The Book in Three Sentences
In this book summary of Everything is Fucked, you’ll learn that despite being freer, healthier, and wealthier than at any other time in history, we suffer spiritually. Drawing inspiration from several schools of psychology and philosophy, Manson explains how having access to everything makes us feel hopeless. The author challenges everything we know about faith, happiness, freedom, and hope.
Everything Is Fucked Summary
Part I: Hope
Chapter 1: The Uncomfortable Truth
This book isn’t about hope. The world appears to be ruined, so we’re constantly looking for someone to inspire us. Heroism, the ability to summon hope in a hopeless world, is one of the rarest qualities. Our culture is desperately looking for heroes because, unlike previous generations, we don’t have a “Why?” that drives us. Although we have peace, prosperity, and access to amazing technology, we lack something more precious: hope.
The Uncomfortable Truth is that one day we’ll all die and everything we did or said will be forgotten. Everything we do in life is a way to invent a purpose so that we don’t have to face that reality. As painful as it is to admit, human existence is meaningless. The universe doesn’t care about anything, but we care about most things. For us, the fact that we care so much must mean that there’s some purpose behind everything, but there isn’t. We just want to convince ourselves that’s the case because the alternative involves accepting our insignificance. Doing all of this gives us hope and without it, we wouldn’t have a reason to live.
Hope is integral to our survival. The opposite of happiness isn’t unhappiness, it’s hopelessness. Hopelessness causes anxiety, mental illness, depression, misery, and addiction. To avoid hopelessness, we must construct hope. We often do this by making up stories that give our lives purpose. Purpose comes in many forms: raising children, going to church, making money, or playing sports. In a way, they’re a psychological trick that keeps us moving forward.
We live in a time where we’re in a great position materially. That said, there’s this sense of hopelessness affecting almost everyone in the developed world. This is the paradox of progress, things are getting better but we’re more anxious. We feel that things are worse than they are, but progress has been taking place without interruption for most of human history. Education is rising, violence is declining, extreme poverty is falling, some diseases have been eradicated, people are living longer than ever, and so on. For everything good that’s been happening, depression and anxiety affect a sizeable portion of the population, stress levels have risen over the past few decades, and there are numerous other social problems.
Despite living in the best time in history, we lack hope. This is the case because hope only cares about the problems that haven’t been solved yet. Hope needs three things: control, values, and community. In other words, we need to be in control of our lives, we need something to work toward, and we need to belong to a group with similar beliefs.
Chapter 2: Self-control Is an Illusion
We think emotions get in the way and that they can encourage us to do things we’ll regret. Suppressing our emotions though (even if we leave everything else intact, including our intelligence and reasoning) would ruin our life. Without self-control, you’d lose the ability to live life. To generate hope, we need self-control.
Passion can lead to all sorts of problems, but some argue that it’s better to find hope in passion even if it leads to problems than to have no passion at all. Without disruptive impulses, we have no value. The concept that we must use rationale to rule our emotions is what the author calls the “Classic Assumption”. This is the idea that most problems a person suffers stem from a lack of will. The Classic Assumption sees emotions as something to fix. If this were the case, we can look at anyone having a problem (addicts, obese people, or suicidal people) and see them as someone who failed at self-control. Likewise, we celebrate anyone who beats their emotions, such as athletes, leaders, and businessmen.
Needless to say, the Classic Assumption leads to damaging assumptions because following it means we could prevent most problems through mental determinations and that’s simply not the case. We often find ourselves in a position where we want to change something about ourselves. If we’re not careful though, this can become an endless cycle where we want to change but we never address or question the original problem we were facing.
The idea of changing ourselves is something we embrace to believe that we’re in control. The Classic Assumption is wrong and you can’t simply decide to do things through willpower alone. If you were able to get rid of all emotions, you wouldn’t be an unstoppable force. On the contrary, your life would be ruined because you wouldn’t care about anything. We need emotions to make decisions and to take action.
We can divide our brains into two parts: our Thinking Brain and our Feeling Brain. The Thinking Brain contains our thoughts, our ability to reason, and our ability to use language and express ideas. The Feeling Brain, on the other hand, contains our emotions, impulses, intuition, and instincts. These two brains come with their unique strengths and weaknesses. The Thinking Brain is accurate and rational, but it’s slow and requires effort and energy to operate optimally. The Feeling Brain is quick, but it’s irrational and inaccurate.
The Classic Assumption is the belief that reason must be in control and that our emotions should operate passively. In reality, the Feeling Brain is necessary because without emotion there’s no action. The opposite is also true. So why don’t we do things that are good for us? Because we don’t want to. A problem of self-control is a problem of emotion and emotional problems are irrational by nature.
Both brains must operate together. While the Feeling Brain creates emotions that lead to action, the Thinking Brain gives us directions. To be clear, the Thinking Brain doesn’t control the Feeling Brain, but it can influence it. The Feeling Brain resists being told what to do, so the Thinking Brain often justifies what the Feeling Brain already decided. If the Feeling Brain chooses TV over exercise, the Thinking Brain comes up with excuses to justify our actions. Needless to say, this is an unhealthy relationship. This is called the self-serving bias and it explains why people do or say bad things. The self-serving bias can make us delusional if we’re not careful, creating a reality that doesn’t exist to satisfy the Feeling Brain.
You can’t overindulge in your emotions, but you can’t deny them either. To deal with our Feeling Brain, we must ask ourselves uncomfortable questions. The Feeling Brain won’t respond with words but with feelings and the more questions you ask, the more you’ll understand it. Soon, you’ll be able to convince your Feeling Brain to do important things (going to the gym, sticking to a healthy diet, or meditating) by promising rewards. Don’t fight the Feeling Brain, just continue this internal dialogue for as long as it takes. Ultimately, the problem of self-control isn’t rational, it’s emotional. At some point, our Feeling Brain adopted poor values, so to solve this, we must get our values straight.
Chapter 3: Newton’s Laws of Emotion
Manson thinks about a hypothetical case: what if instead of studying physics Newton had studied human psychology? The author came up with alternatives to Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Aptly, the author refers to them as the Three Laws of Emotion.
- For Every Action, There Is an Equal and Opposite Emotional Reaction
When someone does something bad to you without justification, your instinctive reaction is to feel a negative emotion toward the perpetrator. Doing something bad without reason to someone else creates a moral gap between the people involved. You demand some form of moral quality. To fill that gap, the perpetrator has to be punished or do something to “equalize” the situation. This brings both people to the same moral place where everything is equal. Equalizing restores hope. Doing something extremely good for someone else creates a positive moral gap and the person on the receiving end feels the need to repay you. This generates gratitude and appreciation. Manson defines Newton’s First Law as “the operating System of the Feeling Brain”.
- Our Self-worth Equals the Sum of Our Emotions Over Time
If the moral equality we demand can’t be fulfilled, the gap will persist and normalize. Being unable to equalize leads to the conclusion that we’re either inferior or that the other person is superior. We often refer to this as low self-worth. The idea is that there are problems we feel powerless to stop and our Feeling Brain feels that we deserve them. This also works the other way around. Feeling inferior (or superior) to others is narcissistic in nature because you think you’re special. These feelings often stem from insecurity and we’re all prone to them. We’re all narcissistic to a certain extent because, without it, we’d lose hope.
- Your Identity Will Stay Your Identity Until a New Experience Acts Against It
Collectively, our feelings make up our values. Our Feeling Brain’s job is to feel things and our Thinking Brain’s job is to create narratives about those feelings. Instead of seeing life events as mere facts that happen, we come up with elaborate stories. All of these narratives form our identity and you protect them as if they were part of you. The stories you create define you. Early values become integral to our identities or simply put, they create a snowball effect that has repercussions for decades. Despite being made up, we’re often unaware of these narratives.
The only way to change our values is to experience something contrary to them and the process is painful and discomforting. Losing our values means we’ve lost a series of narratives, and in a way, a part of ourselves. To heal, you must rewrite old narratives or write new narratives for your future self. Ideally, you’d be replacing faulty values with better ones.
Our values have emotional gravity. This means we attract people who value the same things. Similarly, we repel people whose values are contrary to the ones we have. This explains why people form tribes with like-minded individuals. Personal identity can become group identity.
Chapter 4: How to Make All Your Dreams Come True
We all feel lost sometimes because this is part of the human condition. The pain that comes from being alive is common and we all struggle with it at some point. To build hope, we need a community. Communal hope is often found in religions. Religions are congregations of people that have the same values where everyone involved feels important. At their worst though, religions can turn into angry mobs.
Religions appeal to the hopeless because they’re the most impressionable. Whether it’s god, science, or experience, we all believe that something is important. This is called faith. What we believe in is found at the top of the value hierarchy, Manson refers to this highest value as “God Value”. It can be money, family, love, prestige, fame, or politics, but whatever it is, we use it as some form of lens to view the world around us and everything in it. While the Thinking Brian relies on evidence and facts, the Feeling Brain relies on values. This is the case of religion and it helps that you can’t verify values.
Manson identifies three types of religions:
- Spiritual religions: they draw hope from the supernatural. Examples include Christianity, Judaism, and Greek mythology.
- Ideological religions: they draw hope from the natural world. Examples include capitalism, communism, fascism, and liberalism.
- Interpersonal religions: they draw hope from other people. Examples include romantic love, children, celebrities, and athletes.
Religions embrace an “us-versus-them” mentality. This is a convenient way to prevent further discussion, as well as introducing a common enemy. Common enemies lead to unity and they’re a way to keep hope.
Something that’s also common in most religions is rituals. Rituals are a way to make values tangible. Rituals must be repeated, they’re symbolic, and in extreme cases, they’re also about sacrifice. In most cases, religious practices developed so that we can alleviate the guilt of existing. We were blessed with life, but we didn’t do anything to deserve it, so we feel somewhat tormented by this idea.
All religions promise something and the more they promise, the less they’ll provide. Although religion can be used as a tool to get rid of pain, pain is part of human conditions and no matter what we do, we can never fully eradicate it. The internal guilt we feel for existing is part of us and it’s never going away. Instead of running away from it, we should accept it.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all part of some religion. We all have our values and beliefs because doing so is what allows us to survive. The problem is that as religions popularize and become part of the status quo, they get corrupted and move away from their original values.
Chapter 5: Hope Is Fucked
For the longest time, Nietsche’s work was largely ignored. When he proclaimed the death of God, he turned into the ultimate outcast. He lost his job, nobody wanted to be with him, and he lost his chances of publishing more books. Nevertheless, Nietzsche wrote some of the most influential philosophy books in history.
Where there are people, a social hierarchy exists and there’s also a small number of elites. Nietzsche referred to these groups as the “masters” of society because they control wealth, production, and political power. The rest, he referred to as “slaves” of society because they work all their lives for little money. According to Nietzsche, masters of society see their position as something they deserve and this creates a belief system known as “master morality”, which is the idea that people get the things they deserve. But this belief system only applies to masters of society, so slaves have to come up with a system of their own, one that’s based on weakness rather than strength. Slave morality is a system in which those who have suffered the most deserve special treatment due to their suffering. We all have both moralities.
Since you can’t use evidence to support spiritual religions, Nietzsche loathed them. There’s an alternative to spiritual religion though: science. The scientific revolution changed the world forever because it’s responsible for all inventions and advances in history. We owe many things to science, including medicine, agriculture, education, and commerce. It also introduced the idea of growth. Suddenly, people had access to new developments, inventions, and technologies. Once the scientific revolution started, things got better all the time. This changed everything because people didn’t need to wait for the next lifetime to have the chance of a better life, something that spiritual religions promised. In other words, you no longer needed god to have hope, you could get hope from science instead. Science gave people freedom, responsibility, and equality. The emergence of science is one of the reasons why philosophers like Nietzsche challenged the existence of God.
According to Nietzsche, science has something that religions don’t: infallibility. This killed God, but a better problem surfaced. If we can’t use spiritual religions to explain our cosmic significance, what’s the alternative? We can’t and this implies that there’s an unavoidable existential crisis.
In a way, the world is ruined, but we have a tool at our disposal to deal with it: hope. Hope is a double-edged sword, though. You can use hope for good, but also for evil. Most of the atrocities committed in human history happened because someone had hope. According to Nietzsche, we need something other than hope and values, that’s amor fati, or “love of fate”. This is accepting life and all experiences that are part of it. We must let go of hope and learn to live without it.
Part II: Everything Is Fucked
Chapter 6: The Formula of Humanity
Immanuel Kant was one of the most influential thinkers in history. His ideas inspired the creation of the United Nations, he helped inspire Einstein’s theory of relativity, he suggested animal rights, he settled the debate between rationalism and empiricism, and he reinvented moral philosophy. Manson will come back to Kant soon, but first, the author discusses psychological development.
We construct our value hierarchy early in our childhoods. When we’re kids, we’re driven by exploration. This is how we collect information about the world or simply put, how we build our value hierarchy. Once we do that, we have an idea of what we can hope for. As we get older, we stop exploring not because we run out of things, but because there’s so much to explore that we feel overwhelmed. This is when we develop rules to deal with an endless and incredibly complex world. Most of those rules come from people around us (such as parents or teachers), but a handful of them come from personal experience.
By the time we’re adolescents, our values become more sophisticated and abstract. Also, we can think in cause-and-effect chains to consider the consequences of our actions, something young children can’t do. Adolescents learn to follow certain rules and principles to get what they want. To grow up healthily and happily, we must develop abstract values because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to handle the infinite experiences the world has to offer. The problem with adolescents is that they see life as endless tradeoffs or, as the author puts it, they never do things for their own sake. You can’t live life like this forever because you’d never get to be you.
The moment you stop bargaining with people to obtain love and respect, that’s the moment you become an adult. The most important things in life are nontransactional (love, happiness, respect, and so on) and the moment you feel the need to persuade people to give them to you, that’s the moment you destroy your chances of getting them. Having transactional values can improve your material world, but they’ll ruin your emotional world. This is the case because transactional values lead to relationships where the main pillar is manipulation.
Adulthood is about embracing abstract principles that are right and good, even if they hurt you or others. For instance, honesty hurts, but it’s good for its own sake. Being an adult is doing the right things because they’re right. Unlike adolescents, adults don’t look for validation, approval, or satisfaction. In the previous example, you’re honest because it’s an end, not because being honest will lead to getting something in return. By this definition, adulthood isn’t related to age, but to the adoption of unconditional values. You could be in your 40s and still manipulate people to get what you want which would make you an adolescent.
Something every healthy child must understand with the help of their parents is that life goes beyond their impulses. To be accepted socially, the child must understand that the world doesn’t care about the child’s desires. To be healthy, children must never suffer abuse because if their punishments don’t follow a logical pattern, they’ll never understand abstract values. Ideally, doing something wrong should lead to predictable outcomes so that the child learns a lesson. To teach unconditionally, you must be unconditional first. The worst way to teach love and respect is by forcing them onto people. Teach love by loving, teach trust by trusting, and teach respect by respecting. Finally, do all those things without expecting anything in return.
Kant refused the idea that there’s no value to our existence. He believed that our ability to reason sets us apart from every other being. The only meaning is the ability to create meaning. Without rationality, Kant said, the universe would have no purpose. Most things in the universe just exist, but we have something they don’t: consciousness. Our moral duty is to preserve and grow our consciousness. This idea of giving consciousness such a level of importance is “the Formula of Humanity”, a principle that tries to explain everything in the following sentence: “Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.”
Hope is transactional. You act a certain way to, hopefully, have a better future. To go beyond this transactional reach though, we must act unconditionally. To embody certain values (love, honesty, respect), we should do things without expecting anything in return. Also, Kant’s Formula of Humanity implies that the only way to improve the world is by improving ourselves. As a side effect, the more we cultivate certain values, the more we’ll help others cultivate their values as well.
Chapter 7: Pain Is the Universal Constant
Humans bend their perceptions to match their expectations, the author refers to this as the “Blue Dot Effect”. In other words, the Blue Dot Effect is a bias that says that the more threats we look for, the more we see them, even if they’re not there. Even if we lived in a perfect society without crime, violence, or conflict, our minds would amplify small problems to match the stress we expect. We need a healthy degree of adversity and challenge to survive.
Newton changed the world of physics because he had the idea that all things could be measured in time and space. Then Einstein came along and proved that time and space aren’t “universal constants”, the speed of light is. Einstein said that we could experience time and space differently depending on our context. In other words, he proved time and space are relative. Einstein also proved that our assumptions might be wrong and that has great implications on our experiences. Something very similar also happens in psychology.
We’re never fully happy and never fully unhappy, so in a way, we’re always chasing something that will get us to a perfect level of happiness. Should we get the thing we’re after (a dream job, a vacation abroad, or a relationship), your mind will come up with something else it needs. The only constant of life is pain, so we’re wired to always be satisfied or disappointed. This is the Hedonic Treadmill, a human tendency that encourages us to chase things. The problem is that the more things you chase, the more dissatisfied you’ll feel.
Happiness became something to fight for in the age of science and technology. By that point, humanity had improved life to such an extent that the next logical thing to improve was happiness. The ultimate goal of humanity was to promote happiness and reduce pain. This seemed noble, but pain is a universal constant that can’t be removed entirely. Whether we like it or not, pain is an integral part of the human condition. Regardless of how much progress, peace, and prosperity we have achieved, we’re always going to find something painful. By getting rid of pain, we’d get rid of emotions and we need them to live. The pursuit of happiness is impossible because the more you chase it, the more unattainable it is.
The solution isn’t to avoid pain but to seek it. Since pain is a universal constant, we might as well welcome stress, chaos, tragedy, and disaster. Your tolerance for setbacks will diminish and you’ll become antifragile. Antifragile systems gain from external pressures. This means you learn from failures and get better from them. Pain will never disappear, but at least, it will be manageable. You can choose fragility or antifragility and everything in your life is a reflection of this choice: your health, your relationships, your performance at work, your emotional stability, and your self-confidence. Choosing immature values and pursuing simple pleasures means avoiding pain and becoming fragile and fragile systems shatter easily. The best way to practice antifragility is through meditation because it requires patience and observing oneself. Also, meditating has no ultimate goal.
Buddhists believe that while pain is unavoidable, suffering is a choice. When external forces seem to conspire against you, your interpretation of those events is up to you. By creating a gap between your Thinking Brain and your Feeling Brain, you’ll acquire the ability to withstand anything. Adult values are antifragile. The worse everything gets, the more unexpected benefits you find and the more humble you become.
Immortality sounds like the best innovation science and technology could provide. That said, without death, life wouldn’t have any value. Having limited time and attention is what gives meaning to experiences and relationships. Death is necessary, not physically, but psychologically. When there’s something to lose, that makes the thing in question precious and worth protecting. Without pain, everything is devoid of value.
By pursuing happiness, we avoid growth, maturity, and virtue. So we must pursue pain. Not all pain, but the pain that brings meaning to our lives. Unlike happiness, pain is the thing that brings value to our lives.
Chapter 8: The Feelings Economy
People are emotional and impulsive. This means the Feeling Brain is in charge and that we tell stories to ourselves to support our identity. Marketing uses those ideas to identify people’s moral gaps and offer a good or service to fill them. Although this led to economic wealth, there are psychological consequences to it.
People buy things based purely on their feelings. Companies influence people’s emotions to get money and power. Every invention available was created to make people feel better. To create value in the marketplace, there are two options:
- Innovations: one pain is replaced with a more desirable one. For example, a vaccine replaces a disease, and heart surgery replaces death.
- Diversions: these numb people’s pain. Diversions don’t get rid of pain but they delay it which makes it worse in the long run. Diversions are necessary sometimes, but they can overrun our lives due to their addictive nature.
Every corporation in the modern world defends what they do by saying that they’re giving people what they want. Most companies are supplying people’s demands. While it’s easy to adopt a cynical view and say that companies are evil, the harder thing to accept is the truth: what we want is often not good for us. Our wants depend on our Feeling Brain. Having access to too many diversions soon turns into a problem. Companies manipulate us to want things we don’t need.
Also, we feel the need to have things to avoid pain which makes us fragile. This generates the kind of compulsive behavior that encourages us to experience as many things as possible and this doesn’t give us more freedom, it enslaves us. Since we also pursue constant pleasure and comfort, we become intolerant of negative emotions. Finally, there’s the paradox of choice which says that the more options we have, the more dissatisfied we’ll be. All of this leads to what the author calls “fake freedom”. As ironic as it sounds, the only form of freedom we should pursue is the one we get through self-limitation. To obtain freedom, we don’t need to choose everything we need to choose what we’ll give up. Simply put, limitations free us.
Life isn’t something we can hack. To reap rewards, you must commit, and committing to one thing means saying no to other things. “Life hacking” gives the appearance you’re winning, but since there’s no real sacrifice, there’s no meaning behind it. Furthermore, freedom requires discomfort.
Chapter 9: The Final Religion
A computer can be programmed into an incredibly capable Thinking Brain, but most people know this as artificial intelligence software or AI. The primitive versions of AI were programmed to play chess, but over the years, they learned all kinds of games. Advanced AI programs can go from not knowing the rules of a game to mastering it over a couple of hours. Of course, AI isn’t just capable of learning to play board games, it can accurately diagnose diseases, write articles, drive cars, automate legal advice, and generate art and music. The possibilities are endless.
AI is the beginning of a new era because it’s faster than our Thinking Brains and more rational than our Feeling Brains. We used to worship unknowable forces in the form of gods and religions, and soon, we’ll do the same for AI. We will be at the mercy of algorithms that will favor those who play by its rules. Whether we realize it or not, the algorithms are already running our lives. Most of the things we do online (dating, checking the weather, using maps, shopping, and investing apps) have algorithms behind them. Soon, life without algorithms will seem impossible.
In a way, evolution has always favored those who could process the best information. AI is the next step of the revolution. Furthermore, human beings are algorithms because we can manipulate information for our benefit. The problem is that while our algorithms served us right for thousands of years, they’re insufficient to navigate the modern world. In other words, we need better algorithms and that’s exactly what we’re creating in the form of AI. On top of that, machines aren’t as self-destructive as humans. To be clear, there are dangers when it comes to AI, but for the longest time, humans have been its own worst enemy, not an external threat.
It remains to be seen what AI leads to, but it could be the next logical step in our evolutionary process. As Nietzsche predicted, AI could become the Final Religion, one that brings us more together. Whatever you do, don’t hope and don’t despair, just strive to be better.
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