#57 Why do we feel so fractured?
Racing to the bottom/treading to the top, plus that latest Adam Grant article
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When I started collecting links and sharing them (early 2022), I used to split things up into categories by drug and/or addiction (not all drugs are addictive, like psychedelics). I’d have alcohol 🍺, psychedelic 🍄, and other drug 💊 roundups where I’d share articles by those specific categories if I had a lot of them that week.
Then, I started adding technology/social media into that mix 📱, and eventually, I collapsed them all into one category (so you might see 💊🍺📱 next to each other). The point isn’t the format I used, but how natural it is to group certain types of addictions, drugs, objects, or behaviors together.1 Put a pin in that.
For the last few years, mostly since the end of the pandemic and especially since I’ve personally felt as if I’m outside of culture peering in (a result of having gone through a major life transition and taking a long residence in the liminal), I’ve noticed and felt a split in our culture that’s hard to put words to, but that I think about all the time.
It’s like there’s this whole part of our collective consciousness that’s moving toward some kind of breakthrough and transcendence — the “growing tip”2 moving us to a different center of gravity and awareness and perhaps an entirely new threshold of collective consciousness (or stage of human development or organization of society, etc.). Just think of the number of people you know making significant life changes that prioritize values and questioning things they never have, or how the reduction of binaries like the gender binary and how present that is, increasing visibility and momentum around workers’ rights and unionization, the promise of AI and emergent technologies like quantum computing, the steep rise of awareness around social justice, how many people are leaving fundamental organizations, the extremely quick embrace of psychedelic medicine and flourishing of research, our awareness and shifting attitudes toward stewardship of the planet, how many people don’t like Elon Musk anymore, etc. That’s just a small handful out of so many different emergents that show we are on the verge of some kind of tipping point3.
And then…there’s this other part, that’s re-entrenching/digging into earlier stages of development, like TRAD life, rollbacks on women’s and LGBTQIA rights, anti-trans legislation, the rise of populism, appearance obsession/body obsession and explosive growth of wellness industry (read literally any Rina Raphael post for a roundup of increasingly unhinged content), post-pan doubling down on workism/hustle, that this guy exists and is probably a kajillionaire4, phenomenons such as the Kardashians or Shein. It feels like a race to the bottom, an acceleration, a refusal, a checking out, and a deep polarization or split in our collective psyche. Like we are one person, and part of us is deeply invested in moving us forward and transcending and is ready for whatever comes next and like “let’s roll”…and the other part is thinking, should it get on Ozempic, get a Barbie Nose rhinoplasty, start a TikTok, do a dopamine fast, be mad about pronouns, buy (everything), read another How She Get’s It Done and do it like she is doing it, etc.
I interviewed Trace Bell about this for my book, specifically asking “Don’t you think it’s weird that when we, for the first time, have the language for anti-fat bias and increasing awareness of it along with body positivity and size inclusivity along with the fundamental understanding of where hatred of big bodies derives from…and then a new generation of diet drugs emerges and completely overtakes our collective fascination?” This wasn’t my only example but it’s one that needles me—I’ve been very curious about how Aubrey Gordon, Sarah Sapora, Virginia Sole-Smith, Kate Manne are/will have published books that celebrate and normalize fatness, and in the same year we gain a collective fascination with “miracle diet drgus”. He said, simply: “You know the saying the ego screams loudest before it dies?”
As in, if it feels like re-entrenchment or a digging in or a psychotic split of the collective psyche, that’s because it is. Anyone who’s done any kind of work on themselves knows right before the breakthrough, your five-year-old self comes in with a chainsaw—anytime I’ve ever been on the cusp of growth is also when I’ve been known to do my most classically infantile work. If we think about ourselves like this — as one unit, a collective — we can imagine there’s a part of us reaching new levels of development, ready to step into the next stage of our growth, and there’s a part of us that’s totally freaking out about it, acting out in the face of pending obliteration, screaming as loud as it possibly can and texting every ex-boyfriend at 3am. It wants nothing but to sabotage what it sees as its impending death.
In other words, maybe the widening chasm I feel (and perhaps you feel) is just the ego digging in, because it’s about to be dissolved.
I also think it’s something else, something having to do with distraction and numbing and addiction.
If you’re someone who uses alcohol in an addictive or problematic way, currently, you know the moment you hit your edge is the moment you want nothing more than to drink (which has to do with coping, habituation, stress response/CCRF, hedonic set points, learning, emotional regulation, impulse control, any number of processes). In addiction, this is an easy pattern to identify. We feel bad, we numb ourselves or soothe ourselves with the thing that works best.
Globally, at large, we’ve hit that same kind of edge, with multiple intersecting (horrifying, unthinkable, unprocessable) threats. Of course, there’s the underlying cause of capitalism that drives addiction (because capitalism is a system of addiction), but here I’m not talking about that. I’m just talking about how normal it is in the face of our edge—which we have reached—for us to look for anything to take that edge off.
It makes total sense to me that at the most confusing, terrifying and unstable time in all of human history (because we’re aware of it, not because it’s necessarily any more dire than other points) that we are turning to things that feel controllable, or that provide relief, or that give us a sense of ground. Addiction, in general, makes more sense to me than the absence of it does, especially right now.
To be clear, I don’t think not being able to deal with reality is the reason for Jordan Peterson or anti-trans legislation or book bans (though that is a needle I’m trying to thread in my book)—but for me, it helps explain a lot about many of the divides and distances, in myself and others and the culture at large, that make this particular moment in time so fucking baffling and hard to exist in.
Back to where I started.
In past roundups, I used the 💊🍺📱 emojis because they represent what we’ve collectively agreed are addictions — I don’t have to convince you as to why I’d be talking about (most) drugs, alcohol, gambling, food in this context. These are validated, recognized addictions, and if one has them they are expected to address it (otherwise they are in denial).
(More recent: technology, gaming, though I’d argue it’s less recognized and if you have it you’re more rewarded than punished.)
But: Anti-aging/youth clinging/wellness/thinness/appearance obsession, workism/hustle/achievement/productivity, and consumerism/materialism — while having been part of addiction culture for 400 years+ due to the basic operating nature of a free market system — have become almost indistinguishable (to me) from what we consider valid addictive substances/behaviors.
I’m not writing this to further the idea that a handful of addictions are “bad”, and the rest are “good” because of how society views them, or because they mean you’re upholding the code of contribution, performance, and aesthetic perfection. I’m writing it as a small push in the direction of removing the binary of what a real addiction is, and what a real addiction is not, which has us swimming in a sea of condemnation, instead of stepping back and observing how interesting it is what’s happening here, now.
And remembering, perhaps, that bottoms exist for good reason.
As I mentioned above, this was something I wrote freestyle to consider a few subjects. Would love to hear your reactions, research, and thoughts. Note: I’m going to be away for a week, please don’t expect lengthy replies from me.
13 Things Right Now
An open call for book submissions, an open call to age out of social media, on being v. over articles written by men that think they’ve cracked the code on how women should behave, a good album, a good book, a Simone Weil starter kit, a lot more.
“Is it Real? 25 Famous Writers on Writer’s Block.” Everything I’m writing right now, per me, is terrible, which is something that’s happened many many many times but always leaves me thinking that I’ve peaked, lost it, will never write anything good again, and should find another job. I found this list to be very helpful. Personally, I deal with it a little like Ruuman Alam: “You can always write garbage.”
“It's a privilege to opt out, and a pleasure.” —Ann Friedman on growing out of social media, which is the best think-piece I’ve read on it, mostly because it was like five sentences and because she used the word enshitifcation
Related: Regina Anaejoinu — who has been a huge influence on me over the years — on how social media is sharecropping (This is an actual think piece.)
In which I make the controversial suggestion that Adam Grant stop writing NYT articles: This one time when I was getting ready for a holiday party in my early thirties and wearing basically a t-shirt, a colleague told me I was a leader now (I’d just gotten a promotion) and to dress like it. The other night at dinner, I told a new friend that when I used to talk to investors that I used to reach my arm back over the back of my chair and cross my legs like I had a penis to deal with — fully exposed and taking up space to show my dominance and capability (an actual photo exists of this).
I worked with a vocal coach to get rid of my vocal fry because it made me sound flimsy. I dropped the word “just” from my vocabulary as much as I could and I tried (and failed) to stop using smiley faces and exclamation points on my emails and oh, about 100 other things.
This could be a book. I could go on and on and on about all the fucking ways I tried to be taken seriously through sleight-of-hand tactics and Harvard Business Review articles.
This week Adam Grant wrote an article for the New York Times called “Women Know Exactly What They’re Doing When They Use ‘Weak Language’” about how