In the absence of a story people want to see a number go up.
It could be your bank account, your deadlift, your partner count; they're all interchangeable prosthetics.
In modernity it takes an ample combination of creativity, money and connections to write a fulfilling story. For most people this is simply out of reach, and if they're not simply drowning they'll play a gamified version of life.
There's a reason that a lot of (though not all) people who lift feel the need to constantly talk about it and frame it as some kind of moral imperative: obviously exercise is good for you but nobody is going around asking "do you even get 8 hours of sleep bro?"
It needs to be justified on its own merits because the practical difference in your life between being able to deadlift 250 vs. 350 pounds is negligible in the grand scheme of things; it's really not going to make any difference in your longevity or sex life let alone your salary.
And you could say the same for all those other things: having no companionship is shitty but the only reason men really care about having as many partners as possible is that it's yet another thing to brag about.
"But evolution—" shut up.
Of course men are capable of getting bored of having the same partner but the actual quantification of the past has nothing to do with it: nobody thinks about how many different pornographic videos they've watched.
The fact is that numbers have absolutely no inherent meaning: value is a matter of function and can only be reduced to a single number if things are interchangeable, i.e. if they can be bought and sold for a common currency; and even then the value of money is what you can do with it, which is why after a certain point it's only useful to the imaginative.
Affluent people without a sense of belonging or direction either become nihilistic "successes" or depressed about not winning a game that they're allegedly supposed to play. Succeeding usually requires sociopathy and failing usually engenders self-obsessed rumination.
But in both cases a lack of attachment to any kind of community or tradition leads to a fetishistic echo chamber. On the surface this sounds like a justification for fascism, but I was actually just about to get into what all this has to do with fascism and why gym rats seem to correlate with it (NB: I have many wonderful friends who lift very heavy pieces of metal and are not fascists!)
No, it's not testosterone, even though that definitely is a factor in aggression and risk-taking. Just like water can be a puddle or a stream depending on whether you dig a trench, how aggression manifests itself is a matter of context.
But to get back to tradition, we tend to think of tradition a pretense that imposes on an otherwise blank slate, but there's no such thing as direction without a coordinate system and tradition is just that.
Our bodies are the coordinate system of our thoughts, we can have abstract thoughts but we can't think without reference to our visceral experience. Tradition is about doing, about the act of tinkering that is fundamentally prior to deliberation or even perception.
None of this is an argument against change or even for some defacto skepticism about freedom, I'm simply stating that figure can't exist without background.
Tradition is inseparable from community: a community is defined by the unique signature of the interactions amongst its members and tradition is something that's done by people.
Everyone's life comes to an end, and no amount of accumulation makes a difference when it does. The only thing that lasts after death is what you've signified, something that only happens at the point of contact between yourself and the world.
Just like isolation from language impairs the ability to communicate, isolation from tradition and community deprives people from any immanent sense of significance; any ability to touch the world.
The obsession with the trappings of tradition among fascists is easy to see through: their relation to it is always sadomasochistic, a desire to unconditionally play a role. Those who can are happy to be the ones on top but for others the idea of subservience resolves a primal tension otherwise unfulfilled; if you can't gain power then take the ups and downs offered by those who have it.
In both cases however it's an impoverished storytelling that can only end in violence insofar that life is defined by domination. The parody of tradition that it flaunts is deliberately shallow in order to limit symbolism to the logic of the game, to keep anyone from going off script.
There's nothing wrong with wanting validation; there's no escaping the need for feedback. The problem is that it becomes perverse and toxic once detached from any sense of aesthetics or responsibility; and that's where the modern fixation on number comes in.
Without any narrative sense of progress, all that's left is up or down. Money, power, strength, hedonism; progress defined by domination instead of development, love defined by fetish instead of intimacy.
A failure to integrate with a larger narrative leads to the coveting of a facsimile of agency, a love of power and control for its own sake, and this is the condition of fascism.
The desire for power for its own sake is a deeply regressed state of being in which any concept of agency runs along a single dimension; you either have more power than something or less; and ironically it's a death wish since total control is antithetical to life.
Aesthetics is the canalization of affect, the differentiation of what we feel beyond the poles of reward and punishment; but without community, without craftsmanship, without a sense of endeavor and enchantment, regresses to half-baked abstractions and fails to create an ecology that affirms life.
Art can and must do better.