A poll recently published by the Census Bureau has found that “1 in 3 young people, or about 24 million lived in their parents’ home in 2015.” The poll also found that “In 2005, the majority of young adults lived in their own household … in 35 states. A decade later, by 2015, the number of states where the majority of young people lived independently fell to just six.” But perhaps most alarming is this finding: “Of young people living in their parents’ home, 1 in 4 are idle, that is they neither go to school nor work. This figure represents about 2.2 million 25- to 34-year-olds.”
The bottom line is this: Many young people can’t be bothered to work these days. They have no desire to sustain themselves independently, and the trend is only accelerating.
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These millennials are not inept or unintelligent. Their problem is not that work is hard to find; they simply have no interest in finding any. They have lost interest in what this world has to offer so they put their lives on hold. Many of them, for instance, consciously choose to stay home and play video games rather than to go job hunting.
The impressive unemployment rate tells a very partial story as millions of jobless people have dropped off the radar, but they haven’t disappeared. These people are telling us that there is a different story developing under the surface. The old era is ending and a new one is dawning, and we had better be prepared. What we are witnessing is neither the end of the liberal era nor the end of the industrial era or the end of the democratic era. We are seeing the end of the egoistic era. The question is: “Will we go through the transition peacefully or painfully?”
A Nation of the Idle Young
During his recent Harvard Commencement Speech, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, “called on the need to consider universal basic income for Americans” I have written several times that in the coming years, providing a basic income to all will become a necessity.
However, even if we provide everyone a basic income, video games and cheap cannabis will not numb people for long. It is human nature to search for a purpose, and if people cannot find meaning in their lives, they will turn toward the extremes. This is already happening to a degree, as many young people are undergoing radicalization in their quest for meaning and are becoming hazards to society (see the recent Manchester terror attack). Without a solution, the trend will spread and violence and terrorism will make normalcy obsolete.
A Drop of Sweet, Poisonous Nectar
There is a way to shift seamlessly and painlessly from the self-centered modus-operandi we have nurtured thus far into the new era. However, in order to do this we must understand the nature of the era at our doorstep and how we should approach it so as to reap its potential benefits and avoid its pitfalls.
When I first came to study with my Kabbalah teacher, Rav Baruch Ashlag (the RABASH), he introduced me to an allegory written by his father, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, known as Baal HaSulam (Author of the Ladder) for his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar. In his introduction to Tree of Life, Baal HaSulam wrote that the ego is like an angel holding a drawn sword with a drop of sweet, poisonous nectar at its tip. We humans have no choice but to open our mouths and drink the sweet nectar until it puts us to death.
This is our current situation. The drawn sword is our egoism, which threatens that terrible things will happen to us if we do not tend only to ourselves. It gives us brief moments of contentment in life, which are the nectar, but these moments do nothing other than convince us to crave more of the nectar. Eventually, we become so self-absorbed that we lose all touch with reality, as though we have died.
Baal HaSulam is not the only one familiar with this trait of human nature. All of our sages knew this, since the beginning of the history of our people until approximately the beginning of the 20th century, and some even later. Dozens of them even wrote about it, explaining what we need to do in order to break loose from the shackles of the ego. However, until recently, it was not clear that this was what humanity needed. Now that people are losing touch with reality by the millions, there is a clear need to offer a practical way to shift from the nectar of egoism into the new incentive for existing—the age of positive connections.
Instead of Fighting Separation, Nurture Giving and Connection
Of all the nations on this planet, only one has ever had the privilege of living under a different paradigm than an ego-based existence. This nation, the Jewish people, emerged from the group that Abraham the Patriarch established when he saw his townspeople of Ur of the Chaldeans growing perilously self-centered.
The egoism that Abraham noticed was not exclusive to the people of his hometown. All over ancient Babylon (of which Ur of the Chaldeans was a part), people became progressively more selfish. The book Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 24) writes that when Abraham walked by the Tower of Babylon, he saw the growing alienation among its builders. They were so indifferent to each other that “If a man fell and died, they would not pay him any mind. But if a brick fell, they would sit and wail, ‘Woe unto us; when will another come in its place?’” As their alienation grew, the book continues, they “wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do? Each took his sword and they fought each other to the death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
Realizing that the Babylonians were unable to overcome their egos, Abraham adopted a simple approach: Instead of fighting egoism and separation, nurture giving and connection. This is why to this day Abraham is known as “a man of mercy” and is regarded as the symbol of kindness.
Abraham’s disciples and descendants continued to develop their unity above their growing egos until they forged such tight bonds that they became what the great commentator RASHI termed “as one man with one heart.” Only then, after forging an unprecedented—and to this day unrepeated—unity, Abraham’s descendants were declared a nation.
Moreover, immediately after the Hebrews were declared a nation, they were commanded to be “a light unto nations,” namely with sharing the unique method of connection they had formed with the rest of the world. Over many centuries, the early Jews developed their method by matching their unity with their growing egoism. Every time their egoism prevailed, they strove and bickered with each other. And every time they matched the discord with connection, they rose to new heights of unity. This is why The Book of Zohar (Beshalach) writes, “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
The Advent of Positive Connections
When the Jews fell into such hatred that they could not overcome with unity, they dispersed and lost their land, the Land of Israel. Since then, and for the past two thousand years, the world has been developing solely on egoistic motives.
The ancient Jews bequeathed to the world the values we still hold dear today. Historian Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the Jews: “To the Jews we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.” Regrettably, because these noble notions were all based on self-centered interests, humanity could not establish sustainable social structures that could be implemented in everyday life, at least not until today.
Now that even our egos have exhausted their charm, we have a real chance at reestablishing a society that provides both happiness and meaning to our lives—through positive connections and mutual responsibility.
Now that society can provide each person with a basic income, we can focus on enhancing our connections. Since careers no longer interest young adults, they will look for meaning elsewhere, and deep and lasting meaning can be found only in positive human connections. This is the secret that Abraham discovered; this is the method that the nation that emerged from him developed and was commanded to pass on; and this is also what contemporary science is discovering. In a famous TED talk titled “The hidden influence of social networks,” acclaimed sociologist Prof. Nicholas Christakis detailed what science has revealed about the impact of human connections. “Our experience of the worlddepends on the structure of the networks in which we’re residing and on things that ripple and flow through the network. The reason, I think, that this is the case, is that human beings assemble themselves and form a kind of superorganism.”
Contingent Basic Income
In order to transition our focus and awareness from individualism to connection, we need to use people’s increasing free time to undergo training that will help them establish these connections. For this reason, I do not believe that free money is a good idea. Free money means that people will not be committed to their societies, which will exacerbate already prevalent anti-social tendencies. Therefore, I think that basic income should be given only on condition of participation in these trainings.
Through physical and online meetings, and using guided workshops, people will learn to connect above their hatred just as Abraham and his disciples did almost four millennia ago. Even the most notorious anti-Semite in American history, Henry Ford, recommended in his book The International Jew—the World’s Foremost Problem: “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
This, indeed, is what we have to do. Governments, municipalities, and other organizations should now engage in forming such trainings for people whose time allows them to participate. Once enrolled, the trainees will no longer be regarded as unemployed or jobless. Instead, they will be regarded as employed individuals whose job is to nurture positive connections in society. In the near future, this form of connection will become the most in-demand product on the market. Positive connections are the basis of every sustainable society; therefore, “production workers” who create this will become invaluable to their communities.
In that regard, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said in an interview with Tucker Carlson on the Tucker Carlson Tonightshow: “Connecting people to people will be a huge job. …I think that the best jobs will be people-to-people jobs. We’re going to see a whole new set of jobs and industries around the heart, around connecting people to people.”
Friedman is right, but without the technology at the basis of this new industry, its products will be flawed. This is where Abraham’s method comes in. In my book Completing the Circle: An empirically proven method for finding peace and harmony in life, I detailed the technology of fostering connection over alienation. This technology is applicable for both individuals and organizations, and is very simple to apply as long as you keep this one rule in mind: Every quarrel emerges only so that we can strengthen our connection. This is the modern interpretation of the words of The Zohar I quoted earlier: “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
In conclusion, the only remedy for the disintegration of our society is basic income for all, contingent upon participation in making new, positively connected and mutually responsible communities, achieved through trainings that will take us from the egoistic era into the age of positive connections and mutual responsibility peacefully and pleasantly.