Discover more from Culturcidal by John Hawkins
What Happens When We Become Our Own God?
Most of us, me included, think of choice as a good thing… and it is. To a degree. Sometimes.
Now, even this mild criticism of choice may practically sound like sacrilege in a country like America that puts such a high value on freedom, independence, and individualism, but it’s important to dig into this deeper because it has a lot to do with why America is flying apart at the seams right now.
As a starting point, let’s talk about a famous marketing experiment done in 2000 that, oddly enough, involved various types of jam:
In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper from Columbia and Stanford University published a study about jams. On a regular day at a local food market, people would find a display table with 24 different kinds of jams. Then on another day, at that same food market, people were given only 6 different types of jam choices.
Guess which display table lead to more sales? Exactly.
What Iyengar and Lepper found was that while the big display table (with 24 jams) generated more interest, people were far less likely to purchase a jar of jam than in the case of the smaller display (about ten times less likely).
The study shows that while choice seems appealing, at first sight, choice overload generates the wrong results.
Choice paralyzes the consumer.
And it’s not just the sales volume that’s impacted, customer satisfaction takes a hit as well. In the study, the bigger display of jams lead to a lower customer satisfaction than the smaller display, proving that choice can actually demotivate the customer.
Since 2000, there’s been a ton of research on the topic, and studies in other areas (like food and clothing) have shown the same results.
As a fun little side note, this study has led to a tactic you’ll start to see all over the place if you pay attention. A business will offer consumers three options. One will be a cheap option that’s not very good, the second will be a medium option that may be slightly overpriced, but that gives the customer most of what they want and the third will be an extremely overpriced option with a few more bells and whistles. The result? Most people will go for the medium option.
Getting back to the topic at hand, people tend to think they want every option under the sun, but when it gets down to brass tacks, they don’t like it as much as they think. Having an infinite number of choices becomes mentally taxing, sometimes almost to the point of paralyzation. How could it not? Especially in the modern world, where the average person has so many different choices in a day that it would practically take a book to list them all. Do you get up on time, hit the snooze button, risk being late, or call in sick? Do you skip breakfast? Eat one of the two dozen foods in the house? Stop at one of the dozens of restaurants on the way to work? What do you wear? You may, especially if you are female, have dozens of choices. What music do you listen to in the car? Do you text your friend while driving or not? Take water, diet soda, or orange juice with you? Which route do you drive? Do you get gas on the way? Block out that thought about your ex-boyfriend, think about him or text him to tell him how much you miss him?
In a sense, your life is nothing but the cumulative end result of all your habits.
Many of the habits listed above are very minor, but life is full of major decisions as well that have a much bigger impact on how things will ultimately turn out for you. Atheist or Christian? Married or single? Childless or with kids? Honest or crooked? Conservative or liberal? Educated or uneducated? Positive or negative? Patriotic or unpatriotic? Work hard or try to be hardly working?
This is where so many people go wrong. They embrace a philosophy that I like to think of as hyper-individualization. They reject religion. They reject tradition. They reject authority. They reject the things that made people successful in their culture. They attempt to customize their lives to benefit themselves with no regard for anyone else and no real plan of action other than doing what seems best at the moment. In their minds, they are the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. They are their own god, constructing their own way of doing things, their own moral code, and their own philosophy with no regard to what came before them.
They create a world for themselves that Nietzsche so famously described when he said:
Many people have heard that quote, but few of them are aware that even though Nietzsche was an atheist, he had great concerns about the societal ramifications of a world without God:
Nietzsche famously declares in his 1882 work, The Gay Science: “God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
By these words, Nietzsche does not so much mean that atheism is true — indeed, in the passage from which they’re taken, these words are presented as fresh news to a group of atheists — he more means that, because “the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable”, everything that “was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it”, including “the whole of our European morality,” is destined for “collapse.”
Nietzsche worries that, if we fail to vanquish and decisively replace the shadow of values derived from God, we risk our culture slipping into a deep nihilism. The death of God means there is no going back: we either find a new mechanism for value creation — a “revaluation of values”, as Nietzsche puts it — or we will eventually descend into a world where, recognizing our values are ultimately foundationless and meaningless, we will become apathetic and cynical — even despairing.
...Removing the comfort of God, Judeo-Christian morals, and an afterlife, and having nothing to really replace them with — moving from certainty about what life is for, to uncertainty about what life is for — could lead to an all-pervading numbness or anguish about our lives not mattering in a seemingly pointless universe.
If we are unable to become our own determiners of value (the blueprint for which Nietzsche famously hints at with his character of the ‘Übermensch’ or ‘superman’, as well as his doctrine of the eternal recurrence), then we’ll inevitably respond, Nietzsche laments, by burying our existential angst deep down, and by distracting ourselves with meaningless entertainment.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Nietzsche, but he was an extremely intelligent man. Many of his concerns have come to pass and if anything, they may be understated.
The godless Left in America has led the way in every manner of foolish and destructive behavior imaginable. Treating police like bad guys and criminals like victims. Believing they can rewrite biology on a whim. Embracing the idea of borrowing fantastical sums of money with no intention of ever paying it back. Condemning the successful and idolizing failures. Chalking up every failure to society and every success to the individual for people they like or reversing it for people they don’t like. Believing they can mock morality without creating immorality, creating sets of rules that they want only their enemies to follow, and treating words they don’t like as violence and violence they like as less harmful than words.
They believe they can rewrite the country, human nature, and even humanity itself in any way they wish without consequence, which is something only God could do.
We mere mortals? We’re not anywhere close to experienced or smart enough to navigate the endless tangle of choices a human being has in their lifetime. That’s where systems that have stood the test of time come in.
Christianity. Capitalism. Tradition.
There are flawed people that have adopted all of those things. Mistakes that have been made. Bad things have happened and flawed results have sometimes been produced, but – and this is a big but – those things have been proven to work and produce good results across multiple societies with multiple generations of people.
When those things are thrown in the garbage for whatever sounds good at the moment, it leads to disaster because as Ariel and Will Durant pointed out:
Everyone always thinks they’re so unique, but in most of the ways that shape our behavior, we’re not that different from human beings 10,000 years ago. Do you think we’re the first people to be attracted to hedonism? To find religion to be restrictive? To struggle with sexuality? To be irked by the constraints of civilization, aggravated by other people, or annoyed by having to work for a living?
So much of what our society is choking on has been done over and over and those safeguards carefully constructed by previous generations that we’ve decided are too cumbersome or no longer necessary? We’ll see exactly why they’re necessary after paying a brutal price, a decade or two down the line if the consequences aren’t already staring us in the face.
That doesn’t mean we should never change things or adapt to the times, but since most of those changes and adaptations will be a bad idea, it means that we should have a deep level of knowledge of a subject before deciding to make a change. If you’re looking at life, business, or society and don’t understand why things are done the way they are currently while thinking it should be easy to go in a different direction, that’s a strong indication that you don’t really understand the situation:
On some intrinsic level, we all get this. You wouldn’t put a bunch of novices in charge of running the military or a corporation like Walmart and expect anything other than a disaster, but so many of us have failed to realize that our own lives are also very complex, far too complex for us to do a good job of figuring them out from scratch.
When you abandon what works for what sounds good and are arrogant enough to believe that you don’t need God, tradition, customs, or the wisdom of all our successful ancestors that came before us, you get mental illness, unhappiness, bankruptcy, school shootings, bad people, bad decisions, bad governance, and a nation in decline. We’re not smarter than everyone that came before us. Our instincts and desires alone will not lead us to a happy life. We can’t fill God’s shoes.