What are you mourning for?

My lost life.

I got lost and side-tracked; I traded my time to the great capitalism machine; I feel consumed. It is now harder for me to feel genuine happiness, senses of achievement, appreciation and wonder. It is also harder for me to experience empathy, gratitude, for all the relationships around feels blatantly utilitarian.

I sense my increasing tolerance to the selfish, the utilitarian, the aggressive, the materialistic, and the narcissistic. I don’t dare to speak out, fearing my voice is perceived as naive or opinionated. I feel that my heart has been empty inside for a long time.

A person with an empty heart does not experience anguish.

Why do you think speaking out is important? Does it help because your friends can then see your agony and share their thoughts? Does it help because it helps you to understand your yearnings? Does the feeling of anguish makes you feel alive?

All of them, I guess.

At some point you said that this is not enough. Tell me why.

Because it does not really change how everything is functioning. So I feel that I am not doing anything to change the situation. But now you ask it, I think it is still helpful, when it ignites a rational conversation about the problems that I am deeply concerned about, instead of just continuous rambling about it inside my head.

Do you regret your choice three years ago--the act that you traded yourself to the "machine"--I would rather say a "black house"--at that point?

No. It is a risk that I need to take. And I find it worthwhile even ex post. I get exposed to a diverse set of ideas, those contradicting the beliefs that I have taken for granted. There are freedom of speech, equal rights movements, things that I considered as a privilege rather than a basic human rights. I get the opportunity to attend courses and lectures in sociology, psychology and computer science, where the ideas in my own field are fiercely and relentlessly attacked.

It is the time when your existing beliefs are smashed and reconstructed. It is when you unlearn many perceptions you have taken for granted, and try to acquire them with new eyes. The process is painful, because it shatters the core of your values. But this is also what makes the experience so valuable.

So you are dissatisfied not because you made the wrong decision.

No. But I am angry with myself, because I haven’t lived up to my own expectation. I am being less patient, drawn to what delivers immediate gains of achievements and fame, those that are measurable. I stopped reading philosophy and sociology; I forgot about the great treasures in history, the distilled wisdom from our ancestors. And then, just as many others, I turn to arrogantly believe that the problems that we collectively face is unsurmounted, even if they could be very much the same with all the previous challenges at the core.

This is not the darkest time of your life, if you remember. And you survived last time.

Well, that’s not a fair thing to say — “you survived last time so you will definitely do this time”.

Are you trying to argue against me by stating that every challenge is brand new? That sounds contradictory to what you just said.

I think last time I went through because I wasn’t “awake” or “sane” enough.

There you go. It is quite hard to imagine how that poor soul could be transformed to its current shape without actually seeing it. It just felt impossible at that point.

So tell me, what helps?

Probably the required reading of works in sociology and political science, research methodology, etc. And the environment that encourages (somewhat) free thinking and open discussion. The environment wasn’t perfect obviously, but the exposure to contrasting ideas and the opportunity to participate in some of the discussions myself forces me to think more rationally and rigorously about the justifications of the common as well as my own perceptions and attitudes.

Also, back then there was my belief about the power of rationality, about deductive reasoning, about the attainability of truth and wisdom.

I thought you said all the pursuits are futile and Sisyphean.

I said so — but that is meant to be a statement to establish confidence in human will. In the case of Sisyphus, his will never changes, despite that the external force continuously sets him back. To some extent this is actually a blessing, because you continuously have something to strive for, to perfect; your life never ceases to have meaning as long as you are still striving for a great ideal.

I think my deep frustration starts from the moment I realize that my belief itself can shift to a totally opposite side, and that the world can be so ambivalent to allow you to hold any firm belief on. If truth may not even exist, how am I supposed to find it?

This doesn't seem a valid reason though. "Truth may not exist" is practically not so much different from "truth exists for sure but I just don't know yet what it is". It is just a double-layered versus a single-layered randomness; uncertainty versus risk. It is not equal to saying that "truth does not exist at all".

Okay I agree with this. But there are also abundant instances where the answer is not black-or-white. Like the “balance” that has become a cliche. For example, what is the proper “scope” towards life? Should I say all will die eventually so nothing matters? Or should I say life is nasty, brutish and short, so just indulge yourself in dramatizing every moment of this short life?

If I decide to take the short life more seriously, which part of me — Id, ego or superego — should I serve? Is personal wellbeing not worth emphasizing, or should it be taken care of for the sake of people who I care about and care about me? Is intention or action more important? How much should I entertain the social expectation or satisfy my own career aspiration, without sacrificing my own sanity?

Can you explain the "sanity" part?

Yes. So it is like “I will be insane if I become too obsessed with the chase for fame, wealth and social status, while at the same time neglecting truly valuable things in life, such as friendship, family, wisdom, the pursuit of social justice, and the appreciation of genuine beauty”. It is like you come across ego-centric and flamboyant people but you don’t want to appear too intolerant so you tell yourself it is fine as long as they are intellectually admirable (??!) It is like you conform to the stated emphasis on appearances in the corporate world and religiously adhere to it, just because the stake is so high. It is like focusing so much at making your own voice heard to fight against discrimination, that you start to become defensive and ignore what others say.

I would suggest you to read more history, and a large dose of tragedies.


Because when saying these, you do not realize that many other lives are more nasty, more brutish and shorter than yours. You still have abundant opportunities to change what you don't like, either about the surroundings or about yourself.

It will be truly arrogant to believe that your problem is uniquely unsolvable. It might or might not be, and old problems may resurface, but that's the Sisyphean part.

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