way. When I was 23, I was walking into the urban campus of a $30B tech company (my first job out of college) while making sure to grab a few slices of the Brioche French Toast just in time for my first meeting at 10:30am.
At 23, I had choices and now, at 27, I have a duty to choose. To want something and to make decisions. To care about something enough that I strive every single day to make it a reality2. Of this there are many such cases.
I am asking you to consciously and proactively want something. Literally anything, it does not matter. The point is to want it, consciously. The point is to decide, to make a decision. I am fascinated by the word choice here—we make decisions. We don’t find them, discover them, or serendipitously stumble upon them by accident—we make them. They are created!
Roll down the windows, turn up the volume, and grab the fucking wheel—we have a future to build.
If you look back at history and fail to come up with this same conclusion, your worldview is fundamentally broken. I am not claiming we can’t improve anything, only that we’re all better off right now, on average, than we ever have been before. There is no question.
Whether it be for myself or for others is a topic for another day.