Americans seek independence from materialism, society, and their spouses
November 22, 2021 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Where Americans find meaning in life has changed over the past four years "The U.S. stands out as one of only three publics surveyed in 2021 where mentions of society significantly coincide with greater negativity. The other two are Italy and Spain, but in neither of them is the relationship between society and negativity as strong as it is in the U.S."
posted by meowzilla (31 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I want to know what percentage had no answer.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:35 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


I mean the whole society was designed to perpetuate a race-based underclass of miserable slaves that every time we try to fix it just comes back stronger and more intent on eating everyone alive instead of just some folks so I'd say this adds up.
posted by bleep at 9:40 AM on November 22 [31 favorites]


It doesn't help that conservative media has been beating the negativity/anger drum into people's heads for over forty years now. It's the only way a lot of people know to act.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:51 AM on November 22 [37 favorites]


Minimally restrained hyper-capitalism promoting hyper-individuality so that the wealthy can continue to increase their wealth while distracting all those beneath them into clawing over the scraps instead of working together to make things better for everyone. I'm shocked.

Well, not that shocked.
posted by SansPoint at 9:54 AM on November 22 [34 favorites]


The second quote above is important, but misses the top line finding from which it was taken:
Americans have become more likely to mention society as a source of meaning in life, but much of this emphasis is negative.
Pew is appropriately vague about what we should take from that. I’m possibly quite happy that people are more focused on society as a source of meaning in general. If they consider it a source of meaning and they don’t like it, maybe they’ll try to make it better.

FWIW, here are the six top-line findings, if people don’t want to click:

  1. Americans have become more likely to mention society as a source of meaning in life, but much of this emphasis is negative.
  2. Americans – especially Republicans – have become more likely to mention freedom and independence as a source of meaning in life.
  3. Compared with 2017, fewer Americans now mention spouses or romantic partners as a source of meaning in life.
  4. Fewer Americans now mention finances, jobs or travel as a source of meaning in life than in 2017.
  5. Older Americans have grown less likely to mention their physical or mental health as a source of meaning in life.
  6. Most Americans are no more likely to mention difficulties or challenges than they were four years ago, although older adults are an exception.

posted by Going To Maine at 9:58 AM on November 22 [6 favorites]


Hmmm. Looking at the published results. . . I'm not sure how to interpret this.

If you asked me, "what makes life meaningful," I'd have a lot of followup questions. With no other information, I'd probably say something about learning, teaching, and activism. Not because I don't value my spouse or places and institutions, but because they're specific and local. Invoking the meaning of life sounds like it's inviting a much more general response. To say that something makes life meaningful and also is negative is perhaps true, but it's a very strange way to interpret the question that never would have occurred to me. I wonder if this doesn't have as much to do with language (even in English) as it does actual opinion.

Also, I don't have any reason to believe it's untrue, but the response rates seems astonishing: 17'161 people in the US were invited, 88% agreed to join by address-based recruitment (postal mail, I assume?). Of those selected, 2'596 completed the survey and only 340 didn't do so? How on Earth do you get that sort of response rate? I can't get that much of a response when asking people to select a meeting time for a committee they went out of their way to volunteer for. It seems like abetter response rate than you'd expect for legal notices that will result in a warrant for arrest if they're ignored. Do they start counting people only after they've already reached some specific engagement milestone? Are they choosing among volunteers from a much larger sample? What am I missing?
posted by eotvos at 10:00 AM on November 22 [14 favorites]


I'm glad to see the (apparent) increased detachment from centering one's life around romantic relationships. I hope this can lead to more acceptance of an unpartnered life as a permanent and desirable state.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:01 AM on November 22 [8 favorites]


Going To Maine: "Americans have become more likely to mention society as a source of meaning in life, but much of this emphasis is negative.
Americans – especially Republicans – have become more likely to mention freedom and independence as a source of meaning in life.
Compared with 2017, fewer Americans now mention spouses or romantic partners as a source of meaning in life.
Fewer Americans now mention finances, jobs or travel as a source of meaning in life than in 2017.
Older Americans have grown less likely to mention their physical or mental health as a source of meaning in life.
Most Americans are no more likely to mention difficulties or challenges than they were four years ago, although older adults are an exception.
"

They could have polled a single person, Donald Trump, and gotten these answers.
posted by chavenet at 10:01 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


Re: items 4 and 5

Gee, I wonder what happened between 2017 and now.

/sarcasm
posted by eviemath at 10:06 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


that tag cloud at the bottom of TFA tho
posted by glonous keming at 10:11 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]


i think for most americans, "society" consists of their friends, family and a list of transactional arrangements. I wonder what people are actually considering "society" to be when asked directly like this? sad to say it is a very loaded term in the US.
posted by AlbertCalavicci at 10:24 AM on November 22 [9 favorites]


I think for most Americans, "society" consists of their friends, family and a list of transactional arrangements. I wonder what people are actually considering "society" to be when asked directly like this? sad to say it is a very loaded term in the US.

Per the abstract, people were specifically saying that “society, places, and institutions” gave more meaning to life. That’s a subjective term, but I think it’s pretty clear that it’s trying to capture something broader than one’s circle of friends.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:47 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


Going To Maine: And that explains a few things. For a lot of people, regardless of political orientation, "society, places, and institutions" have shown how little they care about ordinary people. The political divide comes into which institutions and how they've demonstrated their lack of care. If you're a struggling worker in the service economy, "society, places, and institutions" have shown they don't give a fuck about your life by making you put your life at risk laboring during a global pandemic, for example.
posted by SansPoint at 10:55 AM on November 22 [7 favorites]


The political divide comes into which institutions and how they've demonstrated their lack of care. If you're a struggling worker in the service economy, "society, places, and institutions" have shown they don't give a fuck about your life by making you put your life at risk laboring during a global pandemic, for example.

“Struggling worker” here seems like more of an economic divide issue. Economics is political, obvs., but in the very small window of this survey we can also see that “Material well-being, stability, and quality of life” took a huge hit as sources of meaning. (Because people are fine? Because people have given up hope in it? Pick your rationale.) As I’m more inclined to see things through a political lens, I’m just thinking of the repeated message during the Trump administration that all of our institutions were failing to curtail its abuses, the way it mishandled the pandemic, the George Floyd protests/ the “awokening”, Trump’s repeated messaging to his followers that elections have been corrupted, and the notion that he could come back. There was a record turnout in the off-year VA gubernatorial, for instance, and that doesn’t happen when people think things are OK.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:25 AM on November 22 [4 favorites]


According to WaPo we've been getting steadily more miserable since 1993.

We've got a long way to go to catch up with Finland, which I can't help but note has a culture of avoiding smalltalk.
posted by credulous at 11:37 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]


After the guy ran his SUV into a parade the other day, I saw a tweet that said we're currently in a cold civil war in the US. I think that's true, and I think most of us – on BOTH sides – have felt that, even if we haven't put a name to it.
posted by nushustu at 12:04 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]




There is a moment in Rumble in the Bronx where Jackie Chan's character goes up to the punks who are Doing Crimes and berates them, "Don't you know you are the scum of society?" And they immediately start to think, "He's right, we really go too far."

I think of that now, when there is a good third of people in the US who don't even acknowledge that they live in a society with other people in it. That HuffPo article, I Don't Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People is coming up on its fifth birthday and is truer now than it was before.

Add in people losing jobs a source of meaning when they are overworked, underpaid, and treated as disposable while being called essential, well, it's not a surprise why that went down. Plus the politicization of healthcare, where people are literally dying to own the libs, and well, none of this indicates much of a healthy society full of meaning. Is that people are finding less meaning, or have the things that supposedly held meaning finally showing they were a bunch of nothing? (The glass isn't half-empty or full, it's on fire.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:27 PM on November 22 [21 favorites]


nushustu: Worth noting that the parade incident is looking like a wanted criminal trying to escape from police rather than a car-based terrorist attack.

I think it's also worth noting that it's still a pretty good representation of general societal breakdown where someone escaping over what police are describing as a "domestic disturbance." Was he black, did he think the cops were going to murder him over it? We know very little about the motivations, but it makes me question a lot of it based on the fact that it was just a domestic disturbance, what was the point of increasing the charges you're getting? Or was it something else? I don't even begin to know, but I think it's all evidence of general societal breakdown tied to lack of faith in systems of government and corporations.

As I mentioned recently in a discussion about rising mental health issues and heightened rudeness, I think whether it's this kind of individual snapping and doing something out-of-control or it's the lone wolves who slowly plan and then unleash a terror of bullets its evident that something is happening to people in society, it's definitely mental health related, and absolutely exacerbated by the very nature of our dog-eat-dog capitalist society.

There's just no way to look at the increasing frequency of incidents like this as anything but people falling apart and not knowing how to healthily manage anymore, which yes, is intimately tied to people's views on society. If your mental health is failing, and society is offering you no support systems, you're certainly not going to get better or feel empathy for a social system that has basically said "fuck you, we don't care." You're going to snap, one way or another, and everyone has different ways they act out when they snap, some way more violent than others. Either way, snapping generally always results in antisocial behavior.
posted by deadaluspark at 12:44 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]


"The increase was especially pronounced among those ages 65 and older (24% this year, up from 10%) and those without full-time jobs (17%, up from 8%)."

I somehow missed this on my first read-through, so this tracks, as these groups would be more likely to need to be supported by government systems such as social security, medicaid/medicare, disability, unemployment, and so on. The general increase in the importance of/belief in these systems is directly tied to their ability to use the systems to functionally survive, as they are very old or are not employed at all or part time workers, etc.

It also tracks that the people who aren't able to take advantage of those systems (workers who kept their jobs during the pandemic/didn't get hazard pay/didn't get unemployment/weren't eligible for other programs) are going to be very disillusioned about what they think society is giving back to them, which feels like "not much."
posted by deadaluspark at 1:00 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]


How are freedom and independence a source of meaning when the concept of self-actualization is mostly missing for a large part of the population, those who want to be told what to do and what to be. Since this is identified with Republicans, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that by freedom and independence, this is meant to be free and independent to be selfish and rascist and down with anyone who wants to criticize them for being so.

As to the demographics of the survey, I notice that the answer 42 isn’t mentioned.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:37 PM on November 22 [9 favorites]


I saw a tweet that said we're currently in a cold civil war in the US.

The likelihood of a civil war in the US feels slim to me, but the idea seems useful to avoid thinking about what's probably closer to reality: we've historically produced - and seem to now, again, be producing a lot more - people that are profoundly damaged and thus, in many cases, wildly irresponsible, thoughtless, sociopathic and / or dangerous.

In a civil war there's a obviously a nice, clear "us" and "them", a banner to carry, etc., and some psychic comfort to that. It's a lot harder to accept that having a brutal, predatory, spiritually bankrupt economy has placed us all in an accelerating, generalized, unpredictable danger that there's no simplistic, satisfying answer for. And that no amount of guns, "Fox and Friends", sovereign citizen cant, etc. can protect you from.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:46 PM on November 22 [8 favorites]


0 for Ctrl F "online", "digital", "internet", "social media"

...I think there's an elephant in here.



[not trying to draw cover for fascist assholes, but still]
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 3:04 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]


In a civil war there's a obviously a nice, clear "us" and "them", a banner to carry, etc.,

In 1863 in the US, yes, but generally? I've been thinking about all the "dirty" civil wars and tyrannies since then. Everyone an informant or enforcer, everyone at risk of vanishing in the night, people who were heroes of 'your side' last year now cut out of photos and unmentionable.
posted by clew at 3:09 PM on November 22 [3 favorites]


I'm confused. Did more other things gain smaller amounts of meaning and thus were not among the top 5 changes? Or did our overall level of meaning drop?

For many years now I have said the most meaningful thing in my life is community, but I am not sure that "society, places and institutions" means that.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:10 PM on November 22 [3 favorites]


it was just a domestic disturbance

He ran over a woman (assumed to be a partner) with his vehicle after a verbal argument. Physically assaulting someone you know should not be minimised with “just”. He had several very serious charges tied into physical violence previous to his actions. My understanding is he was not being actively being perused by police when he drove into the parade.

Someone upthread mentioned the racial bias in the US, the misogyny is an even larger piece of why Americans seem disconnected from each other compared to other countries.
posted by saucysault at 8:11 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]


He ran over a woman (assumed to be a partner) with his vehicle after a verbal argument.

I hadn't seen anything with more specific details, thank you for the update. All I saw was the police describing it as a "domestic disturbance" when I wrote my comment, which can indeed mean a lot of different things when you don't have further information.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:44 PM on November 22


As was the case in 2017, about half of adults who mention society (49%) bring up something negative, such as personal frustrations or difficulties. The nature of these complaints ranges widely, from economic concerns, distrust of government and partisan animosity to more general fears about the direction of the country. As one woman put it while reflecting on what she views as growing political extremism in America, “My hope is dimming because I see no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Yeah. That might as well be me right there. Insofar as I derive any sort of meaning in life, it's the idea that society might work together for common aims to improve people's lives. For a long time now, I feel like I've been watching that project die in slow motion.
posted by chrominance at 11:03 PM on November 22 [8 favorites]


According to WaPo we've been getting steadily more miserable since 1993.

Correlation is not causation, obvi, and everything is much more complex than we could ever imagine, but fun facts: in 1992 Bill Clinton started campaigning for welfare reform, and simultaneously also campaigned for the largest crime bill in US history. I don't think he gets enough credit for the long-lasting damage he caused American Society. So, kudos to you Bill, you sneaky bastard!
posted by nikoniko at 1:09 AM on November 23 [11 favorites]


Domestic abuse is a huge indicator of further violence to come. If you're not that worried about "just" domestic abuse.

I see you've revised your statement but don't minimize violence against women from the get. Do better.
posted by tiny frying pan at 4:57 AM on November 23 [8 favorites]


in 1992 Bill Clinton started campaigning for welfare reform, and simultaneously also campaigned for the largest crime bill in US history. I don't think he gets enough credit for the long-lasting damage he caused American Society.

This ^. And I think it points to a general lack of accountability amongst “liberal” folks (of which I count myself one) for role classism and investment in benefitting from racism (and the rest of the kyriarchy) determine which laws are passed, what social movements gain steam, and which are crushed. Redistribution of wealth and anti racism action that undermines the financial and class status quo are unattractive to (White) liberals, despite how they would make society more livable for so many (not just White liberals with means).
posted by LaughterHouse5 at 7:23 AM on November 23 [7 favorites]


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