a future to look forward to

cw: suicide/depression/sadness

 

Back when I was in my first year of high school, I spent most afternoons on the couch watching Seinfeld, feeling numb and sleeping my way through as many emotions as I could. I was swallowed by something bleak; it ate at every ounce of my self worth and colored even the happiest moments a gray with lots of red in it. I felt like I couldn’t be honest with anyone because there was something wrong with me, and like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t feel I had any friends.

As far as I was concerned, I was alone in what I now know was depression. In my eyes, everyone I met knew it, and even a hair out of place was an imperfection worthy of my own self loathing. Depression messes with your perception of the world. My skinny wrists weren’t skinny enough, and though I could run my fingers over each rib, there was still too much fat between my skin and my insides. I wanted to do well in school, but in doing too well I brought on jealousy and mean-spirited people (who were likely as self-conscious as me).

So much of who we think we are is constructed by how we feel we’re seen by others. We navigate our place and what we can aspire to become relative to those around us. In such a formative time, I assumed that I couldn’t aspire to much; I could hardly even hold a conversation I was so controlled by anxiety. I lost any hope for the future, and that’s when the insidious thoughts of offing myself began. I felt compelled to do things like drink cleaning supplies or run a car off of the road. I was tenacious though, and luckily I kept hold of an ounce of wanting to stick around, just to prove those around me wrong, or just to prove myself wrong.

I spent the summer that followed in a similar rut, but toward the end I made a conscious decision to push myself to break the negative feedback loop. I got involved at school (I turned into Max from Rushmore) and started exercising. I made friends and things got better. I constructed a much more exciting future to hold onto when things were difficult, and I’m glad I’ve been around to experience it.

People always talk about what a selfish action suicide is, and I can’t stress this enough. I think often about my mom and how much she cares about me. Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many parents lose their children to tragic accidents; it would have been unimaginable for me to have taken myself away from her at my own hand. Having said that, at the time, my own bleak fate was all I could think about, and I felt burdensome to those around me. It’s for this reason I also stress that even in the moments it feels like the future is too far to be worth waiting for, the odds are good that it will eventually get better. What made the better future come faster for me was taking an active role (a role I wish I’d taken earlier) in pushing myself to be uncomfortable. If I had to do it over again I’d talk to a counselor or teacher I trusted.

Something else I think is really important is that, especially with the popularity of the show/book 13 Reasons Why, there’s an idea that suicide is a way to get revenge. It’s not. Even if there are people around you who are causing you to feel the way you do, I can guarantee there are people who want nothing more than for you to be happy. Regardless of how you feel about the former group, the latter doesn’t deserve that devastation.

Finally, be kind to people. I don’t think anyone I knew other than my family had any idea I was struggling, and I can imagine there are people I talk to daily who are in the same place. Be the reason someone smiles every day, and be honest with people about why you think they’re awesome. Everyone deserves to have some love poured into them.
 

where I’m meant to be

Life forms a surface that acts as if it could not be otherwise, but under its skin things are pounding and pulsing.

-Musil, The Man Without Qualities

The past few years have brought only a handful of days when on that day a year before I could have imagined where I’d be a year later. That’s a good feeling, mostly, but was the result of a lot of curveballs and disappointment and attempts to convince myself I was where I was supposed to be. I’ve written and thought a lot before about the way we like to rationalize decisions that are made for us (and therefore not decisions at all) that lead us to places we once didn’t want to be, but to places in which we find a lot of good. I’ve come to find this rationalization a little shaky; I don’t think it’s smart to see the world and the places you go and the decisions you make (or that are made for you) as having any sort of correctness. Such attitudes make it hard when what you once thought was correct by the hand of something greater comes crashing down as dreams and plans are wont to do. Instead, I’ve deemed it healthier to accept what is and to find good where I can in that, but to avoid the belief in small destinies that has the potential to remove faith in one’s own volition. To say that things happen for a reason is blatantly obvious, but I can’t make logical jumps to say that reason is to redirect my course.

We are the amalgamation of every person we’ve ever interacted with and every experience we’ve ever lived (mostly, right?), but those experiences and people aren’t necessarily there for some grand end result. They may, however, make up some larger piece of us that draws us in a direction we hadn’t thought we’d go. And that shit is the kind of magic that makes rationalization and causation so tempting. I say this now because even with the crazy and exciting and wonderful twists and turns things have taken I have never before wanted so badly to say that I am where I’m meant to be.

That where is literally Mountain View, CA, but more broadly a Computer Engineering student at UW (a recent and very exciting development) and an intern at Google. I’m ecstatic for what the future holds and can feel the world at my fingertips; hopefully I’ll be able to use my computer science skills to do good things in areas I care about like education. I’m grateful for the college I couldn’t afford, the gap year I had to take, the catering job that introduced me to MS Excel, the Hill internship that helped me realize I wanted to learn how to use computers to make my world more efficient, and the girls I coached who taught me exactly who and what I was passionate about. All of those things (except the last) came with some tough spots and were brought on by some very difficult moments. I used to feel with all of my being that I was ‘meant’ to be a journalist, and then a politician, and then an economist, and in a few spots a traveling peanut butter maker. Instead of trusting in the process I sought comfort in belonging and to feel the sort of fire I’ve seen in so many I look up to. I wanted to find a sign that I was finished searching for enough, but I feel happier than ever before with where I am now and still hope I’ll never find it.

I may want to say I’m where I’m meant to be, but I just can’t bear to validate that premise. Instead, I’ll say that I feel that I’ve found a field with which my brain very nicely aligns and that I can’t imagine myself being happy doing anything else. I remember being in math classes and seeing kids who understood everything just by skimming the textbook or after a single lecture and I always wanted to be one of them. I can say for sure I know how they felt (good!) based on my time thus far learning computer science.I’ll also say that the passions I’ve had before aren’t gone, I hope very much to carry them with me wherever I go. Stories matter, and I want to bring as many as I can along with me and to someday be an influential part of many more.

To say that we are meant to be anywhere would mean that had something been even the slightest bit different (like if I’d not been accepted to UW’s CSE program), I would have been in a place in which I wasn’t meant to be. I think this removes the type of hope and resilience and trust in oneself and the multitude of paths one can take that come with rejection. Rejection sucks; I know this and feel crushingly inadequate on a regular basis because of it (& even when I don’t face it), but you have to trust in the knowledge that there is nowhere to go but onward. I remember times I could not have felt worse when the only thing I had to hold onto was hope for the future (there was just a Glass Castle preview on the TV that’s humming in the background talking about the importance of this very thing). It’s been excitement for my future that’s brought me a good bit of disappointment from daydreams and grand plans that turned south, but I think it’s okay to embrace these feelings. I’ll never stop craving structure and the ability to see into the future; I have to be working towards something after all, but to assume I have the privilege to arrive at the places I see myself in is to ignore the importance of effort and trial and failure and all the work that goes into getting there. It’s also to ignore the power of the random universe and of the people and experiences I’ll have along the way.

on learning from everyone

I’ve always had more interests and hobbies than would allow me to be exceptionally good at any one of them. I’ve wondered for a long time why this is the case, and I think there are reasons I still don’t understand, perhaps dealing with a fear of rejection or failure in putting too many eggs in one basket. I have found, however, that the ability to talk to just about anyone is an ability I value and contemplate frequently. The act itself of interacting with others is never consciously algorithmic in the moment, however the way I think about it is.

I’ve landed upon one reason I like quite a lot: the more I know a little about a lot of things, the easier it is to learn more from others. I’m not a finance genius by any stretch, but I made a point a year or two ago to at least get some of the basics down and to try to get a handle on all of the stuff I don’t understand. I’ve found that through my very limited understanding, and the questions that have arisen in my exposure, I’ve been able to learn a lot from folks I know who are passionate about the subject. I’ve found that the vocabulary really does matter.

Another realm in which I’ve tried to gather pieces of the things that matter to others is in travel. Yesterday, I had a long conversation with a friend who had just visited Kansas City. It was delightful to feel as though someone had an appreciation for where I came from. In traveling to different states and a few different countries, I’ve always tried to recognize and remind myself that I know what amounts to nothing about what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who lives there, but I’ve always had an immense curiosity about others and what their lives have been. In talking to someone who’s from a place I’ve been, it’s so nice to have a little entryway that establishes that I know at least a little about their home.

I suppose there are downsides, too, to having far too many interests. One of them is an odd combination of ambivalence and a constantly overwhelming curiosity that limits any ability to progress in any field in particular. I’ve found recently that computer science may well be the thing to squash that paralysis, which is a wonderful feeling. Another downside is that there are times when I’m trying to learn from others, but will get lost in words or foundational subjects I don’t understand well enough. I have a tendency in conversation to refuse to ask questions about lower-level vocabulary and concepts, even when the message relayed is lost on me because of my lack of understanding. That’s my least favorite feeling; I need to work on my fear of appearing too ignorant (I’m okay with the kind of ignorance that fuels conversations that bring new and interesting perspectives to light).

scarcity & the end of the familiar

One of the most influential books I’ve read (so much so that this may be my second reference to it) is Scarcity, which details the effects of scarcity on the way we live our lives. I think about it quite frequently, and notice the effects of it everywhere. And if basic decency for your fellow human beings isn’t a good enough argument to treat others well, the book provides more than enough reason to have a little more patience with your waiter, or to have some understanding when your gardener shows up late a few times. Anyway, I thought of it a bit more than I normally do a few days ago when it was discussed on Hidden Brain, and an episode about the holes we dig ourselves into and the difficulty we run into when we try to climb out. These holes include the way our awkwardness might prevent us from finding friends to develop social skills that would make us less awkward, short-term leans with high interest rates that make our debt exponentially larger, and eating lots of sugar when we’re short on sleep, and consequentially getting less sleep the next night.

There are all kinds of examples in our everyday lives, some low-stakes and some high-stakes. In essence, the loss of bandwidth to make long-term decisions occurs disproportionately in those with less resources than those with lots of them, which increases inequality. I think one of the most clear areas where the effects of scarcity can be seen is in businesses. Imagine you’re working at a wildly successful firm; you probably won’t have managers breathing down your neck or lots of competition. You’ll probably be able to get away with slightly longer lunches and you might eat food the company provides for you. But what happens when business slows? Scarcity bleeds into environments and ways of thinking as soon as things get tough.

Of course, I’m about to reference another podcast (an incredibly excellent one at that). It’s called S-Town and you really oughta listen to it. Anyway, it’s a little tricky to explain where what intrigued me came from (spoilers!), but one of the main characters is intensely concerned about the effects of climate change on the world. There’s a quote in a later episode from a manifesto he wrote about the idea that missions of equality and freedom for everyone were luxuries of a world before the damning effects of a warming globe. It got me thinking about the fact that scarcity will affect us all as resources that we take for granted now dwindle. Today is not the day that white Americans feel the effects of it, but I’m sure people in the developing world and communities on islands or that depend on a warming ecosystem are feeling the effects.

I got a little sick when perusing these financial disclosures of government officials, noting that most of them owned rental properties, had some sort of trust from their parents, and likely hadn’t felt any large degree of financial scarcity (and therefore most other types of scarcity as well). And even if they had at some point, one of the principles of moving from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie is how easy it is to lose the parts of oneself that came from being a member of the proletariat. We don’t need more rich people with disrupted incentive structures, only influenced by money and power and only wanting grow in money and power, telling us what we need.

Why does this matter? Because the only people telling us climate change isn’t happening, or shouldn’t be prioritized, are people with enough resources to live through the turmoil and perhaps apocalyptic effects of global warming. Isn’t that the big lesson in any middle school history class? That who is telling you something matters just as much as what they’re telling you? We need to take a step back and ask ourselves, what are they getting out of it? Well, lots of money from businesses that profit off of practices that are detrimental to earth, the kind of money that could make anyone overlook factual information or to place their own short-term self-interest over that of literally billions of other human beings.

why stories matter

I’m knee-deep in Taleb’s Black Swan and must first acknowledge that I’ve only made it about a third of the way through as I write this, so it’s entirely possible that he covers what I’m about to discuss later on. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a part in which he writes of the problems that arise from misguided black swans, or the human reaction to tragedy and sensationalization. He gives quite a few examples, but the gist of it is that we fear the things we hear about, the things that are reported on and have stories behind them and the things we can give a cause to, regardless of the probability of their occurrence. This is true. Most of us are more fearful in an airplane than a car, even though the statistics might guide us to feel otherwise. This is because (again– for a large majority of people– not everyone) crashing planes and tragic deaths have been flashed in front of us with more frequency and anxiety than the realities of vehicular accidents.

Taleb, it feels, argues that this is a fundamental flaw to journalism and to the way we understand the world. The narratives we are given are rarely all that accurate, fail to recognize black swans, and fall into the trap of sought-after linearity that doesn’t exist. One striking example is of 9/11 and the way it changed the way most Americans understand their safety and the threats they face, even though Taleb argues that after it happened, the chance of something similar happening arguably decreases. I think this argument is much more nuanced than he recognizes. He blames stories, and the way a country might obsess over a single missing child when there are millions of other problems and people in peril. This is the power of a story.

I’m no stranger to the notion that journalism is distorted by the incentives of profit, however I disagree with the idea that there’s some piece of ignorance that misguides the consumers of stories. Perhaps I don’t have the luxury, or desire, to think on the level of existence that Taleb does regarding this issue, but as far as I’m concerned, as flawed as they may be, stories matter. While the predicament of collective action is overwhelming, the opinions of a group are important. I recognize that while the world in which we exist is made up of shoddy fictions, those fictions have power over us, and to pretend otherwise is (pardon my pun) rather preten(d)tious. A story of a missing child that is a black swan in its popularity and airtime is likely taking time away from more relevant and pressing issues, however a story following a child separated from his parents by a militaristic US immigration policy is necessary, relevant, and powerful. Yes, the story may draw conclusions that are unnecessary, and it may land on causes that fail to scratch the surface, but to live in the dark is no better.

I read a piece in Foreign Policy today about the role of fear in the current administration, and policies that harm the most innocent and vulnerable in our world. It made me think of a quote (attributed, without certainty, to Stalin) Taleb cites that goes something along the lines of ‘one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic’. I understand the relevance of this idea to what Taleb is saying, however I think the argument that follows (the one I wrote of earlier) should lead to a different place. It should tell us that we need to make things real in order for them to matter. We connect with people, we connect with heart-wrenching stories of real schools and the students inside them, and how they are affected by fear-driven, hate-filled, white-nationalistic policies. The statistics will be staggering, but as humans we rely on connections with others.

It’s up to consumers and readers to decide exactly which stories deserve sensationalization. As I’ve written about and chewed on quite a lot, stories matter a lot to me. Taleb would slap my knuckles with a ruler as I write this if he were here, but I very sincerely believe that stories make up who we are. Sure, they lack linearity, and human memory has a way of distorting reality. Sure, they exaggerate some of the greatest flaws of how we think as a species, but unless we all have the luxury of a black swan of our own (as Taleb did), we need to live in the world, and to lift up and think about the stories and lives of those around us as we do so.

on ‘changing the world’

I say this with every ounce of pretense it warrants: I was voted ‘most likely to change the world’ when I graduated from high school. It was fun; it stroked my ego and made me feel like I had some kind of knack… that I was destined to go on and do some world-changing. I was thinking quite a lot about this today, and have concluded that, putting aside for a moment the debate about the existence of destiny, we are all meant to (in that we simply do) change the world. Or, none of us ever have or ever will. I’m not much of a believer in platonicity, and I despise the way I’m innately drawn to categorization (please, everyone is), however I think when looking at it logically and denotatively, the debate over what it means to change the world can have one of two outcomes.

Today I pre-ordered a book online (taking a moment here to push away the thoughts about the fiction that is money) and paid for it, thereby placing money into the hands of another (likely a few entities) and having at least a minute effect on someone else’s life. I chatted with a cashier about the weather. I read a story online and contributed to the number of views the page had received. If changing the world means having a small effect on the outcome and life of another, then don’t we all change the world?

But then again, what do we mean when we say ‘the world’? When people talk about ‘changing the world’ they’re frequently referring to a neoliberalistic mission abroad, or a job in the social sciences that’s goal is to make the lives of others better. If this is the case, if ‘changing the world’ can be done with work in a non-profit, wherein the piece of the world being changed is likely not the whole of it (how are we considering time here by the way?), then don’t we all do it just about every day? And we shan’t limit ourselves to those with apparently good intentions, what about the perpetrators of genocide? They, too, are changing the world, however their change is measured in the things that happened, followed by the things that never could, the birth of a child, the lives and ambitions of those they’ve killed, the change that could have come of those lost.

Now, to the point of time: if the world is something much larger than just the pieces we attempt to change, wouldn’t it include the past and the present and the future and the worlds that existed then as well? It is only if the world is what exists in a single second that it is probably even able to be changed, right? I feel as though unless the end of humankind and all that we know happens at the hands of a single person, that if ‘the world’ is as broad as the world itself, nobody has or ever will truly ‘change the world’.

Because of the way I at least try to see things, I can’t decide not to recognize that there may well be something in the middle, or that our connotative understanding of the phrase ‘change the world’ means something altogether different than my nit-picky analysis offers. It refers to people who are written about in history books, probably, or people who may not be static figures in the eyes of those on earth and those to come, but that have done something grand enough to earn them recognition, to award them the honor of having ‘changed the world’. Do we want to define our aspirations by how much recognition or binarily-classified good we’ve done through them? Are our footprints only meaningful when they are seen by others? As far as I’m concerned, we need not worry ourselves with a term so stale.

second order black swans

I suppose it’s simply in the nature of exponentiality that black swans build upon one another. Last night, I learned a little bit about the differences between analog & digital and thought quite a lot about Taleb’s writing on the black swan of recorded music, and that because recordings came about, people were much more likely to support those who were already popular & dead & gone than those nearby. A form of specialization, I suppose, but the introduction of music that was able to be transported and played and replayed whenever the listener wanted created an ‘extremistan’ of the music industry. I realized, though, that vinyl and other forms of physical manifestations of music were only half of the story; the digitization of music makes it shareable, streamable and significantly more editable and creates a significantly wider gap between the successful and the ‘mediocre’ (not necessarily in talent, but in popularity).

The interesting part of it is that because in seconds artists can instantly upload their work to a myriad of places that can be accessed from all over the world, there are very few barriers to entry. This creates a flooded market where it can be incredibly difficult to distinguish between the really good and the sorta good, leaving behind only those who have had enough luck to occupy the majority of the market share. That’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to the width of access (if it weren’t for the digitization of music and shared computing conventions all over the world, I would never have heard this truly incredible song).

Digitization has taken over virtually every form of art, and with each iteration I think we find ourselves further and further from the ancestral voices and needs that sit deep inside us. And because the ratio of success to stagnation is (simply a conjecture) widening, we may see that in the future the number of voices we can hear and perspectives we can take in will decrease.

It’s funny, as I ramble about my belief that I’ve found some sort of order to unpredictability, I realize that it’s quite possible that the first order black swan being discussed here (analog music recording) stands upon the back of one or many black swans before it.

moral transubstantiation (or lack thereof)

This fall, I became a little obsessed with a topic that I’ve come to find discussed only in the context of the eucharist of the Catholic Church (something I attribute to the fact that the man I learned it from is a scholar of the political economics of churches). That topic is transubstantiation, however not of the physical kind: moral transubstantiation. I understood, in what I can only call an idealistically classically liberal way, that everything I’d noticed over the years prior of confusing and profit-related motivations even to those in the public sector could be attributed to the fact (or so I thought) that humans were innately profit oriented, and that because we are always in search of our own interest, there is no such thing as moral transubstantiation from the private to public sector. It made sense; I could tie a neat little bow around this idea and call it a day as I sat back in my library chair observing the college campus run by greedy folks no better than those taking enormous risks with grandpa’s retirement money.

I’ve come to realize that my desire to platonify the complexity of human nature & its many manifestations was in haste. Like basically always, it’s not so simple. I think there are truths to the argument, and that it can act as a meaningful anecdote as a donor to a charity interested in understanding the role your donation might really take on, but it falls into the trap of assumptions of selfishness in poorly wrapped economic principals. It’s impossible to say that a teacher at a public school who could be making twice as much at a private school down the road is serving solely the interest of their bank account. I think there’s so much more to human motivation than profit, and while I’ve argued many-a-time with many-an-intelligent-individual that it’s perfectly rational to act in intangible (yet, in my mind, somehow theoretically quantifiable) interests of things other than profit, it’s not really even necessary to shove the complexity of history and emotion into some economist’s box of rationality. (A conversation for another time based on my wholly wrong understanding of economics, but I very much believe that humans act rationally all of the time, and that the decisions we make are always rational because of both the hands of the universe around us, and also the subconscious and conscious ways in which we make decisions. I think that humans, no matter how logical, have little algorithms in their minds that weigh pros and cons regardless of what is quantifiable pragmatically.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this idea, the one that there is moral transubstantiation, in the context of education. I’ve been reading Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed (it’s awesome) & now understand that our post-secondary school system is a perfect example of the difference between profit-motivated & non-profit institutions. (An aside: McMillan Cottom discusses issues much much much much more complicated than what I’m bringing up; ones of institutionalized problems in the way our society sees & treats & values those of lower socioeconomic statuses and oppressed racial & ethnic minorities… a discussion I imagine could also be had about voucher program propositions in an inverse way.) But, what this book really beautifully points out is that while we can pretend like the fact that salaries and traditional ‘free-market incentives’ & all that junk are equally at play in public institutions as they are in private ones, institutions that aren’t required to fit into the same regulations and requirements as those of non-profit schools are significantly more motivated by those incentives.

The loss of incentive to seek prestige allows these places to leech off of reputations of legitimacy brought forth by the education system as a whole; McMillan Cottom references the work of W. Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson on The Education Gospel. This idea highlights a common theme of my thinking recently; one of a communal belief in a shared fiction. I read a book on the economics of pirates recently that talked about this idea in a very different way; the pooling equilibrium means that the combination of those of high quality and those of low quality share similar signals, meaning firms with less legitimacy can capitalize on the reputations of others. We understand education very broadly and, to us, it’s a monolith with nothing but good intentions. It’s also the thing we must have in order to be successful, giving for-profit colleges a whole lot of leeway in manipulating students into believing that the shoddy degrees are worth the money; and on top of that siphoning as much money as possible from federal student aid programs.

All this has me thinking about the proposed expansion of school vouchers, something which sends a chill down my spine, but for oddly similar yet different reasons. It’s not a perfect analogy, mainly because vouchers usually benefit non-profit institutions (however, not public ones), yet the way socioeconomic and systemic oppression are brushed aside during discussions about the problems of voucher systems very much resembles the negative impact of for-profit colleges. It’s easy for us to look the other way, and to say ‘buyer beware’ to those being taken advantage of in the same way we say ‘free market incentives will improve our failing schools!’ when we really mean ‘I could not care less about failing public schools as long as I can blur the line between church and state and make private schools cheaper for wealthy kids.’ It’s easy for us to sit back and say that after a while the merits of a free-market system will make it all better and empower those systematically & institutionally oppressed will break free by their own superhuman ability given to them as soon as everyone stopped to even pretend to give a shit as to whether they fail or succeed.

There are a whole lot of conversations to be had here & I have very little right to even be writing this, but I do believe that everything is much more complicated than we yearn for it to be.

american exceptionalism

I feel as though most my of strongest feelings and nuanced beliefs come from podcasts, and while I recognize the danger in forming one’s beliefs from a single source, I’d like to think that my enjoyment of podcasts isn’t any different than the enjoyment someone might receive from gathering news from a few different magazines. Anyway, today I was listening to this episode of Criminal and was deeply disturbed by the realizations it inspired about being born & the state of humanity.

To begin, to be born, to slip out of your mother’s womb with your future (and quite related past and present; our identities are formed far before we’re born) determined solely by the place on which she rests her feet, her legs spread apart on a table or in a bath or on the ground. The material is unimportant in the context of the larger fiction; what really matters are artificial borders deemed important by those who seek to find community in the mutual exclusion of the monolithic other.

American exceptionalism is perhaps not all that different from the form of birthright privilege that exists in other places, however that so many fail to recognize that the US is no more their home than a Syrian refugee or a Salvadorian escapee is (based on my limited understanding of the history of the world) unique to a place that’s a speck on the map of history. Most of us hold no tribal ancestry here, yet we base the life-or-death decisions we make for others on boundaries created by our (white Americans) oppression of others since the inception of our ‘more perfect society’. Perhaps it’s a deep-rooted sense of insecurity and the unconscious knowledge that we never belonged here. Well, maybe not that we didn’t belong here, but that our here was someone else’s here first.

And so many say that the God in which they believe would condone the separation of the coveted family, a ball of hypocrisy rolled around in butter, dripping from the mouths of children mimicking the way their fascist parents call other human beings ‘aliens’.  If that God is the God of all humanity, I hate to break it to you but I highly doubt they value your life as someone who just so happened to have come into the world in a cloudy midwestern town more than the life of someone fleeing a much more imminent death than you.

When I go to bed tonight I won’t fear for the loss of my life to the dirty hands of war or state, but I also won’t fear for the loss of my life in the material sense to the dirty hands of men who say things like ‘it’s nothing personal’ as they tear me away from my crying father to send me to a prison and line the pockets of the wealthy with the tax money I wanted to pay.

What gives us the right? What allows us to stand in these shaky towers?

nagging existential angst

This feeling began when I was taking an IB Diploma course called the theory of knowledge. I sat in a class full of intensely motivated kids like me with too many books in my backpack, not nearly enough sleep, and a never-ending feeling that if I didn’t do something (never a something I’d already done), I was destined for a life without meaning, full of dollar store cheetos and other uncomfortably awful things. We were talking about different philosophers & their views on consciousness; what it meant to exist. “Well, it’s really all just a fucking construct then, isn’t it,” I thought mockingly, but with the kind of unnecessary anger that signals insecurity. Except, this insecurity wasn’t like the kind of insecurity that came from poorly-applied cover-up on the pimple on my temple, the spot that friends always told me to check in the mirror. No, this insecurity was much more helpless. It questioned the cornerstone of my existence, and everything I did.

Why haven’t I slept in four days, I’d wonder. Certainly not because I hadn’t wanted to, though I knew that even though I had wanted to and fought it, if I had really wanted to, I would have. I always found some roundabout way to convince myself that in pushing the limits that my body had placed on my capabilities of time and space, I was expanding my horizons as a human. I shoddily built a house upon the idea that I was gaining something by memorizing a list of terms and definitions that some authority had deemed important.

It’s frustrating to realize it, but even more frustrating to want to get out of it. I thought for quite some time about driving somewhere, but would feel a tightness in my chest when I thought about the finite nature of everything. I thought about driving my subaru as far as I felt right, but then got sick realizing it’d run out of gas or break down if I drove for long enough.

This whole cyclical argument with myself got worse when I started to think about people who had much more visceral, basic-human-need problems than I did. Is it a privilege for me to be able to spend time procrastinating from doing my 4,000 word Spanish essay on globalization thinking about this shit? Do people who have much more important things to be concerned with ever get these thoughts, or is it difficult to question the fictions that surround us when your life depends on them?

Then again, I suppose all of our lives depend on them. I’ve been able to suppress these thoughts for quite some time, though the gap year thing certainly engaged my need to escape the prescribed path, if only for a year. During that time, I would get thoughts every so often that there had to have been better ways to find whatever ultimate success or happiness we all pretend to be looking for. Those thoughts came at different times, some in places of defeat, but others in places of immense success and happiness in my current spot.

Today I was listening to The Ezra Klein Show & his interview with Yuval Harari. I read Harari’s book Sapiens, and was struck by his discussion of the idea (a factual idea?) that everything that we believe in and the entire world around us are dependent on a shared story, a fictional one that’s been so deeply ingrained we take it as fact. I began to think about the societies before ours in the US that had existed for so long, the ones people probably used to think were immune to the flaws of humanity, too. I have no recollection of the name of the theorem, but I’m reading a book called Algorithms to Live By  & there’s a piece in it about the idea that it is the greatest probability that entities will exist for twice as long as they’ve already existed. By that estimation, the United States is a whole lot less reliable than most of the world. Anyway, Harari talks about a few different constructs, and people with more pragmatic views might recognize & accept that every part of our shared reality is made up, but say that, for example, the existence of money is a reasonable one that makes everyone’s lives better and reduces conflicts. Why do we think that, though? Why do we feel that things like conflicts over ownership of constructed, meaningless things are innate to humanity? I’m not saying I wouldn’t be upset if somebody stole my wallet, because I would feel really violated if that happened, but why!

This conversation, er, crazy rant, could go on for quite some time, but I guess I’ll leave it for now where I always have to leave it when I realize I’ve procrastinated enough to be productive with whatever I’ve been avoiding (I apologize for my inability to write coherently). Where it ends is where I say, yeah but so what? What good does it do to stop doing everything I don’t love, or to stop participating in the fictions that surround us? If I were to stop using money as a means of living I’d be basically screwed. Harari talks in the interview about revolution, and the truth that homo sapiens are the only species that can disrupt their fictions and structures overnight. That said, for that to happen takes a strange alignment of a lot of different factors, one which I know I can’t depend upon if I decide that I don’t want to believe in any of the measures of success we currently hold so highly.