Our age is full of cultural narratives of excess and maximization. Startups pride themselves on how “disruptive” they are, the idea being that you need to upset the natural order of things in order to do something “great”. To be quite honest, I’m rather sick of this entire dialogue— all this talk about “greatness”, “innovation” and “achievement”, and especially “disruption”— what are we moving towards? If a train is approaching a cliff, there’s not much use in making the train cooler and more comfortable.
People are so silly about all of this disrupting. It’s become remarkably clear that many people feel miserable in this natural order that we still haven’t learned to make peace with, and so we try to assert ourselves over the world. We try to fashion the world to our liking. It’s a romantic notion to be the “architect” of one’s world, but it always comes at a price— usually someone else’s price. We can’t learn to live peacefully until we understand how the give-and-take of the natural balance works. This is not the Garden of Eden. This is Earth. The clock is ticking, and resources are finite.
A lot of self-help narratives aren’t much better than business narratives; if anything, they overlap heavily. We’re told the power of “positive thinking” in “getting what we want out of life” and “achieving our goals”. We’re taught the value of “charisma”, which is often just a thinly-veiled form of witty manipulation. Rarely are we asked to question what we want. That could throw everything out of whack. But once we start to question our desires and downsize, we are forced to confront reality for what it is without distractions and ideological drunkenness.
I don’t think we should think in extremes; we shouldn’t see this societal cancer of hyper-progress and innovation as so abhorrent that we regress and hole up inside our rooms. The more we victimize ourselves, the more helpless we become. But we can live according to our words. If we’re going to critique progress and innovation, we can both learn to live minimally in a healthy way and also recognize the inherent hypocrisy in doing so from a MacBook Pro. We can laugh at ourselves and not view ourselves as heroic White Knight Disruptors, little kids with toy guns and swords fighting for the biggest cookie. We are absurd. Any attempt at asserting dominance over an unforgiving and indifferent world is truly absurd.
I find this particularly important as a growing man. We’re reaching a culture of intense critique against the costume of chauvinistic egoism that has come to embody modernized “masculinity”— and for good reason. In Western society, it’s a male impulse to assert this sort-of hardline capitalistic dominance over the world. It’s caused most of humanity’s problems throughout history. Most of these “disruptors” are usually either men trying to get enough power to get laid, or women trying to reclaim a perceived cultural lack of power by imitating these pathetic men.
Let us remember Chuang Tzu’s The Empty Boat:
“He who is content with himself
Has done a worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure.
Fame is beginning of disgrace.”
Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, we can have self-respect and confidence without pillaging and causing unnecessary disruption in the world. Those who accomplish “great things” often leave an impression of overcompensation for some sort of inner lack. If we’re OK with who we are, we can live modest lives, focusing on family, friends, and enjoying the simple things in life without draining 90% of the world’s population of their precious resources.
Why do extremely successful people often remain dissatisfied after achieving their wildest dreams? Because, from the get-go, they couldn’t recognize that the hole inside all of us cannot be filled with anything. We either make peace with it or we don’t. Thousands of years later, all human beings still must cope with this. We all find methods to deal with it. But the more honest we are with ourselves, and the more we reflect on this truth with a good-natured sense of humor, the easier it becomes to live in a peaceful way.