Over the last few months, I have watched a few videos on YouTube (perhaps 5, max) about how men specifically are apparently “checking out” of modern life. These “checked-out” men are apparently rejecting many of the norms of Western life. For instance, they typically do not work, that is, hold down, or strive after, stable, well-paid employment. They also shun romantic relationships, and engage less in family relationships.
I have also watched a number of videos from one of these men who would be considered “checked out”. And the following finally dawned on me: for many of these men who are checked out, they are rejecting either actively or passively the status quo which so many people find to grind them down. (Many higher income people do get married.) In short, for people of lower income, life in developed societies resembles nothing so much as slavery. I would loosely base it all on capitalism, but the single most relevant factor is the cost of housing, whether we are talking of renting or owning. In short, in the US and in the UK and in many other developed countries, housing is so expensive that it seems mathematically impossible to afford any kind of decent home on lower incomes. And then on top of that, good stable well-paid jobs are becoming increasingly hard to find, even for educated people, which means that people are forced into lower-paid or minimum-wage jobs, or even those super-insecure non-jobs available within the gig economy, which then makes it even harder to afford housing or pass landlord checks.
I have lost count of the number of times I have read on Reddit Antiwork accounts from people crying about just how impossible it is to make ends meet. And for many people it is a simple mathematical impossibility. If someone’s gross pay is $1000 USD per month before bills and the minimum rent price in their area is $2000 per month, no amount of tweaking their budget is going to make that work. Well someone might say “Well they should get a better job!” Well ultimately there just are not enough “better jobs” for everyone. This in practice means that some people are going to be forced to live in those precarious situations, and everyone is desperately trying to make sure that that fate does not fall to them.
So I believe that when people witness this huge struggle other people are going through, some people working multiple difficult jobs to maintain the roof over their heads, or when people have actually been through that struggle themselves, then it is so easy to decide that they don’t want to be a part of that. Rather they choose to extricate themselves from this system which seems so designed to enslave them. I mean, it is possible for a small number of people to escape into a higher paid job where the fruits of your labour can afford you a decent quality of living. But even people who achieve that are often still essentially enslaved, working all hours just to be able to afford this decent living. A growing number of people, like me, are trying to escape via entrepreneurship, but there is definitely no guarantee of success with that. Even if success does eventually come, you somehow have to survive in the intervening years.
Additionally, this frenetic pace of life costs us other things, namely community, and quality of relationships.
Community is like a relationship between many people. Like all relationships, it requires time to nurture it. And yet for many people, the time to nurture community relationships seems to be a luxury that they cannot afford.
You know, I posted on Facebook recently about a recipe that I made. And it is only now that I realise that that was almost an expression of luxury for my life, in that I had the time to make that. The last time I made this same recipe was in January 2021. I know because I also posted that to Facebook. My camera automatically saved the photo file as a timestamp of date taken, and I still have the photo on the laptop I am using to type this out. I have certainly made a number of recipes between then and now, but that feeling of having time to really relax in the process and take my time has been elusive, because a sense of stability has been elusive, and I have been working hard chasing that. And this is true even though my own housing situation has been so fortunate over the last year or so compared to that of so many other people..
In the same way, I believe that many people just don’t have the time to consistently invest into not just making exciting recipes, but more fundamentally the structures of community life, that is the places to regularly go to meet people. Additionally, this recipe that I made is not actually “exciting” at all, but rather so basic in Nigerian life, and is the kind of thing that growing up we used to make so regularly, like weekly,or fortnightly. But the time pressures of life mean that it is now so hard to find time to knock out these things that we used to be so casual about, and I am sure that it is the same for many Nigerian families, and indeed families from other traditional cultures, that many of those previously everyday pleasures have now been relegated to special occasions.
Additionally, the stresses that people face make it harder for them to be generous, as they are just fixated on the increasingly impossible task of getting their own needs met first. This is a simple and yet instructive example, and I may well have shared this anecdote on this blog before: I used to be constantly in a rush, and always running late. I noticed that when I was on the bus and running late myself, and someone got to the bus stop late, eg as the bus was leaving, I would mentally urge the driver to pull away without waiting to stop for the person running: “Well it is their own fault, they should have been there on time!”
However, when I am not in a hurry, but have plenty of time, I always mentally urge the driver to wait; “Driver, can you not see that that man is running for the bus!” And the difference in my attitude is purely down to how stressed for time I personally am at that minute! And it is not even a conscious decision. It just seems so spontaneous, and automatic in the moment.
When I realised/noticed this about myself, I was stunned! And yet this attitude is not exclusive to me by any means. It has widely been recognised that people in big cities like London are less friendly and less helpful to strangers, while people in smaller, slower cities often say hello, or greet strangers in the street. I cannot now remember for sure whether there was research conducted to support what I am going to say, but there may have been – is this a false memory of mine to remember that something may have come out a few years ago? Long story short, it is not that people in bigger cities are inherently less friendly, rather they are just chronically more pressed for time, and currently dashing from place to place so they simply do not have time or headspace to smile at people or to give directions to strangers. So if you took the exact same people, and plucked them out of London into a quieter, less-stressed lifestyle, suddenly, they magically become more friendly.
If you extrapolate to someone’s entire life, then it can be easy to understand why people living stressed-out lives might appear to be less friendly but more selfish – if life is a constant treadmill and they are barely managing to keep up with their own obligations, then like people on the street, or me on the bus, they might just never feel able to afford the luxury of generosity towards other people.
I guess there is also the question of whether these stressed out lifestyles attract inherently more selfish people. That may have been the case a few decades ago, where moving to London, say, was an expression of ambition. But now in our times when barely anywhere in the country is affordable for housing, then suddenly we are all drawn into this frantic, stressed out lifestyle, regardless of our natural inclinations.
So I believe that having less available time has destroyed the sense of community we have, towards strangers on the street, but also in the sense of having less time to invest into our community institutions, like church, or sport clubs etc.
However, I also believe that the resulting erosion of community, that is the links of obligation that we have towards one another, has itself also been making us all more selfish. Reddit Am I the A**hole seems to be full of people essentially saying of their relationships, including their romantic relationships, family relationships, work relationships: “Why should I have to be the one to do X?” And the reading audience then chips in with support – “No, you should not have to be the one to do it!” Actually no, a better way to describe AITA is people expressing the entitledness of other people in their lives, and then the reading audience encouraging them not to take this entitledness, to “stand up for themselves”, to leave.
I believe that it is the erosion of community that has led to all this entitledness. When there is a stronger sense of community, then there is a stronger sense that we are all in some way obligated to one another, and responsible for one another. So we are more likely to go out of our way to make sacrifices for one another, even for absolute strangers, knowing that people, even absolute strangers, would similarly make sacrifices for us. Now though, that sense of communal obligation has been eroded, even, shockingly, among family members. So each individual is less likely to put themselves out for someone else, because they know that their kindness is less likely to be reciprocated. Rather it seems that half the people are now unapologetically out for “what they can get”, to make sure that they are the ones who going to be exploiting, rather than exploited, and the other half are learning to stand up for themselves.
So now is it predictable that people are more selfish. This impacts romantic relationships, especially, in two big ways.
Firstly, people just anticipate that their potential spouses are going to be more selfish.
Secondly, crucially, people understand that the community support that has been there for generations to help people manage difficult relationships will not be there.
So people just take it for granted that romantic relationships will not work, because this is what they witness endlessly from people around them, or what they themselves have experienced.
So I believe, this is why many men are choosing not to get married. I mean, why put yourself through all that hassle, just to very predictably ruin your own life, or, as many men have stated, “lose it all in the divorce”? Many men seem to be avoiding relationships altogether, or any kind of romantic interaction, as “the juice is no longer worth the squeeze”. To me this is all shocking, as the urge to romantically pair up and/or procreate is so strong. Some men obviously still live in hope, and I bet that a good number of the men who have sworn off relationships would eager throw themselves back in if the right lady just showed up. Humorously, on one of the Reddit forums I was reading yesterday, where the question asked men “why they are still single”, one man said that he had been reduced to waiting for someone to drop from the sky! 🤣🤣🤣 But you know what else is shocking? That the attitude demonstrated by so many of these men so closely mirrors my own! I guess I have also been asking “Why should I be the one” – to have to submit, to have to give up my career, to have to make all the effort. I too have essentially given up on community by rejecting the church as it currently exists, as so many other people have similarly done, and refusing to go anywhere near it. Furthermore, in that same forum a man said that by remaining single he could do “what he wants, when he wants, how he wants” – which is almost verbatim what I myself have written in a post here about the advantages of singleness. (Now to find the post to link to it!) Admittedly this is a very obvious observation, so it is not such a big deal that I have also made it, because it is such an obvious benefit of singleness.
All the same, you know what? It occurs to me that the reason why these men and I so closely mirror one another, is because this approach to relationships is sadly the rational, self-protective response to modern society. That is, relationships and investing into our communities have always represented sacrifice. However, many of us would still have chosen to make those sacrifices, because on balance it seemed worth it. Now on balance, it does not seem worth it for many of us as individuals, even if society itself still benefits. And this is what is leading so many people to essentially shrug and walk away, not wanting to kill ourselves for a society that does not seem designed for our particular needs. On the other hand, the breakdown of community feeling and the rational response to it of walking away from societal expectations is also making us all lonely.