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Contrast to Past: Is Modern Man More Motivated than 300+ years ago?

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modern man img

I was in Norway (Stavanger) and climbed two mountains last week.

It was physically challenging, because I’d done squats the day before (120 kg x 6 reps).

When we hiked up one of those mountains, my brother told me: “if this was in the U.S, you can be sure they’d have a lift, you know, so the fat and lazy people can get up to the top–and they can feel like they’ve accomplished something worthwhile, without having put in any effort.”

I could only agree.

But what glory is there in getting to the top without making any sacrifice?

Modern society is geared at maintaining homeostasis; it is one big bubble of sustained comfort, easily induced stimulation, and minimized unpredictability and risk.

It’s like Ray Kroc (the guy who built McDonald’s) said in 1977:

Much of this country’s social and political philosophy seems aimed at removing the risks from life one by one. As I told a group of business students in one of the talks I gave at Dartmouth, it is impossible to grant someone happiness. The best you can do, as the Declaration of Independence put it, is to give him the freedom to pursue happiness. Happiness is not a tangible thing, it’s a byproduct–a byproduct of achievement.

Achievement must be made against the possibility of failure, against the risk of defeat. It is no achievement to walk a tightrope laid flat on the floor. Where there is no risk, there can be no pride in achievement and, consequently, no happiness.

Damn. That’s spot on.

A fierce contrast to the pioneering spirit of the early U.S, led by men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin. The founding fathers must be turning in their graves.

The Foundation of Motivation and Well-Being

The dilemma of modern man is twofold:

  1. We have far more leisure than previous generations,
  2. but we also have a lot more choice.

–Most people can’t handle it. Henry Ford got it wrong.

Many young people are foolishly led to believe that the meaning of life is to gain as many stimulating experiences as possible. . .

A.K.A the YOLO philosophy.

But, even if maximum pleasure and stimulation was the goal of life, the YOLO philosophy still wouldn’t be the best approach.

Pleasure is not maximized through quantity. It’s maximized through quality, and that is best accomplished by:

  • Improving your concentration, being mindful, and practicing gratitude (via meditation for example).
  • Seeking wisdom and accumulating knowledge by learning new things (best accomplished by becoming a comprehensivist).

No Goal = No Motivation to Break out of Homeostasis

The human brain is fundamentally goal-oriented. This means that it always needs a motivation, a reason, an answer to the question “why?”

When you cannot answer this question–whether consciously or unconsciously–you start to lose motivation.

Pushing through the plateau, and breaking out of homeostasis, is exactly like that too: You need a reason to do it.

Why should you do uncomfortable, scary, and physically, mentally, or psychologically demanding stuff for no reason? That doesn’t make sense for the brain, as it is wired to keep energy expenditure down to a minimum.

It was ‘easy’ for primitive man to be motivated, because he had all of these external forces pushing him towards action, and his instincts–his homeostasis–was at that time a reliable guide for survival:

Life for most hunter-gatherers was a day-to-day struggle, with little predictability and security, but with a constant mission: Survival. But today, for modern man, amidst the comfortable routine of city life, motivation is harder to come by, and. . .

. . . homeostasis can no longer be trusted.

If you cannot convince yourself that something is worth the effort, you will not put in that extra energy, or endure the discomfort of pushing through the plateau–not to mention continuing past it.

The ability to convince yourself that it is–indeed–worth the effort, has to do with how much control you can exert over certain parts of your brain.

It requires long-term thinking and empowering beliefs (neocortex), willpower to delay gratification and choosing not to give up (PFC), and associating the temporary pain with the pleasure of a goal (brain’s reward system).

Modern Man Has no Ocean

Being a man is synonymous with AMBITION.

–Expansion. Bravery. Conquest. Pioneering. Exploration.

And curiosity, insatiable curiosity.

Does modern man possess these attributes?

It was easier to be curious in the past–300+ years ago–when there were more mysteries, myths, and legends.

During the times of Alexander the Great (ca 350 BC), the Macedonians and the Greeks believed that the world was like one big body, where the water represented its blood. They thought that all rivers and seas flowed out into one united whole, which they called “the Ocean”.

Alexander wanted to go where no man had ever gone before. . .

He wanted to be the first man to find the Ocean.

He wanted to find the limit of the world–and go beyond it.

Alexander never stopped outdoing himself

First he compared himself to his father, Filip II of Macedon. When Alexander outdid him–by expanding the Macedonian empire further than had ever been done before–he needed a new challenge.

Alexander then started comparing himself to his childhood idol, Achilles.

For years Alexander had kept a copy of the Iliad with him. It was given to him by one of his tutors, Aristotle, who had scribbled notes in the margin. Alexander stored the Iliad in a golden box that he brought with him during campaigns, and read about Achilles’ achievements whenever he had time.

When Alexander finally conquered the fortress which Achilles–according to legend–had failed to conquer, he considered himself superior to Achilles. That meant he needed a new role model.

–So, he chose Heracles (Hercules), the half-god son of Zeus.

Alexander soon outdid the accomplishments of Heracles as well!

Then he started comparing himself to the god Dionysus.

modern man img

The Ocean. The edge of the world. The final frontier in a circular world.

Unfortunately, Alexander’s men did not have the same drive–the same pothos –as he did. So, they eventually initiated a mutiny, and Alexander was forced to turn back to accommodate them, to retain high morale.

Alexander never reached “the Ocean”. . .

[Meanwhile, hundreds of years later in Ancient Rome]

. . . Students of oratory were commonly given this topic to debate–for or against: Should Alexander have kept going toward the Ocean anyway, against the will of his men? Should he have sacrificed their lives for unforetold glory? What would you have done?

What Would Modern Man Say About This?

Nowadays most people would say “no”, because it would be cruel of Alexander to force his men to continue against their will. But people are heavily biased for two reasons:

  1. They know that “The Ocean” is just a bunch of sea.
  2. They have a completely different set of (cultural) values.

Also, most people today can’t relate to the wondrous curiosity that Alexander (and the Romans) felt at the thought of reaching the Ocean, or the possibility of going beyond it.

To put things in contrast: is it worth it if some people have to die–as a sacrifice–for mankind to become an interplanetary species, and travel outside the Milky Way?

Most people today have forgotten what it’s like to be in a state of awe.

They’ve become detached and indifferent

Habituated from routine, and desensitized from overstimulation.

In the past it was easier to be in awe; they could just stare up at the stars or go on an exploratory expedition to some unknown place. They didn’t know much, so they were curious and motivated to find out.

Today, what do most people do? Watch TV series? Go to magic shows?

From a mental and motivational perspective, they had it easier in past times than we do now.

We’re standing on the shoulder of giants, and it’s not getting any easier to become a pioneer.

From a physical perspective, they had it a lot harder than we do now. . .

. . . But they didn’t let that stop them from making a better life for themselves.

Motivation and morale was never a problem.

–But today, it is: it will be one of the major problems of the 21st century.

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How can we motivate people into not becoming brains in a vat?

How can we motivate people into not being hyperreality-induced homeostasis dwellers?

Mental vs Physical Challenges in Past Times

Even though it was physically challenging to do things in the past, there was no shortage of challenges, quests and missions, or novel things to learn. There was always wars and exploratory expeditions to take part in.

And now?

Now, my friend, there are no more Oceans to explore.

–None that are easily found, anyway.

Well, literally, there are–like the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean–and they’re cool to see, but you wouldn’t be the first.

You’re not a pioneer for seeing them. You’re no Christopher Columbus just because you’re traveling to the U.S by boat. . .

Modern man lives in almost the complete opposite conditions compared to past times, especially compared to primitive man.

[We have a brain which by default is wired for a world of scarcity and risk. But we now live in an environment of abundance and affluence.]

The challenge for the modern man is no longer physical execution. The challenge for the modern man is mental motivation.

It may seem like everything great has already been thought, said, or done. . .

–That there is nothing left to do. No more greatness to be had. No more Oceans left to explore. No more heroic deeds to be done, no more legendary feats to be accomplished, no more hard-won wonders to marvel at in a state of awe.

This is the unstated assumption that haunts modern man from the unexplored depths of his subconscious as he stares with dull, tired, eyes at a computer late at night in an office brightly illuminated by artificial lighting–with enough caffeine in his body to kill a small rodent.

Modern man then pleads defeat–this too unstated–by engaging in spectator-ism, escapism, and overindulgence of instant gratification.

Is this a man capable of reaching the final frontier?

Yes.

Will he?

No.

Not like this.

No Pain no Gain: Modern Man Must Commit

Motivation, happiness and pleasure are not found in homeostasis, by doing as little as possible, by clinging to comfort and safety.

You can be stimulated while being unhappy and depressed; most people are.

The principle of “no pain no gain” applies equally to fulfillment as it does to growth. Is this a coincidence? No, it is not–they are synonymous, just different sides of the same coin.

Like Ray Kroc said, happiness comes from pride of achievement. . .

. . . and achievement, in turn, comes from ambition and curiosity.

–A.K.A motivation.

You need goals that are BIG enough that you are forced to become more resourceful, goals that force you to break out of homeostasis, and reinvent yourself to surpass previous limitations.

Like Alexander.

modern man img

Image credit: 1, 2, 3

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Comments

  1. I think you can do almost anything in the modern world–if you want to–if you REALLY want to. If you have a spark of ambition, and you nurture it until it becomes inextinguishable.

    When I was growing up there were less opportunity but like you allude to in past times, we were still hella’ motivated to make the best out of our situation, and make a better life for ourselves. I don’t see this in the kids today, they don’t understand/appreciate the modern world at all. It’s like they think it “just happened”, and assume that things could be no other way than it is today. I wonder why sometimes.

  2. Samuel Welch says:

    It’s interesting that Ray Kroc would say something like that. Seems a little ironic in hindsight, from the present perspective, you know, seeing as he built McD which has contributed much to laziness and improper health etc etc…. you know what I mean.

    Also please check your email, I sent you two emails! :D

  3. Hey Ludvig,

    Great article. I especially like this quote:

    “Most people today have forgotten what it’s like to be in a state of awe.

    They’ve become detached and indifferent

    —Habituated from routine, and desensitized from overstimulation.”

    Also, I like how your article relates to your book on homeostasis. Most people in the Western world are in a constant state of homeostasis so there’s no incentive to break out. However, to live life to the fullest and develop yourself to the person you have the potential to become both physically and mentally you have to force yourself to break out of that homeostasis.

  4. Really interesting as usual, I hope you enjoyed it in Norway. It is a beautiful picture.
    I have never heard about “brain in a vat” before so I was reading up on it now and I just found this really funny image also you might like!
    https://goo.gl/PcDQ4X

  5. Great article! Always looking forward to what you have to say. Know can I maintain long term motivation? I find that I get really motivated to start and I work on my goals, but then inevitable I fall back into homeostasis. Any tips on how to keep going and not fall back into overstimulation and unconsciousness?

    • Sure, Roman. Here are a few suggestions:

      1) Practice and improve metacognition (self-reflection).
      –This will help you notice when you’re about to make a short-sighted decision, and hopefully prevent it before it happens.

      Practical tip:
      Start a journal, and write in it at least once per day, to form the habit of reflecting on your behavior.

      2: Make concentration and discipline a daily practice.
      –So that it’s easier to make the ‘right’ choice–and delay gratification–when you’re tempted to act ‘wrongly’.

      Practical tip:
      Don’t reward yourself until after you’ve done something good or productive. If you do intermittent fasting like I do, don’t eat until late in the day after you’ve already done things.

      3) Practice long-term / higher-order thinking.
      –This means looking at your behavior and actions as a cycle/feedback loop. Avoid initiating behavior that puts you at risk to fall into a downward spiral of some sort.

      Practical tip:
      Always ask yourself: “And then what will happen? And after that? And after that?” before doing something. See how many consequences you can predict.

      In summary, prevention is most important. If you already have a good routine going, be very protective of it.

    • Abgrund says:

      Take care what company you keep. If your friends are locked in homeostasis and are not interested in improving themselves, get rid of them. You cannot change them but they can prevent you from changing.

  6. Richard says:

    “Is Modern Man More Motivated Than 300 Years Ago?”

    Probably the same.

    Homoeostasis is not dependent on your environment.
    It’s individual desires.

    You cite Alexander. One crucial aspect you missed was that his mother – Olympias – seems to have brainwashed him into thinking he was the son of Zeus.

    “During Alexander’s campaigns, she regularly corresponded with him and may have confirmed her son’s claim in Egypt that his father was not Philip but Zeus” – Wikipedia page for Olympias

    Believing he was the son of Zeus lead Alexander to compare himself not with the “mortals” of his day, but the Gods of Olympia. Achilles, Dionysus, Hercules were all anointed, as he felt himself.

    This would almost definitely have impacted his decisions. As much could be said for Hannibal (From Ḥannibaʻ(a)l[7][8] meaning “Ba’al is/has been gracious”[8][9] or “Grace of Baal”[7]), Caesar (who claimed his family traced its lineage back to Venus), Napoleon (believed Destiny was on his side), Hitler (believed Providence protected his divine mission).

    Thus, you could argue that your assumption that “there are no more Oceans to explore” is only corroborated by individual perception.

    • Samuel Welch says:

      That’s a cool idea, the question is how to think you’re a God ;)

      You know what they say: if believe you can do something you can, and if you don’t, then you can’t.
      I think that’s what they say anyway, there are lots of quotes like that.
      :P

      And like Alexander supposedly said (I just read this) “nothing is impossible to the man who will try.”

      • Richard says:

        Good quote! You should look up Alexander’s siege of Tyre, truly truly amazing.

        If you want a true measure of Alexander’s character, look up the letter he sent to Darius. Here’s a snippet:

        “In future whenever you communicate with me, send to me as king of Asia; do not write to me as an equal, but state your demands to the master of all your possessions.”

        An answer to your question is that it’s not about “thinking” you’re a God. These people *knew* at their core they were divine. There is a difference between using an outside stimulus and having it as an aspect of your character. The latter being much, much rarer.

        When you look these folks in the eye, you get a sense of the enormity of life they bestow. They don’t take no for an answer. They know their path is ordained.

        It might not be easy, but it’s right. Their instructions are delivered from another realm; upon the shoulders of their work the wheels of history roll.

        If you want to be like Alexander or Caesar, it’s very simple. Simple is hard. You ready? Stand up for the weak.

        Instil your country with the yearning for greatness. Head a community. Be the one people look to for answers. Stand up and give a voice to those who don’t have one. Take advice from no-one. Give willingly. Take little. Live frugally. Be the first to rise; last to rest. Eat sparingly. Expend your daily energy wisely & pro-actively. Be the man everyone wants on their side.

        EVERYTHING you do carries weight. From your biggest triumph to your smallest murmurings. The best people understand that even their THOUGHTS carry weight.

        We are but blobs of mucus wandering atop a small blue dot in our patch of dark space. How much your life matters depends on what you DO. What you do attracts other things. Therefore, if what you do is instilled with the sense of the divine, this is the aura you’ll carry with you. This is how some people’s glare is unmistakable.

        You cannot separate this idea from who you are. It has to emanate from within you. Only when you are comfortable with death, to the degree that it will push you to be who you really desire, will you ever be able to release yourself from the shackles of fear. Everything you do is scary. But if you strive for greatness & fill what you’re doing with weight, you’ll get the chance to do things no-one else dreamed of.

    • Amazing insight Richard. That explains why many saints did what they did- they all sincerely believed God is by their side.
      “Believe in yourself” is outdated. And useless. I know myself. No reason to believe. But believing that God has given you a mission… well, that’s another story.

    • Great comments Rich, and you’re right about Olympias.

      I don’t disagree with you that homeostasis is dependent on individual desires, however, it IS dependent on your environment. Which is why variation, experimentation, and doing new things are important. That was also a reason why I wanted to climb those mountains. To get into an environment where I had no existing mental associations.

  7. Anynomous says:

    There is no way the average modern person is more motivated than people in the past. Industrialization and technology have made people too comfortable and lazy to push towards bigger challenges. Our baseline level of well-being is surely higher but like you say the “mental” motivation is lower.

    I think this is basically why all people who do big & cool things are “outliers” who have in one way or another rejected the norms and culture of modern society.

  8. Your post comes at a wonderful time. I was just reading Antifragile and Nietzsche and this is the third take on it. Three different angles for the same concept:

    1. You NEED volatility/turbulence/stressors for growth. Every time you are uncomfortable you have a wonderful opportunity for it is a crash course. If you progress ” ät your own pace” avoiding discomfort you will take 3 weeks to learn as much as you would learn in a few hours from as you call it BOOH.

    2. Stressors/stress in general also have the amazing advantage of exposing your weaknesses to yourself. You will be far less likely to fool yourself when you do this. You’re not able to do pull-ups? Exposed: You’ve got a weak back. Not able to maintain a conversation? Exposed: Your social skills suck.

    3. Everyone evolves.You decide the pace at which you evolve. The sooner you do the more of an edge you have and the more easily things come to you. Dealing with competition becomes easier. Keep growing.

    4. Anti-aging and stress levels: Most people chose to grow when life slaps them in the face rather than out of their own initiative. That is distress. Discomfort or even disappointment from ones own expectations: Eustress.
    Let your body and your mind rot and they happily will. You decide how young you will be at age 50, 60, 70

    2.

    • Hey Shyan,

      I’ve read Antifragile; I haven’t read (much) of Nietzsche’s stuff. Does it differ in any major way from my ideas or Taleb’s ideas?

      2:
      –True. If you’re instinctively avoiding something, feeling fearful or anxious about a thing, then it is often just your homeostasis trying to maintain itself.

      4:
      –Just be sure to think in terms of preparation. Start early and keep it up (with both brain and body). It’s not easy for a person to who’s been living like a complete jackass (sedentary, obese, addicted, e.g) to make a dramatic turnaround at age 50+.

      • When it comes to philosophers, I just read a book of their quotes. Its really the most time effective way of learning from them. I’m reading “Man alone with himself” a collection on Nietzsche’s quotes.

        Overall Nietzsche and Taleb are apples and oranges. But there is some overlap with respect to their ideas on the relationship between volatility/stress and growth.

      • and I meant ” you decide NOW how young you will be at age 50, 60, 70

  9. Matias Page says:

    Excellent article, Ludvig!
    You manage to articulate all these great ideas in such a clear way. To me this one felt more passionate than the others. Very thought provoking.

    I think about these things all of the time. I hope I can articulate them in film as clearly and passionately as you do with your writing.

    • Thank you, Matias.

      Are you planning to write a book/blog/[some other medium]?

      • Matias Page says:

        Ludvig,
        I’m currently making a short film. It’s in the horror genre but it has psychological concepts, such as these ideas you’re talking about. I’ve not seen films like these, so that’s going to be my thing. It might or might not work, but it’s going to be my thing.

        Again, wonderful article.

  10. Alexander the great can teach us an invaluable lesson in that story: The only way to go from plain Alexander to Alexander the Great is by continuously setting up new goals,never settling down after one success and constantly aspire for higher.

    It’s like video games. Do many people tend to waste hours in video games but never understand this lesson and never apply it in real life. What’s the goal of every game? Increase your level and become stronger. Nobody stops at level 10 in video games,they all continue to reach level 100. Why don’t you do the same in your life then?

    • True enough.

      “Why don’t you do the same in your life then?”

      –Because in video games you get the reward almost instantly, which triggers dopamine (motivation), whereas in real life you have to delay gratification, concentrate on some long-term goal, work hard at it, and see the results much later.

      • Indeed. Why spend years getting to level 2 of real life when you can beat 100 levels of a game in a month, sitting down?

      • You are both spot on. The easy road of instant gratification is just…easier. But that’s why there are winners and losers. If there wasn’t that we would live in a perfect world with unicorns and rainbows.

    • Apart from the almost instant reward that we get in video games as Ludvig has mentioned, I think another factor is that we can also see visually the particular stat (strength, agility, intelligence, etc., lol)/ level increase. We can literally see the damage that we’re inflicting on the enemy getting higher and higher, and that is really powerful motivation. In real life, we don’t. It’s a very organic process with so much uncertainty.

      I still like to apply the game analogy in real life, though in other ways. One example with the way I do it is that I like to tell myself there is the devil side of me who says things like ‘you deserve a break’ when I don’t, really. And whenever I succumb, I lose, the devil levels up, and the next time it’s time to make a decision, it becomes even tougher to win the devil (making the right decision). Winning would be the opposite effect. Gaining momentum!

      • Jeremy, there’s a book about that devil/angel think you’re using: “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S Lewis (author of Narnia). You may enjoy it, it’s pretty philosophical. Kind of like a spiritual version of homeostasis.

        Also, you’re right about stats in video games. This is a combination of the availability bias and behavioral conditioning.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve just did a little research on the book and have decided to put it in my book list.

  11. I’m of the opinion that the modern lack of motivation is a result of constant brainwashing. All popular media outlets are constantly hitting your with “PC” content filled with unambitious and consumerist values.

    I stopped watching regular TV about 2 years ago. Since then, I’ve become much more motivated and much more “alive” for lack of a better word. I think more about my situation in the big world and how to change it and the world itself. I’m now filled with real ideas and not the clutter that most outlets try to fill you with.

    Also testosterone is at an all time low today due to a variety of reasons. Testosterone is gives a man manly qualities- aggression, impulsiveness, sex drive, logic, reaction time, and ambition among many things. Based on that one fact, even though we likely get better fed today, men(not “people,” let’s be real here) today have less drive to explore and conquer.

    Any thoughts on this, Ludvig?

    • Hey Chris,

      ” I’m now filled with real ideas and not the clutter that most outlets try to fill you with.”

      –Yup. Own thinking > mainstream media.

      Testosterone:
      –Yes, there are obviously lots of men who need to fix ‘the fundamentals’, men who eat way too much processed foods, don’t get enough sleep or physical exercise, jerk off too much, and are stuck in a long-term ‘loser effect’ (opposite to the winner effect). No doubt does it lower their motivation and curiosity.

  12. Great article Ludvig,

    I agree with you on all points. It is such a shame to see people waste so many opportunities because they lack the motivation. In no point in history it was so easy to get the resources to do great things.

    It’s funny how everything we build to make our lives better is actually demotivating us.

    • The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Imagine what Cato would say if he lived today?

      P.S: Cool site you’ve got there. I read your post about feedback loops and enjoyed it.

      • I think he would say something like: “The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new.”

        Thank you, I appreciate it! Your site is great. One of my favorites.

  13. It’s not fair to compare great heroes of history with ordinary modern people – that’s just confirmation bias. Not everyone in the ancient world was an Alexander the Great or a Julius Caesar. The vast majority were peasants devoid of any ambition.

    If they had had opportunity, would those peasants have been any more driven to success than today’s couch potatoes?

    I rather think not. In fact I would expect the opposite; habit and learned helplessness would restrain them. When slavery was ended in the U.S., there was no great wave of negro entrepreneurs; instead there was a gradual drift from slavery in agriculture to wage slavery in industry. Nor was there any avalanche of progress when serfdom was ended in Russia. As for hunter-gatherer peoples, their indolence has been notorious throughout history.

    If anything, /ordinary/ modern people are more motivated than their /ordinary/ pre-industrial forebears. They are, after all, bombarded daily with propaganda concerning “opportunity” and their responsibility to take advantage of it. No one expected or wanted the feudal peasant to succeed; it was perfectly acceptable (indeed mandatory) for him to die in the same miserable condition to which he was born. The aristocrat, for that matter, was not expected to improve his position or even do anything to justify his privilege.

    The modern world, by contrast, is full of successful people. Inevitably, in a world with nuclear arsenals, there are no great conquerors, but there are hordes of businessmen large and small, inventors, scientists, engineers, writers, artists, programmers, etc. who have advanced the state of humanity, mastered amazing skills, or at least made money. We do not consider them great because they are many. Three centuries ago a man could become famous for figuring out that the veins returned blood to the heart. Today the surgeon who routinely transplants a heart into a living patient is just an anonymous artisan.

    Modern man lacks no appetite for danger, either. Just a few hundred years ago, a man who set sail on an uncharted ocean was considered exceptionally brave. Today many thousands of people indulge in gratuitously dangerous sports like skydiving, mountain climbing, motorcycle racing, and scuba diving. Nor have we lost our curiosity and exploratory urge – even though we’ve run out of places that are “new” and still reasonably accessible to humans. Our probes go hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, our telescopes hundreds of millions of light years; a few men have even walked on the motherfucking Moon. Every year people visit the summit of Mt. Everest and the South Pole – even though those places are not new – just for the hell of it. What exploratory voyages did Rome ever undertake?

    If you’re looking for a deterioration in the moral qualities of humanity, you might find it in the past 30 years, but not by looking back to antiquity.

    *

    On the subject of chair lifts and the like: In the U.S., this sort of thing is ostensibly for the benefit of invalids. In reality, of course, most of the people who take advantage of it are just fat lazy slobs. I’ve even been treated to the experience of hobbling around a store on crutches and barely managing to dodge the porker riding the designated electric cart. Does this happen in Europe too, or is it just one of the things that makes America The Greatest Country on Earth ™?

    • I actually do think that peasants would have been more motivated…but success probably meant something different for them. Think Mazslows hierarchy of needs.

      Therefore what we modern men consider as “success” is probably loftier than what those peasants considered success. We have our basic needs covered. I’m a good example, I have pretty much everything I could want, but to be honest it has only made me “softer”, less ambitious and motivated. I would like to think (who wouldn’t?) that I could do some epic things if I spent the remaining estimated 50 years of my life in a focused and strategic manner. But I made the “mistake” of getting too comfortable.

      • What motivation might have appeared among a freed mass of Medieval peasants is a matter of speculation, but what little evidence I know of (the miserable fate of Haiti, for instance) suggests that few of them would have thought past looting and revenge, not even to the point of working hard enough to survive – which would put them on a par with many living people, but hardly a majority thereof.

        Anyway the point is that it’s not fair to compare the greatest men of history with ordinary men of today. Should we measure the common foot soldier that fled from Alexander’s army at Arbela against Bill Gates or Stephen Hawking?

      • A good example of what I mean would be the first US settlers, who came with the high hopes and goals of making a better life.

        You’re right it is not a perfect comparison, but I think it’s not necessarily intended to be either.

      • Abgrund says:

        That’s an interesting sub-topic, AOG. It has often been noted that immigrants to America (both 300 years ago and today) tend to be highly motivated. I don’t know if the same is true of immigrants to, say, Australia, but I would think so. It’s only natural that the people who leave their home to start a new life in a strange country are more motivated than average.

        But is this motivation hereditary? I have often suggested that the U.S. solve its illegal immigration problem by trading our welfare trash to Mexico for an equal number of immigrants; the work ethic of Mexican illegal aliens is renowned. Contrarily, I have been told that the children of immigrants are just regular lazy Americans. I have no answer to this claim.

      • I just re-read this comment of yours Abgrund. While I am not sure I completely agree with it, i think it is still brilliant.

    • Anonymous says:

      Care to elaborate about Russia? They did go from Serfdom to sending people in space over the course of a century.

  14. Abgrund says:

    Stalin’s methods of motivating people had some results in the short term, but the apathy of Soviet citizens in general was notorious. The motivation to develop nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, ballistic missiles, satellites, etc. came from the top down in peremptory form, and it came at the expense of things the citizens might actually have wanted. Lenin’s NEP was actually much more effective at motivating people, but made no attempt to match the West in armaments.

    In any case, none of these things were set in motion when the serfs were emancipated in 1861, but over half a century later. In World War One, Russia was so debilitated that it was conquered by Germany – while most of the German army was committed in France. This was just a century after Russia (with serfdom) had bitch-slapped Napoleon.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you for your reply, Abgrund.

      One question spawned in my mind after your paragraph : was serfdom really a “bad” thing for Russian society?

      • Abgrund says:

        In that regard I tend to follow Marx in thinking that outward institutions are merely a reflection of essential economic reality. In other words, the abolition of serfdom couldn’t have made much difference without a real structural change like a redistribution of land. It has often been observed that the abolition of slavery in the U.S. achieved, in the short term, very little change in the conditions of the victims. Whether the long term changes in conditions would have occurred despite (or resulted in) the abolition of slavery remains an open question.

  15. It is sad that technology has given man lame excuses to work hard, appreciate nature and the human touch. I always thought of how the ancient peoples live and how they could have survived the realities of life with the resources they have. Now, we have so many conveniences and it seems that all these are causing the environment to die.

    The only thing I could do is choose to live a simple life and choose to keep old ways of doing things- such as talking to humans face to face!

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