Why do you reluctantly wake up every day to go to a job you dislike? Why do we force ourselves to go to social events we don’t want to? Why do we try to lose weight? These along with many other questions are often answered with the statement “because I have to” or “because I should”, but keeping with the philosophically imperative word, why?
The “Why” is easy enough to answer on the surface level; I want to buy a house, I want to appear social, I want to be look better. For many people this is as far as it goes, but in reality it is all based in a societal superficiality that none of us really buy into. As a 25 year old, I hear many of my peers echoing the same interests with regards to buying a house and having a career and being “successful” but then when you really dig deeper into how they feel, they are unsatisfied and would prefer to spend their time travelling or pursuing some other dream. When you speak to older groups, the same thing is echoed but with a nostalgic sentimentality: “University was the best time of your life” “travel now, you will always have opportunities to work”. But despite our better judgement, and the advice from people who have a.) Lived it and b.) RAISED US we decide to keep trucking along in our day-to-day routines going through the same thing until one day we will be passing on the same advice to our kids.
So back to my original question, why do we do it? The answer I think is simple enough and it comes down to normativity. For those of you without a philosophy degree (good to know it came in handy for something!), normativity means “what we ought to do”. But how does that logic work? We do what we do because we ought to do it… may seem rather redundant. We ought to do it because it is what has developed in 21st North America. We live in one of the best-off continents in the world in the most advanced society in history, so why wouldn’t we continue to do what we do? Does the reason “I’m Miserable” perhaps seem like a good argument? Society and individual life are about evolution, adaptation and change yet the large majority of us seem to fit into Einstein’s definition of insanity, namely “doing the same thing and expecting different results”. If I work hard, ill have more money, if I have more money, I can buy a house, I can spend more time with my loved one, yada yada, but does that ever really happen? No, no it does not and after speaking with people from several socio-economic situations I would argue it is quite the opposite.
Now I should have mentioned earlier, I am not a radicalist, I do not travel and live off the land and work for myself 3 months a year so I can enjoy the other 9. I work a 9-5 job, make a decent living, live in a metropolitan area, and my day-to-day activities vary only slightly. So why don’t I change it? Why do I do what I do even though I am unhappy. I think it comes down to one thing, fear.
The ironic part of all this is, as mentioned above, as a species and as a society we are constantly evolving and this requires adaptation and change, but also as a species and society we are so hesitant to accept that change, to move outside of the norm, to take that risk. I would argue human’s biggest fear is fear of the unknown.
The unknown or uncertainty leads to complacency, but it can also lead to greatness. We tend to look at the future with hopeful eyes thinking “Things will just work out”, but how can this be if nothing changes, but change is scary… AHHH what do I do!!!
Here’s what you do, embrace it, embrace the fear. Now this is easy to say but it requires quite a bit of effort to embrace the fear and embrace the change. What if you fail, what if you did what you did before and your normative ideal was correct! Well, then you made a mistake and will have greater appreciation for that life that seemed such a burden. So, maybe the question slightly changes to why do we do what we (don’t want) to do. Then the answer becomes evident, fear and the solution becomes quite simple (on the surface at least) CHANGE it! Now keep in mind, this is a philosophical blog so I will leave the means of change to the psychologists of the world and wish you all kindly the best of luck in pursuing your dreams while I sit here and continue to do what I do.
The Practical Philosopher