Meaning Anchors

It’s pretty obvious that people need meaning in their lives, but I wonder if the rise of suicide and opiates use can be seen in this light.

The way I think about it is that people have to subscribe to something. They need an anchor.

Some of the best ones are conservative religions. Conservative Christianity, Islam, etc. I’ll add the Fox News world as another since it includes an entire set of political beliefs as well as religious. Basically, the clearer it is what you should believe about things, how you (and others) should behave, and how the world should work, the better for your mental sanity.

These are anchors, and I think it’s hard for humans shift them.

But what modern culture does is expose us constantly to different meaning anchors.

  • Political conservatism
  • Political liberalism
  • The environment
  • Love everyone, no matter what
  • Being good at the game you’re playing
  • Your favorite sport
  • Role-playing games
  • Etc.

Basically, people tend to pick something and deep-dive on it. It becomes their world. It becomes their anchor. So when it’s pulled up for some reason, or someone shows them a deeper / heavier one, it can rock their identity.

I wrote this essay about role-playing games many years ago, and I think this is the same concept.

Role-playing games are a great example because if you’re doing them right, you’re immersing into the world. You’re taking on the meaning structure of the character. And I think hat’s where the problem is.

Your mind wants to maintain only one meaning structure, and the deeper they are the less you can mix them.

Reality and a good role-playing game are in stark conflict because the better the game the more you supplant reality and use it for your meaning structure. And that messes with your brain. It basically re-calibrates for that structure, and it wants to win there.

So evolution tunes to it in the two senses that matter: survival and reproduction. You structure all your efforts to improve around those two things…in the game. Not in reality.

That’s what a meaning structure, or anchor ultimately does. It changes where you want to win.

The new economy

I think the new post-human-work economy will have this happening at scale across the world. The meaning structure will shift from the real world, having good work, and making lots of money, to doing these things within MMORPG games of different types.

Back in 2006 I wrote about the future of gaming, where everyone had a role in MMORPGs that they played. We’ll be cops, or bad guys, or whatever. And society will work normally, with people fulfilling duties and finding meaning within that structure.

You’ll have sports stars based on e-sports, you’ll have superheroes, knights, princesses, etc. And people will live on the outside (the real world) just so they can get to their actual meaning anchor, which is in-game.

Evolution wants a context to play in

I think this ultimately comes down to evolution needing to know what to win at.

Think about a teenager moving to a new neighborhood, in a new city, in a different part of the world.

Let’s say they go from Brooklyn to Hichitaw Tennessee.

They show up looking urban and all New Yorker and such. But within a few weeks or months they realize that all the teenagers find cowboy hats and country music attractive. And pretty soon they do too.

They hated that music when they showed up. But now they like it because evolution taught them to. It made them like it so they could win at that game. And now they have a big truck and a great pair of boots.

And now they have an anchor that they can use to succeed, to win, and to thrive.

You?

So what’s your anchor? What’s your meaning structure?

And how much would it change if you went to a place that had a completely different one?

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I do a weekly show called Unsupervised Learning, where I curate the most interesting stories in infosec, technology, and humans, and talk about why they matter. You can subscribe here.

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