Rohit's Realm

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April 01, 2007

Le Mot de L'Énigme

In a particularly suicidal entry last month, I posed a question with seemingly no compelling answer (in the absence of unwavering commitment to religion): why do we (you, me, people in general) continue to wake up each morning? More bluntly, what keeps us from expediting our reunion with our savior (or decay and decomposition, again depending on your commitment to religion) each day? It was only recently that I discovered le mot de l'énigme, or as we say in American, the key to the puzzle.

In retrospect, given how simple the answer is, I should have known almost immediately. We poor souls leading undeniably—and inevitably—miserable, wretched lives devoid of meaning continue to do so for two interrelated reasons: (1) hope, and (2) complacence. Hope, no matter how deluded, provides the positive reinforcement we require to continue prolonging our despondency, while complacence, manifest through paramount laziness, provides the negative reinforcement we need to not act upon our darkest impulses. Together, these two sinister forces keep an otherwise suicidal populace afloat.

Between the two, I would argue that hope is the more difficult force to conceptualize. While complacence is generally universal, i.e., people are inclined to be indolent and killing oneself requires far too much effort (as I discussed earlier), different people are likely to hope for different things. Most are likely driven by traditional societal notions of success (e.g., the biggest house, the fastest car, the hottest spouse, etc.); a smaller (and less intelligent) minority might be driven by moronic notions of true love1; but the most tragic of all those deluded are arguably the people who hope to make a difference with their necessarily futile existences.

Unfortunately, I am one of those people. Not content with simply making the rich richer and the poor poorer (though that may be the byproduct of any effort to seek happiness2), I have always hoped that my life would amount to something productive. As foolish, misguided, and patently unachievable as that hope may be, it is nevertheless an unshakable reality of my existence. That reality, compounded with the necessary complacence, allows me to wake each morning, put away my gun3, and go about my day.

Perhaps, many years from now, as I lay listlessly mulling over the perceived accomplishments of my life, I will finally lose all hope; perhaps I will finally realize once and for all that my life had no impact whatsoever, that I did not help anyone or change anything, and moreover, nothing I could have done would have made the slightest of difference. Perhaps in my senility, a moment of lucidity will pass through my aging synapses for long enough to remember a famous quotation before the electric and chemical impulses are extinguished forever:

Yet it is necessary to hope, though hope should always be deluded, for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations, however frequent, are yet less dreadful than its extinction.
—Samuel Johnson

1 How awesome was this post? A true golden age in the storied history of this blog.
2 This assertion begs for clarification, but I will defer proper discussion to a later entry.
3 Metaphorically speaking, of course. I obviously do not own a gun.


Interestingly enough, I just read an excerpt of a book by Barbara Ehrenreich that discusses similar concepts to what I brought up in this post. Ehrenreich's thesis seems to be that with the advent of societal focus on the individual as opposed to the community subsequent to the European Renaissance and Reformation, so grow people's isolation and corresponding depression. This is an interesting hypothesis at the least, and I have purchased her book to further explore it.

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