🔗 Humanity's Crisis of Identitytext Ido Perlmuter
First published: .
Despite what some billionaires would have you believe, human population is increasing. The rate in which this is happening may be changing—as it always does—but the bottom line is that human population is growing. In fact, there are more than twice as many humans on planet Earth today as there were back in 1970, which isn't that long ago. You or your parents might even still remember the '70s, depending on the amount of drugs that were in play at the time.
Although not a lot of people seem to be willing to say it, we are feeling the effects of this growth in almost every aspect of our lives; it's just that we try our best to leave it out of the list of reasons for our troubles. We don't blame our ever increasing commute times on population growth. Of course there are more reasons for our traffic woes, but everybody seems to be ignoring the fact that more people equals more traffic, and there's really nothing you can do about it. We don't blame our ever inflating economies on population growth. Of course there are many factors involved, but nobody stops to ask themselves where are all these new humans going to get their money from. We don't blame the population growth for our much-smaller-yet-much-costlier apartments in taller and taller buildings, and we don't ask ourselves where the hell are all these kids going to live in 20 years, when they're old enough to go out on their own.
A lot of our avoidance of looking at population numbers can be attributed to the fact that most people have no idea how the monetary system works. They don't understand that money isn't infinite and that the more people there are, the less our money is worth. Mostly, though, it's probably our innate desire to procreate, our love of our children, our religious customs, and the pressure of our families and peers, that's keeping us from questioning whether this is scalable and maintainable. Hell, did anyone ever stop to think what Earth is gonna look like in a few hundred years, given that we keep burying our loved ones in cemeteries with large fancy tombstones meant to last forever, where they will be forgotten within two short generations? How taller will our buildings be? How wider will our highways grow? How denser will our chicken and cattle farms need to be in order to feed all of us? Where will we grow all our crops? Where the hell are we going to live?
The population trying to scale where it can't is why pod hotels—where people sleep in narrow morgue-like drawers stacked on the walls—are becoming more common. It is why cemeteries are now spreading out vertically as well as horizontally. It is why apartments in the big cities are selling/renting for monstrously insane prices and you can no longer afford to live in the city you've lived in since the day you were born. It is why the sidewalks are overflowing with people and walking is becoming a challenge. It is why the post offices are crumbling under the load of your Amazon packages. It is why you're fighting to get a standing spot on the bus. It is why every food product you once loved keeps coming out with a "new and improved recipe" which replaces real ingredients with designer carcinogens. Well, at least, it's a major part of it.
By now you've already declared me a dangerous extremist, but this rant isn't really about all that. It's about what I think population growth (and more specifically density) is doing to our psyche. As a species, we are prone to asking ourselves "why are we here? What's the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?" And with so many people around us every single second of our lives—people that look, act and talk like us, for the most part—this question is getting more pressing, and more difficult to answer. "Who am I? How am I different than all those thousands of people crowded on the train with me on their way to their boring job that is exactly as meaningless and as boring as mine? What makes me unique? Is my life special?"
And wherever there are people questioning their identity, there are people trying to capitalize on that. Why build yourself into a unique person; why form opinions about life, the universe, and everything; why experience different things; why look for answers within, when you can just buy something only you and a handful of other people will have?
Artificial scarcity is all the rage today. People are so anxious to feel unique that they are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money on (supposedly) rare crap. For example, there's an absolute craze these days for "special edition" shoes. These are the same sweat-shop shoes that don't last two weeks, manufactured by the million, but with very minor and subtle differences between pairs. All the shoes look exactly the same, but a certain number of pairs have different colored lettering, or maybe a slightly larger radius on the curve that accents the side of the shoes, thus making them "rare". And people are fighting over these shoes, so much so that there's a black shoe market rolling in tons of dinero. I never look at people's shoes, but I've recently been noticing people enthusiastically reacting to other people's shoes. "Where did you get those shoes? They're rare! I want them too!" one would exclaim. "Oh, these shoes? You wouldn't believe what I had to do to get these shoes," the lucky owner will reply, with a big grin on their face. The shoes look absolutely terrible, but here we are.
Every industry possible is trying to capitalize on this, even the food industry. Bakeries in Tel Aviv are now doing limited editions of certain cookie flavors at insane markups, and people are spending weeks trying to squeeze in an order via Wolt during the three seconds that they are available for purchase every day. And if they succeed, they will tell their friends about those four special edition cookies they were so fortunate to buy like they actually achieved something. "Oh, wow, I gotta tell you, it was so expensive, but it was worth it, it was the best cookies I ever ate." Special edition food products aren't new, of course, but they were usually seasonal offerings, or an attempt to celebrate (i.e. capitalize) on an event. They weren't about making you feel like a unique snowflake and superior to your friends.
And don't get me started on that NFT bullshit. Spending your hard-earned money on rows in a database, that doesn't even deserve my time ranting about it.
People have been spending a lot of money on rare things practically forever, but nothing here is actually rare. It's entirely artificial, arbitrary, meaningless, and worst of all, ephemeral. At least your rare first edition copy of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien will probably outlast you, but that crappy pair of shoes won't even make it to your next birthday, and that passable pair of pistachio cookies won't even make it to your next bowel movement.
Speaking of rare things, if diamonds were really rare, wouldn't marriage be rare too, given that the latter somehow depends on the former? And how come they're so easy to find? There's practically a store on every block, hotel, airport and mall. There's no lack of rare diamonds. I don't buy that shit.
So anyway, stop trying to buy an identity, form one instead. Like mine, it's as ugly as your shoes, but at least it's real and self-sufficient.