This Dystopian Life
Finding joy in an abyss of meaninglessness.
I wasn’t always a nihilist. I believe I had to level up several times over, the way a chess-master first learns to beat his friends, then his mother, then his father, then an amateur, then a pro. You conquer the trivialities of life’s basic truths. You write them onto a post-it. You hold it in your hand and watch as the wind whisks it away.
It’s hard to smile in these times. “In this economy” now swapped out for “in Trump’s America” — a barren, ghostly dystopia where the screams are loud and the silence is louder. It’s morning. And it’s mourning. The buildings are still there, but the people have all gone home, or to war with their darker selves. You get the sense that the Millennial generation was hand-drawn to have front-row seats to the end of the world, and god’s great joke was to snicker while he watched them bang their heads against the sides of the planet hoping some last sliver of hope would release itself. Watching the “everybody gets a trophy” generation turn into the “nobody deserves a trophy” generation in the span of their young adult years has been a fascinating and heartbreaking longitudinal study.
It’s also been exasperating to watch the Millennial generation build Facebook into the coolest hang-out spot since the uptown mall, flee like hell to Snapchat once they realized their notoriously uncool parents had gravitated there, and then get hitched up, pop out a couple kids, and use Facebook exactly the way their parents did — as a scrapbook for life’s most treasured intimate moments, or, alternatively, as a place to spread fake memes about the links between ISIS and Pizza Hut. Don’t Google that. I’m sure there’s something.
And, so, here we are. Lording over our mini-empires of foolish folly. It’s getting harder and harder to determine what matters. But in light of all this outrage and sadness, and tragedy and horror, and futility and failure, I have to ask the question only a man down to his last bottle and wit’s end would dare to ask: Does life matter? I mean … does it?
You’re born. You learn a few things. You earn a few dollars or bitcoins. You make a couple things and clean your room a few times, you take a few summer vacations to somewhere relatively convenient, you watch your friends and family marry off and then die off. Maybe you procreate. And then you go. And that’s it. The whole act wraps itself up in a tidy three-quarters-of-a-century — or, just about as long as it’s been between Hitler and Trump. It feels long, because life feels long — but only days are long; years are short. Purpose remains elusive.
Leave it to humans to ascribe something so aggrandizing and delusional to their fixed position in space-time as “purpose.” Only a human would take the sum of all random acts of biology, chemistry and physics since the dawn of time that led to their chance existence on this miracle planet in this chronological micro-blip and filter it through a lens of “meaning.” It’s all meaningless. We are all surrealist punchlines in the grand cosmic joke of the universe.
Some people find their purpose through the community they were born in, doing their part to make their small corner of this space-rock a little more colorful than it was when they first exited the womb. I could never. I would rather sail a thousand seas than spend my life cooped up in a 300,000-inhabitant icebox of snowy sadness that voted 57% for Trump in the last election, a hell-scape that freezes a good chunk of its men into trying the military or opioids or both, and brainwashes its women into marry young without knowing a good chunk of other options like college or feminism or running the goddamned world like the bad-ass women you would want your daughters to be. No. My home did not define me, and so I left it. What you’re born into shouldn’t be the hill you die on.
Some find purpose through family. I haven’t started one. And so I am the lone wolf in sheep’s clothing. Everyone is my family. But they are only so welcoming because they’re really other wolves waiting to eat me. So I stay running to avoid capture. On to the next edge of the world.
Some find purpose through work. Deep, meaningful work. I can understand that. I get satisfaction from mine. But then it’s five-o-clock somewhere, and we’re released into the darkness — biding time until the light, hoping to close our eyes sooner to get the current day over with and the next day started, endlessly and blindly optimistic that the next day’s light will yield a brighter future.
But in that future there’s still Trump. Brexit. The Philippine Drug Raids. Putin. Ukraine. Erdogan. Syria. North Korea. There are not enough “I Like That”s, or pictures of Justin Trudeau hugging baby pandas in the world to save us from the proliferation of boogeymen aching to crush us, to bake us on an unsustainable warming planet, starve us into submission, ruin us of our hard-earned blockchain/bitcoin or whatever, and drive wedges between us in a mushroom cloud of xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia. Are we doomed? Is this real life? Is anything working? Test … test … is this thing on?
Some days, this feels like the boat at the end of the world. The show is over. The jig is up. There is no gold at the end of the rainbow. There is no afterlife. There is no final boss to beat. There is no nirvana or paradise or freedom. There is no harmony. There is no permanence. All we are is fleeting, floating specks of space dust in an infinite abyss of nothing. The ruling class knows this. They know we are nothing. Because, secretly, they know that they are. What is the point of nothing? What is anything multiplied by zero?
There is a scene at the end of the 1998 film The Truman Show which, for all the silliness and hammy posturing leading up to it, is one of the most profoundly sad scenes in all of film.
In it, the protagonist sails a small yacht to the edge of a world that’s been created for him, only to find that the endless horizon is merely a metal wall painted to look like the sky. His face screams, without his mouth saying a word, “This is all that there is.” He climbs a staircase to nowhere, to a door no one could ever find without looking for it, marked “exit.” And he rages against his creator, raging against the universe that’s been created for him, pleading and begging to be understood that he is his own, independent thing and not the star of a manufactured piece of deceit made to please and engage a world he now finds he knows nothing of, and cares nothing for. He opens that door. He stares into the blackness. Into the abyss of the “out there.” And he walks away. People cheer, but that is no happy ending. Why?
Because there is no escape. The world “out there” is no different than the world in here. The cheering masses who root for you are the ones who keep the show on the air. You can never escape the demons outside and the demons within. You can never run away from a universe with walls on all sides. Even should you find the light at the end of the tunnel, there’s a coin-flip’s chance it may or may not be a train. There’s men with guns. Men with nukes. Men with agendas and axes to grind. They’re all out there. Occasionally, you are that man. When you’re told you’re a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. If only we knew we were neither hammers nor nails, just a bunch of mismatched bits in a socket-wrench set.
I do not know where there is left to go. I do not know where the door is. I do not know where the wall is. I do not know where the windows are, or the camera is, or when the machines will rise to wipe us all away. I only know we are here. And that I am walled in. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you believe in something. Maybe you have someone to hold you, to momentarily shield you from an afterlife of eternal loneliness. And maybe that’s enough — I hope for you that’s enough.
There’s an alternate world that we used to believe in. One where love was enough. One where unity was enough. The liberal dream of the late 1960s, of tying yellow ribbons around the old oak tree and putting flowers in your hair if you’re going to San Francisco and of all you need is love, and it flamed out spectacularly. Love more. Love harder. Love wins. Love Trumps Hate. They said. And we would be free. And we would be equal. And we were all wrong. All so very, very wrong. Hope is not a strategy. Belief is not a truth. Maps are not territories. And beyond the horizon lies another cruel world.
That violent world — the one in which we find ourselves imprisoned — is won by demagogues, populist movements, big-ass guns, gold, gods and land. It’s always been. From Sparta to the Spanish Inquisition. From the Norman Conquest to the Nazis. From Carthage to Communism. We remember the revolutions and the Alamo. We tell war stories. We’re tested on the depression. And then tested by depression once more.
History doesn’t rhyme, it repeats. The world doesn’t grow, it just changes. Life is different now, but not different enough that any of the wars, famine, disease, starvation, racism, rape, inventions, vaccinations, information, media, movements, consumerism, capitalism, communism, liberalism, libel, scripture or gospel has made one damn bit of difference. Where is left to go? I do not know the answer to this. I’m just a man who spends 4,000 words trying to find a 14-word soundbite that ties the whole mess together.
But there is no neat pithy quote that sums up all of life. There is no guiding light. There are no answers. There’s the 24 hours in front of you, and the people around you, and your next meal. And there’s joy to be found in all of those, if you allow yourself to receive it. I do.
So, does life matter? Yes. Yes it does. Unequivocally. Because through all the emptiness, aimlessness, atrocity, failed states, genocides, broken dreams, rage, rogue technologies, mental prisons, madmen, doomsday clocks, sadness, hatred, soul-sucking jobs, there is still you. There is still me. There is still us. And while we’re still upright, breathing, feeling, chasing and dreaming, we matter because we create the reality that shapes us.
We have the power to beat back the forces that drown us in defeatism. We have the power to re-frame and re-imagine the world that we live in, in our own tiny way, on this own tiny plot of real estate in the vast expanse of the cosmos. For when we die, our suffering ends, but others’ do not. So if we can ease the burden of suffering across time, if we can tilt the axis of madness and meaninglessness a little closer to what works best and sweetest for all, then life matters. Our life matters. Your life matters. Bend the arc of humanity toward a greater sense of kindness and love. Think about it. Fight for it. We will not end suffering in our lifetime, but we can contribute to dampening its affect. We can share in the suffering. We can struggle together. We can find a way to re-purpose it for the greatest of good. Maybe even laugh about how although all this is random, none of it is meaningless. We may not have a purpose, but we can create one if we believe in it.
So, I don’t know, man … maybe make the most of the time you have left, be kind to the people who decide to cross your path, and enjoy the hell out of some tuna tartare. Because everything else? It’s total bullshit. It’s nothing. They’re just forces imposed upon you by a reality created by everything that’s ever happened since the dawn of time, since the advent of humanity, by the structures that contain us all, and by the people who keep the dystopia machine running. Everything you love will die. And all this can end at any time. But that isn’t going to stop me from bleeding onto a keyboard if I choose to, erring on the side of kindness because I need to, nor inhaling an entire pizza because I want to. And if you want to do any of those things with me, too, then you’re welcome to dance in the joyous sunshower of dystopia with me together, and we can kiss in the rain as the world burns a little bit less tomorrow than it burned today.
But, if I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.