Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

The 21st century: Is there a cause greater than oneself anymore?

  1. Jan 23, 2010 #1
    The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    It seems that in today's society, (heavily consumer and inidividual based), there isn't much to live for other than the satisfaction of the self. Sure there's "Donate $10 to Haiti" and events like that, but these causes are very temporary and after they're gone, they leave a vacuum.

    Thus, is there a grand, encompassing, seemingly permanent cause anymore? I used to think striving for the Technological Singularity was my cause... but why should it be? Nobody beyond certain comp sci, physics,etc "nerds" really seem to care. Then there's the issue of "what if it never happens?"... then what cause do we turn to? If Singularity is one's cause, why should he choose a career in accountancy, for instance, over computer science? Should we just turn to religion for solace/cause instead?

    Ok, that's kind of what's been on my mind... it seems jumbled and naive. Well, I recently turned 18 and realized that there's something absent from the way society has become; not looking much beyond self activities such as TV and living alone rather than in communities. Has anyone here ever felt a need to find a meaning, due to these reasons?
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2010 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Honestly, no. I don't harm anyone or the environment, I help where I can, and I do it because I am a "usually" decent person, I don't require any "cause" to do these things.
  4. Jan 23, 2010 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Raising children certainly fulfills the need to live for a greater cause, for most people.

    But I know what you're saying. No, I don't think there is as strong of a community feeling as there used to be. Some of it is a culture that values individuality, sure.

    But I think some of it is caused by us being so mobile. People move so frequently now, often hundreds or thousands of miles away, so they don't get a chance to form bonds in the community.
  5. Jan 23, 2010 #4


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    That phrase has been used for as long as societies existed, and probably misused long before. There's nothing unique about the 21st century in terms of goals greater than oneself.

    There's probably many more noble goals to strive for today than there was in the medieval age. I'd certainly consider helping humanity develop better technology, or clean up the atmosphere, or explore space to be much better causes than going on a crusade or helping attack a country because its people have slightly flatter noses.
  6. Jan 23, 2010 #5
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Singularity is a meaningless concept and I never understood why someone would be so enthusiastic about it.

    Everyone turning to religions would be .. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8476534.stm" [Broken].

    I like the way things go; I don't require reasons/causes to enjoy all the things. Due to diverse cultures/societies and easier mobility from one region to another, you can live wherever you feel happier. No one is stopping you.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Jan 23, 2010 #6
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    well, you're at that age when your eyes open more to the world and the juices of freedom start stirring in the system---looking for a cause, a reason, --something 'greater'
  8. Jan 23, 2010 #7
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    I most definitely feel I must have a purpose in life, a real way to influence the world. That knaws at me every single day.

    There are some incredible people I have read about doing such things:

    1) One of the most incredible people I read about, although I have to get his books, is Greg Mortenson. He basically is on a mission to fight terrorism through education.

    He tried to climb the mountain K2 some years back and failed and ended up lost and almost died. Villagers from a local village found him and nursed him back to health (even though they themselves are incredibly poor). He swore he would repay them by helping them build a bridge over a river in their area and also help them build a school.

    So it took some time to fundraise, but then he went back to the area with the materials and the villagers were able to build their bridge and their school.

    This resulted in a huge amount of requests from other local villages that asked for aid. So fast-forward and he has gotten over 100 schools built throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    What is neat is these schools take the place where extremist Islamic madrassas tend to take over and turn the locals into terrorists. Many of the villagers are so poor that they turn to these for help anyhow, even though they really want nothing to do with them. Quite a few really do not like them.

    Mortenson's schools prevent them (the madrassas) from going into areas they otherwise would, however. He has a saying: "You educate a boy, you educated an individual, but educate a girl, and you educate a whole community."

    Boys are important, but the most important element is to educate the women and girls, as this has wide-ranging effects. He says the people in these villages are very hungry and eager for education, and understand it is a real tool to get them out of poverty.

    He has been lambasted for building the schools by certain strict Muslims (it is heresy to educate women to them) and he was even held hostage by some terrorists for a while I believe. It is dangerous work he does, as you DO NOT go into Taliban territory and build schools for GIRLS!

    But thanks to his work he has significantly upped the number of girls (and people overall) being educated in these regions. What is very neat is how much money this costs. He says for about $1 million, they can build around forty schools. Yet, the United States alone has given something on the order of $256 million to the Pakistan government for education purposes with zero results. Yet this guy can build forty schools for $1 million because he is directly involved, so the money doesn't get swallowed by a corrupt bureaucracy.

    He has written two books thus far:

    Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School At A Time
    Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Pakistan and Afghanistan

    Here are the websites:


    Mortenson was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. I seriously hope he is nominated for it again this year, as he really deserves to win it IMO. This is real peace-work he does.

    2) Another man I greatly admire is Muhammad Yunus, who created the concept of microfinance and microcredit and founded Grameen Bank. The concept from what I understand is not perfect, but it is a big step in providing finance for entrepreneurs in Third World countries.

    One of the big barriers to economic development in these nations is lack of financial institutions. With no developed financial system, there is no way to spread risk out, so finance remains solely a tool of the rich. Thus the only method to obtain financing for a business idea is through a loan shark.

    Microfinance allows people who would otherwise be unable to obtain loans from normal banks to obtain them to start businesses. As I said, the concept isn't perfect, but it is a big step in the right direction.

    Muhammad Yunus created Grameen Bank and both he and the bank were awared the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Interestingly, AGAIN, women are a key factor, they make up the majority of the entrepreneurs seeking loans!

    Yunus has also written two books thus far:

    Banker to the Poor: Microlending and the Battle Against World Poverty
    Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism

    3) A third person I am very impressed with is Elon Musk, the PayPal entrepreneur, who has devoted himself to three companies:

    --- his Tesla Motors which makes the Tesla electric sports car
    --- a solar power company
    --- SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies), in which he is seeking to significantly lower the cost of launching things into space. His first step is to lower the costs of launching satellites significantly (which right now that market is dominated by the big aerospace firms who have seen no need to improve their technology since they own that industry, thus it is very expensive).

    I have doubts about the viability of solar power and the capabilities of electric cars and I do not know if he will succeed or not with his rocket technology, but I very much hope he does and I greatly admire him for putting his money where his mouth is and working hard to improve in all these areas (energy technology, automobile technology, and space exploration).

    I am sure there are other incredible people out there too that I am just unaware of right now, but these are three I greatly admire.

    So yes, there ARE causes you can devote yourself to and create real change on the planet, you just have to find them and devote yourself.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2010
  9. Jan 24, 2010 #8
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Perhaps it is something similar to what is discussed here...
    ...that you are experiencing. There are any number of causes out there for one to devote oneself to. Which one is more worthy? Which one will give you a greater feeling of fulfillment?

    Its a lot easier to have your choices laid out for you simply than it is to actually have to look for meaning in life yourself.
  10. Jan 24, 2010 #9
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Perhaps instead of trying to find a cause, you should be more concerned with your effect.
  11. Jan 24, 2010 #10
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    I honestly think that, if I didn't have the sexual drive that most 18-year olds do, I'd probably be happiest in a temple as a Zen monk rather than "striving" for things in this world that I know won't make me any happier or miserable.

    Even w/o a "grander cause" or whatnot. One of my happiest times is when I'm in my room just thinking/meditating, but my parents don't like it because I'm not "going outside" enough.
  12. Jan 24, 2010 #11
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Serving your country, contributing to society by scientific research, working construction, flipping burgers at McDonalds, being the curly fry master at Arby's. Anything you end up doing besides staying at home with your parents is contributing to the greater cause of human advancement. That 16 year old acne-ridden kid that is packaging your order at Taco-Johns is contributing to society just as effectively as someone who is finding the mysteries of the universe.
  13. Jan 24, 2010 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Developing more efficient, more sustainable and less environmentally damaging resources such as clean water and clean energy are certainly causes greater than oneself because it affects all of humanity.

    There's also program like Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institutue which help local communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan build schools, especially schools for girls, in hope of improving literacy in those areas.
    See the related thread - https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=257493

    It's only a matter of practicing good stewardship and moderation, rather than profligacy and excessive indulgence.
  14. Jan 24, 2010 #13
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    I just wrote about this in my previous post, wasn't aware there was a thread on it though, coolbeans :smile:

    If you haven't, you might also want to check out Muhammad Yunus and his books too on microfinance and Grameen Bank.
  15. Jan 24, 2010 #14
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    I like it
  16. Jan 24, 2010 #15
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Not necessarily. To take it to an extreme, a person who either 1) stays at home with their parents, or 2) becomes a suicide bomber, IMO, is better off staying at home. Not all "contributions" are not necessarily positive.

    I also disagree that all jobs that "must be done" are of equal value.
  17. Jan 24, 2010 #16
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    What makes your job any more important to society than someone elses? Things need to be cleaned, food needs to be served, fields need to be harvested, discoveries need to be made. Everyone contributes to society if they have a job and do good. You can't compare working at a particle accelerator and flipping burgers, just like you can't compare flipping burgers and being a janitor. Each job contributes to society in its own way and they are incomparable.
  18. Jan 24, 2010 #17
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    um... I think what he meant was that being a janitor is wholly more replaceable than being, for instance, a physics professor.

    Not as many people can fill the job, thus in a way it can be considered to have more "value." wouldn't go from a failed janitor to physics professor. it's more like failed physics professor decides to do custodial work in order to get paid
  19. Jan 24, 2010 #18
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    Again, completely different disciplines. Sure, a physics professor could mop the floors. But could he do it well? Most likely not.

    Again, completely different disciplines. Sure, a janitor could teach physics. But could he do it well? Most likely not.
  20. Jan 24, 2010 #19
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    There are also some jobs that have more value then others. Being a stripper, for example, is not as important as being a doctor. Individual people surely may value the service higher, but one makes a more significant contribution to humanity then the other.

    EDIT: Even if you don't agree with the example, there is surely some job or function which someone performs which you would personally feel is of lesser value then some other function. The criteria for a "job" is just something that someone will exchange money for. It has no bearing on the "value" of the job, and even if you take the monetary value as being indicative of the value of the service, this implies that all jobs are not equal.
  21. Jan 24, 2010 #20
    Re: The 21st century: Is there a "cause greater than oneself" anymore?

    what if the janitor was the father of Faraday?---would his job be considered less because he was a janitor?

    job/ 'Titles' may not mean much
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook