People are joining fringe movements in search of meaning. It’s one thing to read about it, another to see it. As he prepared to go hunting for Bigfoot, Andrew Callaghan picked up the phone.
As he prepared to go hunting for Bigfoot, Andrew Callaghan picked up the phone.
It was just another day for the 23-year-old creator of the hit YouTube show All Gas No Brakes. For the past year, Callaghan’s been driving across the U.S. in an RV, periodically hopping out in an ill-fitting suit, putting a microphone in front of people’s faces, and letting them speak. What comes out is an illuminating look into the soul of the country. It’s not pretty. But if we want to fix our society’s problems, it’s worth our attention.
Callaghan, a Seattle native, mostly interviews people on the outskirts of U.S. life, though the fringe tends to be mainstream in this country today. As people speak with him — unfiltered, uninterrupted, and at length — a sense of emptiness pervades. You can see it when flat earthers discuss their large Facebook groups, gem enthusiasts preach the power of psychedelics, and conspiracy theorists come together to rush U.S. military zones. Traditional institutions that once provided purpose and kinship are falling, and the fringe is filling the void.
“A desire to adhere to any kind of cultural fringe comes from a sort of emptiness,” Callaghan told Big Technology. “You just want a brotherhood at all costs.”
Religion, relationships with friends and family, and work are the primary sources of meaning in American life, according to Pew. But all three are in decline. People with “no religion” make up 23% of the U.S. population today, up from 8% in 1990. Loneliness, according to some, was an epidemic before the pandemic, and it certainly is now. Our work is more distributed, gig-based, and tenuous than ever before. The old ways of feeling like you belonged to something are diminished. So people are seeking alternatives.
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