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.