Breaking the Cycle

John Doe
6 min readNov 21, 2022

Building on: What Doesn’t Happen

Aldi​ Rizal, Indonesia’s “smoking baby”

The cycle I’m referring to here is the generational cycle of “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”

From What Doesn’t Happen:

“Strong men” are those who have been through “hard times” and emerged on the other side having successfully overcome the problems of hard times. When the raise a family, they do their utmost to protect their kids from these problems. Their kids (“weak men”) grow up during “good times” unaware of the problems their parents helped them avoid and thus end up discovering them too late, creating “hard times” again.

To understand this better, we need to think of this in terms of diseases and immunity, where the various hard times problems are diseases and immunity is one’s motivation and ability to prevent / avoid these hard times problems.

Disease Metaphor

In order to gain immunity to a disease, you need to be exposed to the it. Those who contract a disease and recover develop natural immunity. Those who are vaccinated against the disease are exposed to a weaker version of the pathogen, and from that, develop immunity to it. The advantage of vaccination over the “contract and recover” method is that you avoid most (if not all) of the negative effects.

If we replace “disease” with “hard times problem”, we can say that the strong men are the ones with natural immunity (they’ve experienced it first hand and recovered) and that the weak men are the ones with no immunity. Because the weak men have no immunity, they are the most likely to make decisions that end up causing hard times problems again.

Since there are many different hard times problems, the “strong” and “weak” labels are only relevant with respect to a given hard-times problem. A person can have immunity to one problem, like drug addiction, but lack immunity to others.

The way to break the cycle is by vaccinating people against the hard times problems. This used to be done when cultural knowledge was passed down through the generations, but now whatever knowledge is passed down is likely to be ignored for various reasons.

Vaccinating Against Hard-Times Problems

Just like with medical vaccines, hard-times vaccines require you to expose the patient to a dose of the problem that is intense enough to trigger a strong psychological reaction, but not too strong as to overwhelm them or cause the suffering and misery associated with the hard-times problem. And, just like with medical vaccines, there is risk associated with the procedure, the most obvious being an adverse reaction or accidentally exposing the person to a dose that is too strong. They might also start pursuing the thing you’re trying to get them to avoid after you expose them to it.

You have to weigh these vaccination risks against the risk of later exposure with no immunity. In most cases, it is worth exposing the person to a weaker dose in a controlled setting if it is likely that the person will eventually be exposed to hard-times problem later on. The rationale is that if the person in question will eventually come into contact with this problem, they’ll be better equipped to prevent or handle the issue if they’ve seen it before. If they have an adverse reaction to the vaccination, at least it will be in a controlled setting where it can be addressed quickly as opposed to out in the wild where the dose is stronger and there is less help.

A example of an accidental hard-times vaccination comes from one of my old roommates, who told us that he smoked a cigarette when he was five and the ensuing nausea was so bad that he never touched a cigarette again. That obvious could’ve backfired if he had gotten hooked on smoking, but it did turn out to be effective.

Here’s another example from Zorba The Greek:

Once upon a time, this will let you understand better,I was crazy about cherries as a child. I didn’t have much money, so I bought a few at a time, ate them, and yearned for more. I thought of cherries day and night, my saliva flowing. Torture! Until one day I felt angry, felt ashamed (not sure which), realizing that cherries were doing with me what they wished, making a fool of me. So what did I figure out? I get up at night on the sly, search my father’s pants pockets, find a silver coin, pinch it. That morning I’m up early. Off I go to an orchard and buy a basketful of cherries. I sit down in a ditch and begin to eat. I eat and eat, become bloated, get a stomachache, puke. Yes, I puked, Boss, and from then on was saved from cherries. I couldn’t even look at them again. I became a free man. From then on, every time I saw a cherry I would say, “I don’t need you! I did the same with wine, the same with cigarettes. I still drink, still smoke, but the moment I want to cut them, I do so ”whapp!” with a knife. I’m not dominated by passion. The same with patriotism. I craved, gorged, puked, escaped.

And another one from Taylor Tomlinson’s special “Quarter Life Crisis”:

I do want to have kids, but I want to make sure before I have them that I have made enough mistakes so that I give great advice as a parent. You have to make mistakes, learn from them, and then you give amazing advice. My dad read his Bible every night, he got a scholarship to college, married my mom, and then had us. His advice was terrible. He’d be like, “Don’t do that.” We’re like, “Why?” He’s like, “I don’t know, kid. I read it in a book. I’ve never really lived.” My uncle was a drug-dealing alcoholic who got shot in the ’90s. I listen to everything that man says. ’Cause he can back it up. He’s like, “Don’t do that.” “Why?” “‘Cause Uncle Larry pees sitting down now. Go play.”

What Now?

Culture and tradition used to be the vaccine that prevented the hard-times cycle. That was back when those sort of things were passed down from generation to generation and when elders were respected for their experience and wisdom, etc, etc. Nowadays there are two major things preventing this from happening. The first is the rapid contextual change that happens from generation to generation as technology advances, which makes whatever you learned in your lifetime less and less relevant to the next generation, save some general wisdom about life and people. The second is the general “corporitization” of culture. Corporitization is the tendency for things to be dictated, produced and distributed in a top-down manner instead of from the bottom-up. The result of this is that there are now a few central loci of “culture” (New York, LA, Paris, London, etc), families are increasingly nuclear because Dad has to move for his new job, and you don’t get much in the way of useful cultural knowledge from your parents, either because you won’t listen or what they have to tell you is already outdated.

This is a roundabout way of saying that hard-times vaccines are modern stand-ins for missing inter-generation cultural knowledge. I cannot give you any systematic way to discover vaccines for the various hard-times problems out there. Just like medical vaccines, hard-times vaccines need to go through trials to prove that they are safe and effective. Unfortunately for you, there is no cultural/social FDA for systematically testing hard-times vaccines. You’re on your own to figure out the best way to do this, and on an accelerated timeline. Cultural knowledge used to be the result of hundred, if not thousands of years of gathering, filtering and accumulation. Now all you have is anecdotes from your family, news stories, and twenty years at most to figure it out. Good luck.




John Doe

Processing information, stacking concepts. Writing this down so I don’t keep thinking about the same things over and over again