Rohit's Realm

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May 07, 2010

On the Recent and Unhappy Turn to Seriousness in Life

Last night, I was sitting around at home (alone, in the dark, and on the ground, obviously) contemplating the utter futility of human existence instead of out being a forlorn degenerate when a singularly peculiar thought crossed my mind: somewhere along the way, people around me started getting rather serious with their lives. Like, really fucking serious. I am talking about marriage, mortgages, white picket fences, and babies. What? Ew. This observation, moreover, is not merely limited to my friends in Chicago (or those in law school, even); every month these days, it seems, I hear of a new engagement, marriage, baby, or some other colossally momentous life event from all corners of my social network and all across the world. And if my brilliant predictions of yesteryear turn out correct, the onslaught of first divorces and second marriages is, no doubt, only a precious few years away.

When did this happen? When did everyone around me apparently become an adult? When did formerly reviled notions of commitment and family replace the futile pursuits of drinking and debauchery? And why the fuck am I still sitting at home, alone, in the dark, and on the ground contemplating the futility of my (and your) existence? Is it time I turned on the light and bought a chair, so to speak? (Perish the thought!)

There are at least two ways to analyze and perhaps explain the aforementioned phenomenon, one more useful than the other. The first way is usually the more favored on this website: we start from the assumption that all of life is meaningless, that we are all destined to die alone and lonely, and that most likely none of us will ever achieve anything even remotely resembling success—certainly not in an existential sense, and probably not in a money-cash-hoes sense either. We then conclude that in light of these presuppositions, there is absolutely no reason to care why or how people are getting serious since in the end it will not matter in the slightest. Our collective fate and misery is all but guaranteed; the details of how we proceed in our necessarily futile existences or how we arrive upon our assured end is of an irrelevance only paralleled by what happened in the latest episode of the latest reality TV show that only the most moronic and unimaginative of the loathsome unwashed continue to watch. In short, we need not waste time explaining the phenomenon because it does not matter in the least.

That, like I said, is one way of approaching the problem. But in this case, I do not think it to be the best. Fatalism, like all other modes of thought, has its limits. Such an approach, while useful, I think, in putting into perspective some of the more vapid pursuits and concerns in life (love, for instance), does not meaningfully explain anything on the level at which we wish to understand it. Given that life is both worthless and futile (and no one, I think, can really meaningfully contest that assertion), why would someone then choose to engage in seriousness over unseriousness is the more salient inquiry. Why not, for instance, continue adrift in the turbulent sea of mediocrity, loneliness, and despair, accompanied only by a bottle of stiff liquor and the misguided but indelible hope of future happiness (as I have so far been apt to do)? That is a question not so easily answered, especially by despicable bourgeois ingrates such as myself.

Fortunately, my lack of understanding of a subject has never stopped me from pushing forward with an arrogance and self-assurance that is neither deserved nor merited. Nor shall it here. The other approach for explaining the bout of recent seriousness is to use economics. Does this seriousness add value in some way that it did not maybe half a decade ago?

And it is there, dear readers, that we finally arrive on an explanation for this new occurrence of seriousness washing over my colleagues and friends like a tidal wave of festering raw sewage. As even I have observed, tying the noose has its (financial) benefits, ranging from economies of scale to tax sheltering (note well that love and happiness are not included in that list). (Incidentally, the venerable New York Times agrees entirely with my assertions.) Similarly, babies, though both smelly and burdensome, bring the dual benefit of tax deductions and a target on which to project one's weaknesses and misgivings. And subprime-fueled decadence and subsequent Great Recession notwithstanding, having a mortgage and owning a home is nonetheless a good investment (given, among other things, the patently misguided home mortgage interest deduction—fuck IRC § 163(h)(2)(D)). You just cannot be poor. But that could be said about most things in life.

So, the only question that remains then is why the discrepancy. Put otherwise, why are so many of my friends turning to seriousness while I continue relentlessly to achieve new lows with each passing day? Given the economic rationale for seriousness elucidated above, that is not a difficult question. Whereas many of my friends are out in the real world (or soon to be so) and earning income that needs to be sheltered from Uncle Sam, I am in graduate school, over-leveraged and hopelessly destitute. Whereas they can achieve net positive utility from adopting a path of seriousness with both incumbent benefits and costs, for me, such a path right now only involves a net loss of value.1 Responsibility? Commitment? Emotional availability? Just the thought makes me nauseous. The distortion, then, ought not be too troubling—yet.

That said, with my law school career (hopefully) winding to a close and the real world again on the horizon, it might be time to alter my unserious approach. In other words, my romantic quest (to ruin my life), long dormant, may need a resurrection. Something to consider, I suppose, as I once again enter into a liminal period in my life.

^ 1 There is, of course, yet another way of explaining this discrepancy between me and my friends, namely by observing that there is something rather profoundly wrong with me vis-à-vis most other people. And while that is assuredly true, and probably the most accurate explanation, it's also boring. Everyone knows I am an incorrigible mess; there is no need to explicate it beyond a footnote.


It is a purpose-giving mechanism. Much like law students abandon their health and happiness in pursuit of prestige, individuals in their 20s commonly get hitched and pop out babies. Prestige--like babies and women--is of limited usefulness. Yet achieving success in these areas serves as a marker--a signal--that is more readily visible to others than the more useful achievements of emotional fulfillment, happiness, and physical health.

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