Existential Work in Progress
Want to know something no one ever says? For all those who thought yes, thank you for your desperation to read something enlightening; sorry to disappoint. For all you cynical snobs who said no just to spite me in my writing, I hope you have a fantastic life.
“I cannot wait to have a midlife identity crisis!” Let’s analyze a couple of words in this fear invoking saying really quickly. Midlife. Which means its supposed to happen when youre 43, while watching Friends on Netflix, and eating a hot pocket on your old couch that smells like your cat, Socks. Crisis. Crisis is a nice use of rhetorical flourish to make this sound like something to look forward to! I don’t know about you but whenever I hear the word crisis, I run right towards the place it’s coming from because I know I’ll have a good time. NOT.
With that out there, welcome to the essay that is a synopsis of a few things that can help you experience one of these wonderful, monumental events early, late or right on time depending on which cycle around the sun you are on. Now, you must be wondering, “What on Earth and all the heavens above can be in this article that is so profound to spark one of the most dreaded experiences of a person’s life!?” Well, my curious friends, existentialism of course.
As a 15 year old girl, I feel as if I’ve had my fair share (if not more) of midlife crises. Though, I hate to call them that. I am not planning on dying at 30- that would be a little unfortunate- so from now on we are going to disregard the phrase “midlife crisis.” Instead, we are going to refer to it as an existential crisis. Yet, still, I dont think the word crisis is very fitting. Crisis has such a negative connotation that I feel it is misleading. Even though at the time you may feel like you are drowning, looking back you can see that through your seeming drowning, you may have learned how to swim. Existential realizations, per say, are not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, I would argue it is something you should embrace.
For some people, their existential realizations are evanscent. For others, like me, they are seemingly lifelong. But what exactly is existentialism in the first place? The Merriam Webster dictionary definition is: a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent, determining their own development through acts of will. That is to mean that you are not born with a certain essence (i.e. purpose) rather, through living, you create it yourself. Subsequently, nothing has meaning unless you give it meaning. So, throwing it back to one of the most pessimistic (or realistic depending on how you look at it) and problematic existential philosophers, Fredrick Nietzchze explains, nothing matters.
This is where the crisis part comes in to play. An existential crisis involves questioning the meaning of life and purpose of ones existence. It usually arises when people start ot understand and comprehend the meaninglessness of their lives. This can be incredibly disheartening. Knowing that your life doesn’t, and will never, matter is not something extrodinarility comforting to think about- generally. Philosophers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre argue that one either happily embraces the meaninglessness of life (enjoying the associated freedom), or remain in a depressed state. So, if we embrace the meaninglessness, we may find joy in that journey through oblivion. If not, you’re basically screwed. Ultimately it solely our decision.
With that as our basis of understanding, we are going to move into something I like to call, Avalynism. Founded on the basis that embracing meaninglessness and the espousal of existential thinking can be incredibly empowering. The following parts of this, too long, essay (article, piece of literature, fire starter??) will be a short, and most definitely incomplete, list of existential/metaphysical/absurdist observations that I have made (but I guarantee have been already made previously) in my roughly 137,687 hours of living.
Philosophy of Self
The keystone of philosophical observations and questions is universally accepted as, “Would you like fries with that?” Just kidding! In all seriousness it is, “Who are you?”
We are defined by how people interpret us. Everything that we are and everything we do, is left to be interpreted by the observers of us. Then in their minds, they will create a perception of what we, what you as a person, are. To them you are that person. Yet, to a different individual, you could be totally different. Subsuqently, you probably perceive yourself as a completely different than how other people distinguish you.
We as people are various. Put simply, we are a small, clay figuring that is sculpted in peoples minds. In each mind that we preside in, we may be slightly or majorly different. We are not one singular person. We are a multiple and ever changing idea. That is why it is impossible to answer the question, “Who are you?” Since the only valid answer would be, “It depends” or “I don’t know.”
At this moment, I would like to invite you to close your eyes. But before you do, here is what you are going to do when you close your eyes. Listen to everything that is going on in your head. Acknowledge all the thoughts that exist within a sphere only you can access. Go.
Welcome back. Most of you probably didn’t participate in my little thought experiment, but that’s fine. Just think of all those thoughts you just became aware of in the past 10 seconds or so. Now how many of them would you actually share?
We have been taught, through societal expectations or frustrated parents who did not want to keep getting phone calls about how their child kept saying *insert something heinous but funny here*, to filter ourselves. To, “think before you speak.”
The thoughts that we share, we deem to be appropriate for the context we are in. If you shared different ones then the ones you choose to, you would be interpreted as a completely different person to the people who are listening to you. Thus changing the way they interpret you- becoming a different person.
Because of the depth of our consciousness, we all have a multitude of different personalities, per say. The difference is some you choose to express and some you choose to suppress. Our minds access a variety of different sectors in a multitude of different avenues. We choose to sort and filter through those thoughts silencing ones that do not fit our arbitrary weighing mechanism of what is appropriate. So would it be right to say we are more defined by our inexpression than expression? If you think about it, we all have schizophrenia. The difference is the majority of us have the power to not express different personas.
So what that boils down to, which may not be the most pleasant thing to think about, we are not a “person”. All that we are, all that we have the capacity to be, is an idea. We don’t have the aptitude to be anything more as we only exist in the mind. In the mind of others, and ourselves (we only interpret ourselves through our mind). Because of our personal manipulation of how we express ourselves, we are not “genuine” people. It is impossible to “know who you are” when the only thing we know is what we have taught ourselves to be. I find this incredibly exasperating. The inability to know who or what I am is something that I find extraordinarily maddening. I find myself powerless to describe myself and my personality since all I am is who I choose to express myself as. I choose to be outspoken and kind. Nevertheless, sometimes I just want to stay silent and I do think rude things. I am, we all are, walking contradictions.
Yet, slowly, I have begun to recognize how this can be used liberatingly. Because of this, we get to choose who we want to be. We have full control to construct our own essence and no one else has power over that. If we have natural characteristics and urges that we detest, we have the authority to reject those things, and express something differently. We have the ability to take control of the reigns that control our lives, and learn to guide ourselves. The agency and independence that can be garnered through embracing the uncertainty of who we are, is immense. We may not be certain where we are going or who we are, but that’s okay. So now say this with me: I may not know who I am, but I am slowly figuring out who I want to be, and that’s what’s important.
Purpose of Life
So, as previously established, we get to create our own purpose. This means that we aren’t born with any inherent purpose, but rather through living, we determine it for ourselves. It may be comforting to know that whatever you choose to do as your purpose, won’t really matter. In a universe as expansive as ours, anything that we decided to do, is not going to have any real impact. We could blow up our entire world and it wouldn’t affect the rest of the universe in any substantial way. Because of this integral fact of the universe, nothing we do can or will really matter. “The world doesn’t revolve around you.” Yeah well the universe doesn’t revolve around our world either. We, as habitants of earth, are completely pointless to the universe and many meaning that we may say it has, is because we have given our existence meaning ourselves.
What we do in our short lives we are given, is something we can apply meaning to. Your purpose is whatever the hell you want it to be. There are no obligations you should align yourself to, no expectations. Your obligation is to you, and yourself only, because that is all you can control and have complete influence over. The only thing that matters is what you say matters. In the whole scheme of things, whatever you do here on Earth is not going to matter. So have courage and start living your life how you want to. Love everything you do because if you don’t love it you’re wasting your time. We don’t have an infinite amount of time here to live your life. Whether or not your life is going to matter or not, it’s not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the limited time you have existing. Existence is temporary- you won’t exist forever, so take advantage of it now.
Discourse and Language
Words are something I have always found incredibly fascinating. The power of words to make people feel, learn, and develop is one of the most phenomenal things to ever exist. Yet when we look at words themselves, it gets a little less phenomenal and lot more vexing.
Have you ever recognized how arbitrary language is? Some people just decided that a couple of symbols and scratches sounded a certain way and meant a certain thing. Everything in existence is described and given an essence by words. A great example of this would be colors. It is a scientific fact that everyone interprets colors and hues differently. Now imagine if we were all taught colors “wrong.” Your blue could be my green. Your green could be my yellow. Your red could be my purple and thus this large disconnect, that many might not even recognize, is formed. That is because colors are arbitrary. Yet, so is the rest of everything else that we attribute words to.
This previously mentioned divide exists in a lot of different sectors of our lives and just grows when it comes to all the different and various languages. Something that was originally used and created to help bring people together (language), is something that is used to spread people further apart. An apple is only an apple because I have been taught that is what it’s called. An apple is also poma, alma, obuoliu, pomme, јабука, tat-tuffieħ, etc. So what is it originally? There isn’t an answer to that. The way language has advanced from the root of its development means that it is impossible to attribute an object to a certain word because that word changes. We have a reliance on discourse and language to extract meaning in things. But that begs the question of what are those things inherently? I don’t know. But that means that until we can derive the inherent “name” of the different objects we label with a word, we should consider that label inaccurate.
Words do not exist. Words only exist because we say that they do. We see an object and we give it a label, a word. But the word itself doesn’t exist, the object does. I think that is interesting. An apple isn’t an apple, it is just a thing that we call an apple. Names are like that too. When a small fetus pops out of the uterus, the parents look at it and give it a label. It doesn’t make very much sense since that word has no value or relevance or any tie really to what that child is. In Native American culture they gave/give names depending on certain attributes the person displays throughout a lifetime. For example, a kid who jumps around and eats a lot might be called Jumping Pig. This makes a lot more sense than looking at a fetus and automatically deciding to call it “Thomas.”
So what this means is that because of language and because of our perception of the world. Nothing really exist. An apple doesn’t exist, a thing we call an apple exists (we don’t have proof that we actually exist though we only think we exist fun fact [pardon all the apple examples I am really craving one right now]). Yet, you don’t have to believe me on that which leads into my next sections.
The Existence of Truth
Now I hate to break it to you (lol not really but I will say I am), but there is no such thing as a truth. All truths that we know are just based off of our own individual perceptions of truth. Therefore, truth is arbitrary and relative, fluctuating from person to person. Because of this variance, it’s impossible for a universal truth to exist. This can be attributed to that fact that there will always be at least one person who disagrees. Unless a truth is true to everyone, there is no universal truth. Thus, there is no such thing as an absolute truth. Simple.
This can be show best by the fact that I am telling you this now and you get to choose whether you agree or not. To tie in the previous section, we are going to examine the law of gravity. Say everyone agrees on the fact that gravity is a thing. Yet, because we associate the word “gravity” with the force of “gravity,” saying that gravity is a thing is inaccurate. Why? Because we don’t know what the inherent name for that law is, we just call it by a nickname, per say, a label. It is also not gravity because in different languages it takes on a different name. Gravity is also not a thing if someone lived their life flying. To them, they defy gravity and so to their perspective, it is not a thing. Thus, it is not a universal truth. This is a very oversimplified example but the point gets across. The only things that we know are based off of our perception of reality.
Perception and its relation to the determinate of truth, is something that a lot of people struggle to recognize. Many people have a certain set of beliefs, different knowledge’s that have been obtained, and that is what they believe as truth. Yet, when people believe they know the truth, it is hard to say that other people may also know the truth if their views are contradictory. The fact that truth is subjective and dependent can really influence the way people view the world. An example that comes to mind when I think of this would be looking at marginalized groups. Their perception of reality and the truths they have are molded and shaped through the experience of having to face and overcome their oppression. Because members who are not of those groups do not experience that oppression, many deny that it exists allowing it to be perpetuated. The first step to being able to help and assist those groups, is to recognize the validity of their experience, to be able to work towards overcoming it. When we are able to try to perceive and understand the “Other” and their relation of truth we become more open minded. So, just because it may not be true for us, doesn’t mean it is not true for them.
Another thing I would like you to consider, is that we only observe truth from the able-minded human perspective. Differently-abled minds are not taken into consideration in discussions of truth. We disregard their perspective and input as we have been groomed to believe they are lesser. This ableist mindset is excluding an entire, important section of our our from participating in pedagogy.
Secondly, in regards to ontology, women and people of color have been historically excluded from participating in the creation and absorption of knowlege. The knowledge that we “know” right now, is predominately from the white, male perspective. Since others have been, and are currently in the status quo, being excluded. When we critically examine the different planes that establish the foundation of our reality, we allow for different voices and perspectives to become accounted for. Our society is founded on truth that women, people of color, and disabled bodies have not been allowed to help create.
(In regards the previous two paragraphs, specifically in relation to how women are excluded [but it is completely transferable to the other factors I brought up], I highly recommend the book: Boys Will Be Boys- Breaking the Link between Masculinity and Violence by Myriam Miedzian)
What we believe to be true and not true is the foundation for who you are as a person. For example, religious beliefs. Many people have a religious basis that they believe to be true. Yet, for every one person that believes their church to be true, there is another that knows that the believers church is wrong, and that their personal beliefs are correct. This causes contention. Many people (myself included) find it very difficult to be told they are wrong. This is transferable in politics, theology, food preference, music taste, and most facets of everyday life. Once we embrace the fact that truth and a “correct side” may not exist, we will be more agreeable people with a more open minded outlook on life.
Here is the thing. I can go on forever and ever trying to explain the discrepancies that exist in our universe. Yet, that would be semi-counterproductive. I cannot be the one to determine and work through these things for you. For maximum growth and development (no, this is not a steroid ad) you have to be willing to do it yourself. Ask the hard questions. Embrace the lack of answers or come up with some of your own. It will challenge you to exercise both your heart and mind. Be brave. Sometimes you’ll feel lost, without direction, and that’s exactly where you want to be. You will find your way again to something, somewhere incredible. Being lost calls for reevaluation. Allow these things to lead you places.
Now, I’m going to be completely honest. Sometimes my existential realizations do feel like crises. Nevertheless, now I am working on running towards it. Slowly, but surely, I am moving towards finding comfort in my madness. Now, I would invite you to join in your own little exploration to finding your essence. So here are three questions that can be your introduction to having an existential realization.
Who are you?
Where did you come from?
Where do you want to go from here?
A fourth inspirational, philosophical questions for kicks:
Do you want fries with that?