There's a strange and baffling thing happening these days.
On the one hand, people are...wrecked. The stats reveal a portrait, globally, of sweeping, pervasive pessimism. Trauma, in rising rates of anxiety and anger and stress. Despair, in skyrocketing depression and suicide and loneliness. People are the walking wounded these days.
And yet...we're all staggering around pretending like none of this is happening. OK, not you and me, and those like us—we're a little different, and I'll come back to that. But by and large? It's as if this fatal tide of despair, grief, and trauma isn't...happening...at all. We're not supposed to talk about it. Write about it. Discuss it. Think about it. Maybe once in a while, we read an article in a newspaper, and are supposed to nod, stroke our chins—and then go right back to pretending that none of this is happening.
It's not something we discuss much, is it? Think about it. Look at social media, which is where, unfortunately, we spend most of our lives. Smile for the camera! Glance at our culture. Take a look at the kinds of discussions which animate our societies—the ones we're supposed to respond to and be involved in. This catastrophic state of affairs, the status quo of the human world and soul, if you like, isn't even on the list of priorities of our civilization, societies, countries. We're just supposed to walk along merrily and...what? Buy stuff? Fake a grin? Grin and bear it. Ignore it.
That's a taboo.
You see, right now, at this juncture in human history, a New Set of Taboos have emerged. Taboos exist for a reason—to hide truths we'd rather not see the light of day, because they're too uncomfortable, painful, shameful, difficult, or challenging. As we do that, social bonds rupture. And so taboos, while they hide Issues that We Have to Face, do so precisely because they keep our tribes and hierarchies intact. There's a form of short-term stability in them, even if the price, over the long-term, is steep, as it has been for so many civilizations before us.
What are the New Taboos of the Age of Extinction? Well, we're not supposed to discuss How Bad Things Really Are. In what way? In almost any way. Economically—how our economies are sputtering out. Hey, billionaires are getting richer! Whee! Socially—how predators of the human soul and body both are skyrocketing to power, from abusers of women, to Manfluencers leading young men to become...abusers. How our social contracts have been ripped apart by crackpots who think nobody should have anything. Biologically–how life on the planet is undergoing a literal mass extinction. And—hey, what exactly are we going to do about climate change, and do you think the summer a decade from now is going to...be...pretty...let alone...survivable...for many?
We're not supposed to talk about it. Any of it.
Only in one way. We're allowed to maaaybe very gently, very mildly, mention it, once in a long while, perhaps. To show we're not total ignoramuses. But doing anything more than that? Sort of...thinking about it, talking about it openly, discussing it seriously, wondering, examining, reflecting, out loud, especially as a daily habit, or a regular topic, or a theme of mental or social life....not allowed. Forbidden.
What happens if you do the above? Well, a lot of things do. You'll get painted, instantly, as "controversial," like they did to me, and so many others—while figures like countless renowned-let's-gush-over-these-guys predators are out there abusing women, yet the very same structures are hiding that. Which one's really contro...never mind. Surely you see the problem. After being controversialized, you'll be shunned, by a lot of people, who'll call you all kinds of names—negative, pessimistic, even while they're staggering around overwhelmed with pessimism themselves, because of course that's exactly what the statistics show, only they're hiding it...because a taboo exists, and the point of a taboo is to maintain social stability and bonds.
Hey! Don't rock the boat!
Guys...uhh...see that gusher of water breaching the hull? This boat...is sinking? What, are you...blind?
Shut up! Don't...rock the boat!
What do you mean don't rock the boat? I'm not trying to rock the boat! I'm just pointing out that there's a giant hole right over there.
Everyone, get him!!! Throw him overboard!!
What the...don't you...are you guys idi—
It's not about me. It's about our world, civilization, all of us, where we are. I know you've felt this.
It's become a Taboo to Care About Anything That Matters. I mean that, and if you think I exaggerate, go right ahead and think about it. Challenge it, if you like. Which Issues are we allowed to care about? As in, encouraged, celebrated, given permission, licensed by norms, set in motion by power? Movies about toys? Insta-people? AI girlfriends? Lowest-common-denominator Netflix shows? Whatever dumb pointless shit slash drivel some celebrity with dead eyes is hawking on their social media account this fine day? Let me roll my eyes so hard they pop out of the back of my skull.
Here are Issues we're not allowed to care about. Not really, in mature, adult, serious ways. Climate change. Covid, pandemics, their future. Mass extinction. The existential plight of us. The human condition in the 21st century. What happens to a civilization with economics like ours—absurd, ludicrous inequality to the point that a single billionaire could fill the climate finance gap for half the world? What are we going to do, anyways, hope that a handful of mega-corporations provide a boiling planet with...food, water, clean air, and medicine? What about our sclerotic, broken polities, which don't have a single idea to solve any of those problems, only, at their far right extremes, make them a whole lot worse, so we can all enjoy the Ultimate Neitzschean End Times Fantasy Slash Joyride of Fascism on a Burning Planet?
You see, if you say stuff like the above? I know what happens to you, and we all do. Doesn't matter how many facts you can back it up with—for example, democracy's dying at the rate of ~10% a decade. It's not acceptable. Polite. Can't be absorbed. Isn't meant to be said. Shhhh.
Let There Be Silence.
About Anything That Matters.
Or we'll string you up like a scarecrow. Get it? This is what we do to those who break the taboos that bind us together.
Meanwhile, look around. We're trying to hide it, but we all know it. Or at least just that sinking feeling's setting in. Here we have the Biggest Issues in Human History. That's not a joke, and it's not an exaggeration. We've never faced any of this stuff at a civilizational scale, in modern times—from climate change to global economic stagnation and decline with no real roadmap out to the worldwide resurgence of fascism aided by the Ghost of Tech-Bro in Algorithmic Form to mass extinction to, hey, does anybody know what the plan for food, water, medicine, and clean air is, no, shudder, wait, did that guy just say Let Them Eat AI?
The Biggest Issues in Human History.
And there's pindrop silence about them.
The minute you even start talking about any of this stuff seriously? Repeatedly? Urgently? You're met with the Greatest Wall in Human History. It's not made of bricks or stone. But of something far stronger. Hegemony and ideology. Power. Conformity and social pressure. Big Lies where leadership should be. Sheer face-melting idiocy. So here and there, maybe you can throw a missive over the wall—quick, ball up that letter, and hurl it over. Maybe you can launch a little note across the parapets with a slingshot. But that's about it. What you can't do is discuss the Biggest Issues in Human History like they should be discussed, which is to say, daily, seriously, carefully, thoughtfully, to try and...not even break open the wall, but just whisper through a tiny goddamned fissure.
That alone will send the guards through the gates, and they'll chase you. And the worst thing is that...
This attitude—let's call it the Great Indifference—comes from both "sides." The far right, of course, will instantly want to basically do to you what the Taliban does to women and kids if you so much as think about this stuff. But even the center will basically paint you as a fool, moron, scaremonger, "alarmist," whatever, doesn't matter, you know exactly what I mean—someone not to be taken seriously. Because of course the assumption here is that Sober and Serious People All Know That Things Can Never Be Bad. In formal terms, this is about mean reversion, linear trajectories, and smooth, uninterrupted upwards growth. See any of that around anywhere? I didn't think so. So both sides agree on one thing: Only Very Bad and Dangerous People Who Are Crazy Care About Anything That Matters, and Our Job is to Get Them.
Hey, is that...wait...is that a planet on fire? Never mind.
A lot of you are like me. We're the ones who care. We can't not care. We try, but it's just not in us. There's just some deep thing in us, call it a calling, a soul, a conscience, call it the voice of the universe. It impels and compels us to care. We can no more stop caring than a tree can stop growing. We can't stop feeling the pain and grief and hurt surging through the world anymore than a blade of grass can stop itself reaching through the soil. It sucks, but...this is who we are.
We are slowly being driven mad by this taboo. Because right about now? This Taboo is not sane.
Especially us, those of who can't help ourselves caring, because we're Members of the Triad of Light. But not just us.
This Taboo of Silence About Anything That Matters...While the World Burns...is driving our civilization insane. I mean that almost literally. It is stopping our civilization from being able to process, engage with, grapple, even grasp reality anymore. Taboos are OK—they're functional, they hold social organizations together. But they become dysfunctional when they stop the perception reality, the very one that those same organizations need to survive, dead in its tracks.
Think about that in America. Hello, the West is literally running out of water. California and Florida are already uninsurable. Nothing really works, and no real social contract exists. Meanwhile, the MAGA right blames it all on women, who aren't supposed to even be able to use highways anymore, while the Democrats cry everything's Great and BiDeN FiXeD iT aLL. He's a good President, don't get me wrong, but...nothing is fixed.
Here's a hard truth. Our civilization is completely broken. It's broken in every way, and every imaginable way, too. Do we have a functioning economy? We're on course to hit 2.6 degrees of warming, which is past the threshold of every climate tipping point there is. What's the paradigm here, exactly, for human civilization to survive another century? What do we do about soaring debt levels and fractured social contracts? Do we have a single functioning system to give people basics around the globe, let alone in America? What are we going to do exactly, about all this stuff? Hope? No, not even that—we're supposed to just ignore it.
Right now? The Taboo that We're Not Supposed to Care About Anything That Matters is pushing our civilization, our societies, and our organizations, and people, over the edge. None of them are acting sane anymore, are they?
Think about people. Are people acting "sane" these days? We can use the term loosely, you don't have to DSM it. Or are they...acting...increasingly...frantic, in the grip of mega-scale collective delusions...paranoid...conspiratorial...manic...as if they're unable to process and even grasp reality anymore?
You see, the way that our Paradigm handles this Issue is this. "If we talk about it too much, more than just a tiny little bit, we'll drive people crazy. With panic, fear, despair, and worry! So we'd better not talk about this stuff!"
In other words, to our old paradigm of power, Silence is the Lesser Evil. But is it? Was it ever?
What's actually happening in the world? Is the precise opposite of "silence is the lesser evil." By not talking about all this stuff, which is to say, the Existential Threats and Challenges we face, people are slowly going mad. And so are the organizations they compose. People feel terrified, frightened, upset, angry, to shattering levels and degress, pessimistic in astounding ways, globally, across societies—and yet, because they're not allowed to talk about it, let alone the Issues behind it, it's as they don't exist, and so, shut down rationally and cognitively, from the outset, they turn to lunacy and crackpottery and conspiratorialism and demagogues, because, well, what alternative is there, left, extant? No alternative is. The cognitive dissonance is producing a kind of mind-shattering at a civilizational scale.
If it feels like our civilization is going insane—societies, countries, choose your level—that's because it is. The Taboo that We're Not Allowed to Care About Anything That Matters leaves people with no choice but collective delusion, mass paranoia, simmering rage, scapegoating, Big Lies, disinformation, misinformation, self-deceit, sheer despair, futility, hopelessness, and all the other forms of lunacy so pervasive today. Think about it: you don't exactly see a mega-scale civilizational mass effort to educate or inform people about anything from climate change to economic stagnation to how bad the state of democracy really is , do you? Instead, there's just The Taboo. So of course people are beginning to go crazy. They feel alone in their powerlessness and fear and despair.
Our world has fallen apart, and we're not supposed or allowed to even talk about it. So then along comes a demagogue, a Trump, a Manfluencer, doesn't matter, you know the sort, and because they give people a voice, for the first time, masses go bananas with adoration, respect, awe, and turn to putty in their hands. Not exactly a surprise, is it? They feel heard for the first time. And then, worse, they feel protected. That's the most powerful psychological stuff in history—some call it a cult, but it's closer, in fact, to the formation of family, which is the strongest bond there is. Because right now, this milieu is the only place in which the taboo can be challenged, even a little bit.
So here we are.
I Didn't Write This Essay, and You're Not to Talk About It.
These Words Will Self-Destruct in 3..2...1.
Smile for the Camera!
We're Not Supposed to Care About Anything That Matters. Sure, that's been true since the day capitalism lit the sky green with money and envy. But what's truer is that right now, we face the endgame of centuries of living that way, indifferently, carelessly, individualistically, egoistically, myopically. Once upon a time, for a little while, in human history, We Pretended That Nothing Mattered. Except maybe having shinier, nicer, more expensive stuff that meant I killed you symbolically, because you didn't have it. But those days are over—we just don't know it yet.
The Taboo That Nothing Matters is a relic of the Industrial Age—perhaps its most toxic effluent of all, not soot or ash, but a norm. That Age is finished now, in case you haven't noticed. But its norms remain with us.
Our job? Those of us who care? AKA sane, decent, thoughtful people? It's changing all this. I'll discuss that more in coming days. That's not going to be easy. They're going to fight us, every step of the way, string us up like scapegoats, bray for our heads. Call us idiots, losers, scaremongers, crackpots, lunatics—even while the...real ones...go out there and abuse women or embezzle money, and the very same structures and instituons hide and shield and protect them. It's going to be incredibly difficult. Change. But hey? It always is. And you know what happens at the end, don't you? They come back to us, and ask us what to do, plead a little even, because we were correct all along, only they couldn't see it yet, because of the Taboo. That's how these things work, over and over again, in history. That's called leadership, that's why transformations in leadership happen, and why, also it's going to absolutely suck to be try to be one—the real thing—right about now.
But don't give up. Hang in there. And push even harder. Don't relent. Eyes clear, head in the game. Yes, this juncture in human history really is that crucial. You're not the crazy one. See...the world? It's going crazy, because it's not allowed to care. About what? About itself anymore. What a shame that is. What a tragedy, history will say, that they all bought into this baffling, idiotic norm that nothing mattered, even when Every Tiny Thing Had Never Mattered More.
❤️ Don't forget...
💵 If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.
📫 Forward this to a friend and tell them all all about it.
👂 Anything else? Send us feedback or say hello!