Those who are convinced that there is more to things spend their time chasing it and not finding it often as not, and those who are convinced there isn't find themselves frustrated at the abyss.
When you read books about a utopia without material demands on our time, the key aspect seems to be how nobody is particularly bereft, only mildly discontent. The utopia we envision in other words comprises our current world, just shorn of what we’d recognise as work.
But its more than that. Most of the annoyances with the modern world, especially in the more talkative online spheres, seems to stem from its seemingly inadequate efforts to affect the outcomes of us especially as our institutions are growing so much bigger than we can control.
When we look at the degrowth agendas that proliferate, they too seem to be nostalgic for a very specific version of the past. The visions are filled with communities of mutually loving people, the elimination of middlemen from transactions, where everyone knows the true you, the nonexistence of bureaucracy, the existence of a social good that’s identifiable by looking around. Essentially, the simple life.
Instead today we’re surrounded by alien structures, built by people we don’t know, working alongside those with whom you have a passing ephemeral relationship at best, stuck with an expertise that has little to do with savannah survival, doing a portion of a portion of a portion of the work to move the big wheel, detached from your relationships because of time constraints, and generally feeling as if you’re too smart to not notice an abyss but too stupid to find a way to cross it.
So we try to find our way to make peace with the things we had to do to get those space age tools, even as we dislike what we had to do to get them.
We tried schooling people individually, sometimes collectively, occasionally communally, but had to resort to more industrialised methods as the numbers got larger. And in this expansion we also started disliking the fact that industrialised methods take away the individuality.
We tried jobs out by apprenticeships, by walking into offices and finding your vocation, by starting working somewhere and proving your mettle, but as the numbers grew large enough we started to realise that maybe we needed better methods of selection, credentialling, and hoops to jump through.
We tried governing through simple rules applied semi illegibly, which over time had to get more codified and better elaborated as societies themselves grew larger and more complex in their component activities; and the fight between wanton lawsuits and deterrence led us to the point where we need to elaborate exact instructions of how a child shouldn’t eat a plastic bag atop a sweet box.
We tried curing diseases based on the patient and the background and the symptoms and the disease patterns themselves, to the point where with the large influx of patients necessitated rule based systems (spend only 15 mins with the patient, only do a blood test if they demonstrate specific symptoms) which make it worthless unless you’re at the middle of a (supposedly extant) bell curve.
This is why we dislike rules so much. This is why we want to RETVRN.
Because we don’t want a life filled with rules and structures and globally defined procedural rules. We want to live in a hunter gatherer mode where we get to follow our curiosities and our ambitions and our vibes and our likes until it reaches the natural conclusion. Never mind perhaps that this might not exactly depict the way the hunter gatherers themselves lived, the point of the space age toolkit we have is to live as if that was the lifestyle.
But now that we’ve grown up a bit maybe we can treat some of those rules as the necessary evil that they are, not as immutable facts of the world. We can treat personalisation as a feature and not an affront. We can treat rules as suggestions of the right average behaviour and Schelling points and not as laws like gravity.
To return to that (maybe imagined) idyllic state isn’t a function of reversing time. We don’t need to give up everything we made in order to retvrn. We need to move forward with the new insight that what we created helps us understand a little bit more about what we might want, and use that knowledge to guide our next steps.
Whether its our increasing understanding of how tribes form, online and offline, or our affectations about how life should be lived, or the level of influence we want or tolerate from others in our society, or indeed what we owe to one another, these are to be answered moving forward.
Whichever vision of the past glory that you’re most partial to, it stems from the yearning for a time when life used to be understandable, when proving oneself wasn’t a constant struggle, when you could just do the thing instead of proving you can do the thing, when the egregore of our society wasn’t turned into the mechanistic mode of analysing our aptitudes, in short when things were more personal.
We won’t live in small villages with cobbled streets en masse anymore because we need the giant glass skyscrapers and the congealed intellect of our multi billion population to move ahead, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recreate what made those cobbled streets seem interesting in the first place. That’s the true retvrn.