I’m a 23-Year-Old Doomer. Now what?
Boomer mensch, Professor Morris Berman, on character, work, friends and love.
Twenty years before the US’s Pluto return clicked into position, I’d encountered Morris Berman’s American trilogy —close reads on the systemic atrophy and approaching collapse of the United States.
In addition to highlighting the country’s geopolitical-economic maladies, Berman made an analysis of the country’s mental health a large component of his thesis.
Berman, unlike most complainers about the American ‘lifestyle’, is now an expat in Mexico.
Admiring his perspicacity and eerie prescience, I continued to read Berman’s extensive collection of writing.
I’ve lost count of how many many times I’ve recommended his book Coming to Our Senses to my clients. The book is a stark revelation of how Western culture has forged a catastrophic schism between the intellect and the body.
A somatic disorder that’s morphed into grotesque proportions with the dawning of the Tech Age.
Add to that the past two years of forced Covid isolation and incessant engagement with screens, and it’s no wonder US culture is on the verge of a psychotic break.
No one is embodied—“I’ll meet you on Zoom!”—there are only floating heads ping-ponging through the bandwidth on route to the ‘metaverse.’
I’ve also followed Berman’s blog, Dark Ages America for years. Recently I encountered one of his reader’s letters—and Berman’s response—on his site. The earnest appeal moved me greatly.
I’m sharing it here as it’s germane to so many of the inquiries I receive in session work with my younger clients.
Dear Dr. Berman
As a 23-year-old college drop-out from a 4-year-uni, I now wonder if I should even continue my education or not, considering the country and world seem to be disintegrating.
You could describe me as a doomer. I simply do not trust the future; the thing is, we probably always were headed towards some emergency state before Covid; we lived in a fake normality, so this should not have been a surprise for anyone following this blog or interested in decaying societies.
My problem is a search for meaning as much as it is a search for what to do with my life now. Before I wanted to become a history teacher but now I doubt if it's worth it.
I could simply move to Armenia and help rebuild that country, which just lost in a brutal 44-day war with Azerbaijan and Turkey (I am Armenian-American). But it's not like Armenia will be spared as the planet continues to warm.
My social life has also taken a tank. As philosopher Slavoj Zizek opines, while people still meet privately and go to parties, there is always this desperate undertone of “let's enjoy it as long as we can.”
There is a feeling of depression more than frustration, and nobody even dares to think in the long-term.
As far as students are concerned, while some study even more now, there are many of them saying “what's the point of studying? Everything will in any case fall apart.” They take as a fact of life that we are approaching some kind of new barbarism.
What to do?
I'm not sure what yr asking me, or if yr asking me anything. Perhaps: What shd I do w/my life?, and What can I believe in? As a shortcut, let me say that the following text might be of some help.
I'm trying to imagine what I wd be thinking if I were 23 yrs old. Consider 2 possibilities:
1. You hafta make a living. There's no way around it. You don't need to be rich, but you need to pull in enuf income so that yr life is tolerable.
2. You need to believe in, and commit to, something that is larger than yrself. This choice must be deeply congruent w/who u.r., or there's no pt. For some it’s art, for others religion, for some sports, for some healing society—etc. This is a personal decision.
The ideal, of course, wd be that 1 and 2 coincide. i.e., your deep purpose earns you a lvg. But this is typically a long shot. Most artists are broke; most athletes are not LeBron James. It's a pyramid, w/very little room at the top. The best bk on this subject (i.e. getting 1 and 2 in alignment), in any case, remains What Color Is Yr Parachute? I recommend you have a look at it.
I've discussed my own situation a few times on this blog, and can hardly claim that it’s representative or some sort of path for all; obviously not. But let me just pt out a few things, in the off-chance that this might help.
1st, I never had ambitions to be wealthy, but much of my life was a scramble to survive. I knew what my larger purpose was: to figure out what was going on in culture, history, society (hence bks on England, the US, Japan, Italy, etc.) and to publish, i.e. to share what I had learned w/others.
However, w/one accidental exception (the Reenchantment bk), none of what I was devoted to was ever going to bring in much money (even the Reenchantment bk didn't).
So I did a kind of dance between university teaching, giving writing workshops, and in fact a ton of odd jobs (bank teller, chauffeur, secretary, you name it), wh/paid the rent, and then going completely free-lance and concentrating on my writing. Somehow, I made it thru alive, but it was touch and go a lot of the time. A shitload of insomnia and nail-biting.
In a word, even or esp. at age 23, you need to figure out what turns yr crank (wh/is where the Parachute bk might help). But be clear: it hasta come from a deep, organic place. This is not something in which your prefrontal lobes can be of much help. Meditate, track on your dreams, read Thomas Merton, and so on. And be patient. Eventually, the answer will emerge from yr body.
THEN, you need to figure out how to feed your passion, while not winding up on a street corner playing the guitar for quarters.
As far as yr social life goes: this will be a very long long shot, the luck of the draw. I'm sorry, but most Americans are stupid, narcissistic, competitive, lacking in empathy, and basically out for themselves. I suggest you check out other ‘foreigners’, or (as I was finally forced to do), leave the country.
Americans don't really know how to make friends; they don’t even know what real friendship involves. You must realize by now how superficial their friendliness is. It can be summarized in Smile buttons, or “Have a nice day.”
Gd luck, amigo. Let us know how things turn out.