On The Meaning Gap

(Epistemic status: Speculative, moreso than usual, sweeping statements about society, possibly readable as pro-religion. Also better writers have totally written about this.)

There is a sense these days, felt by my bubble and alluded to outside of it, that the world is wrong in some way. That we live in a uniquely crazy time. This probably isn’t true, humans are just generally bad at perspective. However, if I do accept the premise that we live in a uniquely crazy time, I would like to offer my own just-so story to explain why, complete with a lack of palatable solutions.

So, if you’ve been reading along, you should understand the basic concept of narrative and how the world runs on it, at least socially. To go a bit further, every individual is attempting to write their own story, especially in Western society. Our culture memes don’t really allow other outcomes to feel meaningful. It’s your story or nothing. The drawbacks and tradeoffs of individualism are well traversed insight porn. So, instead, I’m going to illustrate a different point.

Most individuals want their own story, and there is a shortage.

The concept of a shortage of stories is pretty hard to comprehend. We live in probably the highest output society to have ever existed on earth. Not only do more people write more things all the time, but more of these things spread across the entire world. This isn’t a shortage, it’s a glut. There’s one problem. Few of those stories are particularly compelling, and the ones that were are being attacked. A single word is to blame for this trend.

Analysis.

Greek for up + break. Break up, release, loosen. Unravel. Our current society, even civilization to a degree, is built on the concept of analysis. This has been an incredible advance in systems, governance, knowledge, and tools. There is, of course, a cost. When you break the stories, the narratives that drive monkey brain 1.0, we end up out of context. Everyone wants a story and there aren’t any believable ones left. There’s nothing to be sure of, no role to embody. There is only a gap that screams “YOU ARE FUNDAMENTALLY ON YOUR OWN.”

This is the meaning gap, filled by tradition, religion, narrative, whatever you want to call it. People with the mantle of destiny are no longer taught how to wield it. Support characters more rarely accept their role. There are no more higher powers and therefore no meaning…and it is making. Us. Crazy.

There is a concept that there is a hole “meant to be filled by religion”, that people turn to drugs, sex, rock and roll to fill. I think it’s a very specific framing of the meaning gap, the part of us that strives to find our place in a story, not just a system. I also think this framing is surprisingly compelling and has lead several interesting people to pick up religious frames. I can see a future in which I do the same, but I am trying to avoid that. I think there’s more to the meaning gap than submitting to a god or gods, than taking part in myth to cure the madness. I hope to find other people who see it and feel the same way.

Discussion: Do you feel the meaning gap in your life? How do you try to fill it? Do the roles in your life help, or do they feel hollow? Does meaning even matter; is it best to just excise the idea that you even need meaning, filling in the gap with cement?

One thought on “On The Meaning Gap

  1. I think that “Analysis” is an interesting part of this, but not sufficient.

    One thing we blame, at least in the U.S., for our current animosity towards each other, is a breakdown in social trust. We attribute this to various aspects of the modernization of the world, which can sort of be lumped together as losses of attachment and connection. We no longer stay in the same place since childhood or even young adulthood, enjoying the deep ties of a geographical community. Workplaces are less likely to provide careers, so we don’t build workplace relationships on the assumption that we’ll be in the same place with the same people twenty, ten, five, or even one year from now. Families, too, it seems, are less permanent in some ways; we aren’t rushing to marriage like earlier generations did.

    These are unfortunate consequences of large-scale changes which have some good aspects (and, in the last case, I would say probably has a net positive impact), but all make us feel less connected to each other. I propose that these things also make us feel less connected to meaning and permanence and intention, and make us feel more as if our stories are more like noise.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s