Rohit's Realm

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May 15, 2007

Musings on the Meaning of Life

I realize that it is very uncharacteristic of me to post an entry twice in as many days (if I wrote about existential angst every day, I would have long ago killed myself), but a poignant article I read today demanded I once again wade into the dark abyss sometimes referred to as my mind and answer a rather unseemly question: when did I first become so cynical and nihilistic?

The question of the cynicism is rather easily answered. I have been cynical for almost as long as I can remember, dating back to at least when I was in elementary school (and first learned of the fundamental inequities of life). Certainly, as long as the Realm has existed, I have expressed cynicism in most, if not all, my day-to-day interactions. In fact, as I wrote on the four-year anniversary of this site, Rohit's Realm was formed on the steadfast pillars of anger, cynicism, bitterness, and elitism, and to change that would be to deny the very essence of my being; I am nothing if not angry, cynical, bitter, and elitist. However, as I observed in March of 2003, the brand of cynicism I exhibited during my undergraduate years was significantly different than the one I demonstrated during high school; and now, with another four years of perspective, I would argue the brand of cynicism that I have adopted post-college is different still. It is darker, yet more tongue-in-cheek, more bitter, yet more hopeful, more self-aware, and yet, more abstract.

The nihilism is more difficult to place. Taking a nostalgic walk through memory lane, I found that my first implicit reference to the meaninglessness of life was in this entry in December 2002. The first explicit acknowledgment came almost a year later, in December 2003, when I wrote: [e]veryone's life is more or less trivial and futile, mine most of all. However, it would not be until 2005 when I began to regularly reference the futility of my own existence (and that of others).

So, the obvious question: what's so special about 2005? Well, that was the year I transitioned out of college and into Corporate America. Entering the working world, in retrospect, was a traumatic experience, from which I still cannot say I have fully recovered. Coming face to face with what may be the remainder of your admittedly futile existence on this earth is mentally disquieting in a way that no experience in college can be—everything in college ends, eventually. Work only ends when you are fired, retire to a life of medical woes, or quit in financial ruin. Forty years is a long time, in a way four years of college simply cannot compared.

It should be understandable, then, that my perspective has become significantly darker, angrier, more disenchanted, more depressed, and more nihilistic in the past two years than it has ever been before. And yet, reading that article this morning, thinking upon the subject in depth today, and in discussing it with several good friends, I realize that I have been more happy and content in the past two months than I have ever been in the past two years. Happiness is a strange thing; as elusive as it may be, once it arrives, it is often quite difficult to shake.

Why this new found happiness, and what of the blinding meaninglessness of life, the intrepid and dedicated reader might ask? What indeed! I think the point is that despite the trials and tribulations of work, and inevitable futility of yuppie life, in the past two months I have managed to escape the stagnation of the same people and places, the same activities and interests, the same hopelessness and complacence, and in the process become incorrigibly content.

Life has no meaning. Existence is futile. I am worthless in the proverbial grand scheme (some would argue the small scheme as well). So are you. OK, so what? You hear me? So, fucking what? That point is duly noted. Let's move on. Even if life only has meaning insofar as humans assign that meaning, I think most of my own existential angst in the past couple years has arisen not from an unwillingness to accept that assertion (I do fully), but from others attempting to foist their own brand of meaning upon my life. The conflicting ideals of material success and impactful living have ultimately led to my despair, and in the fog of confusion and complacence, and as a result of isolation from most of my friends who truly are capable of discussing these weighty issues, I forgot that it simply is not a zero-sum game. I can have both; I might end up with neither. Either way, the meaning I assign to my existence is my responsibility, and more importantly, my prerogative.

So, then, the critical question I have oft-posed in the past year: why is it that I continue to wake each morning? Why have I not yet put everyone around me out of their collective misery? Simply (and crudely) put: because I still have shit I want to do. One can call it goals, or desires, or delusions, but the point is that I have them and I intend to pursue them. The fact that none of them matter one little bit holistically or that I might never accomplish any of them is ultimately irrelevant to (and independent of) my pursuit of them. The pursuit of these goals is the meaning I have assigned to my life. It is my raison d'être, and it is no more meaningful or meaningless than yours or anyone else's. It simply is.

I could die tomorrow, violently and absurdly, having lived not even a quarter century, or I might die 75 years from now, peacefully and contentedly, having lived almost a full century, and it would not matter the least to anyone except me, and perhaps, a few people with whom I have formed meaningful relationships over the years. To the world, a place devoid of any intrinsic meaning, my death—like my birth—would be of no significance; for me, however, it makes a world of a difference. Assigned meaning is no less relevant than intrinsic meaning, especially when the latter may not (or does not) exist at all. In the absence of the latter, all we have is the former, and I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice what little meaning that does exist in my life at the altar of post-modern despair in the vain hopes of holistic spiritual enlightenment. I sincerely hope all you readers who have identified with my travel through the abyss over the past year and a half do not make this sacrifice either.

As the author of the article put so well, we all need to build our own personal philosophy of beliefs and values which will form meaningful frameworks for our lives. It took me almost two decades (and substantial reading) to arrive upon this conclusion the first time around, and even then, as demonstrated over the past two years, I lost sight of that thought. I am still not sure I totally believe, but I suppose it is as good a thing to have faith in as any other in this ultimately futile existence. I mean, what other option do we have, really?


Rohit, I have known you for more years than I care to remember, and I have never, ever seen you as optimistic (or happy) as you are in this post. You're almost gushing... it's rather disgusting. If I didn't know better, I'd say you'd fallen in love.

I do know better though (you were never this happy when we were going out), so what's the deal? Did you meet someone in the past month who finally made your ice-cold heart flutter? Or is it something else?

I'm not sure I like this new Rohit. I would come back to the States right now to break up with you again if I thought it would make any difference. But you wouldn't care, would you, you heartless bastard!? ;)

Anyway, thanks for the e-mail... and snap out of this optimism. It doesn't suit your pretty black eyeliner. With love, Lisa.

Didn't you tell me that Starbucks Frappuchinos were the only things that made you happy in this world?

Right on, dude! You don't know me, but I've been reading your blog for a while now, and I totally agree with what you said in this post. You can only begin to truly live once you acknowledge that you might die at any time. Keep up the good work!!

Lisa, I'm somewhat offended that you would even suggest I had fallen in love to explain my ostensible happiness. Even if I had (have) met someone who makes my ice-cold heart flutter, as you said, I would hope you know me well enough to know that I wouldn't let it change my perspective on life. I mean, seriously. Did all that time we spent dating mean nothing to you?? It meant something to me... I guess I see how it is...

... I'm kidding. Good to hear from you too.

Sarah, I wasn't lying to you. It is all part of my meaningful framework for life... And it only costs $4.10 for a grande. Now if that ain't happiness, I don't know what is.

Matt, I agree completely. Welcome to the Realm!

"Assigned meaning is no less relevant than intrinsic meaning, especially when the latter may not (or does not) exist at all."

Bravo. I always think of life as "Calvin Ball" from Calvin and Hobbes: there's no clear objective, you make up the rules as you go along, nobody's quite sure who's really winning or losing, but you're having a great time while doing it.

Did all that time we spent dating mean nothing to you?? It meant something to me... I guess I see how it is...

Oh, please. If you had been even half as interested in me as you were in your organic chemistry textbook, we might have actually had something. Lesson learned: never date a guy who finds an enantiomer more sexy than you in a bathing suit.

Lisa, I love when you talk dirty to me. Enantiomers are so four years ago though. Come back to the States and I promise to have many new academic topics to find more interesting than you in a bathing suit.

Rohit, you are such an asshole. Lisa... How/why did you ever date him??

What can I say? I guess I have a thing for maladjusted, emotionally unavailable assholes with cute curly hair. Too bad you didn't wear eyeliner back in the day, Rohit. It might have been true love.

Ow, my head hurts. When is Phil going to write the Cliff Notes version of this?

Lisa, it still could be true love, but only if you (still) have a favorite amino acid.

Garett, I tried to write a Cliff Notes version of this for 1524, but my head started hurting reading my own writing. Phil better get on it so all of us can understand the enlightenment I delivered with this entry.

Thus spoke Camus.

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