Inspired by Zach Bornstein’s New Yorker essay: A Typical Day
2 minute read:
Inspired by Zach Bornstein’s New Yorker essay: A Typical Day
2 minute read:
Nihilism can be harmful and it’s not something to be overlooked. The worst problem is that a lot of people can’t understand the effects it can have on a person. They describe the person who is a nihilist as passive, lazy, irresponsible, a worthless clown, and indifferent.
If you are NOT a nihilist this list can help you better understand our lives. If you DO believe that all human endeavor is essentially meaningless and that we are ignorant specks of sand in the unfathomable universe, you’ll likely agree with the following statements:
1.) Decline invites to parties although you may want to go.
There are certain nights that you may have singled out on a Playboy calendar taped to your fridge (in one of your rare moments of motivated optimism). But when these nights arrive, nihilism rears its shrouded head, extinguishes any semblance of desire, and crushes your resolve. It can become so debilitating that you feel as if nothing exciting is happening in the entire world, especially not at Timmy’s birthday party.
You are aware of what is happening to you and you don’t want to become a burden where you are supposed to go (“BIRTHDAYS ARE JUST ANOTHER DAY TIMMY, JUST ANOTHER FUCKING DAY!”) – so you cancel everything.
2.) Secretly shrug off important life events that other people lose their shit over.
Whether it’s receiving a promotion, getting fired, buying a house, or getting kicked out by a landlord, you barely react to any of these occurrences. The truth is that everything is falling apart on the molecular level and the sun is going to explode, so why worry or celebrate?
You may forget a life-altering job interview, choose to eat Chinese by yourself on Christmas, fall asleep on the subway at 2pm and piss yourself, or spend ten hours watching “People are Awesome” YouTube videos in a dirty bathrobe. Whatever the case may be, people may get confused by the notion that you don’t care about anything at all.
3.) Go to bed early. Wake up late.
One of your favorite things to do is sleep. After another, uneventful, mundane 9-5 with your boss screaming, “You have no ambition you worthless bastard! My ten year old son could do a better job than you! I outta wipe that shit-eating grin off your face!” all you want is to submerge your mind in oblivion.
When the morning comes, you turn the TV and the lights off, wipe the Sriracha off your hairy chest, and curse the gods for bringing you into this empty world. When your nihilism has switched on (by any amount of reflection), you can’t do anything to switch it off, so you stand in the shower for 45 minutes until you almost develop a third degree burn.
4.) In every situation, the worst scenario makes you chuckle and the best scenario makes you sigh.
Instead of enjoying the moment how it is, or imagining riches and “success,” you can’t help picturing an asteroid colliding with the earth or a simple virus destroying humanity. If it’s a first date with a beautiful woman who is kind and intelligent, you can’t help but think, “Yup. Here we go again. Even if we end up falling passionately in love it will either crash and burn or wane into compromise and affection.”
If you get sick, you always manage to think: “FINALLY.” It’s as if your mind tricks you into thinking this petty suffering is the natural state of your crumbling existence.
5.) You forget things people say. Over and over again.
No matter how enthusiastically someone says something to you or how much bearing it has on your future, you forget it. That’s why you wear headphones at family reunions and, if people don’t know you, pretend to be deaf.
This constant mental fading and social withdrawal is borderline insanity, almost enough to be institutionalized, but not quite. You have to remind yourself that it is the old “nihilism ear-muffs” acting as a buffer, and that sometimes people can actually have interesting things to say.
6.) When someone shows concern about you, you feel surprised and suspicious.
If someone notices that you’ve been staring off into space for ten minutes without blinking, your nihilism becomes suspicious. The thing is, when someone cares about you in any way, it makes you suspect ulterior motives because why would someone ever notice an insignificant, mumbling zombie? A transient, purposeless ghost?
7.) You feel vaguely annoyed when the future comes up as a topic.
While most people look forward to the future and make concrete, exciting plans, your gray, hazy view makes you feel bored and weary. Oh, another Spider-Man movie? Wonderful.
8.) You unconsciously mutter senseless imprecations while browsing facebook.
“No way are all these people having THAT much fucking fun.”
9.) Often, you just don’t get out of bed…and parody bullshit, click-bait articles you find online.
Nihilism blunts most of your edge and destroys your drive for greatness. That’s why it’s a miracle if you function at all. Your state of careless indolence is a result of ceaseless contemplation on the ultimate futility of human action and the vastness of space and time…
So, please, don’t share this essay, not even with your stupid, best friend. Let it sink into the depths of the exponentially expanding internet swamp…
Cause it doesn’t fucking matter.
Despite what they have told you, it’s a compliment.
Callous Monster: a phrase used nowadays to insult someone for their insensitivity towards a multitude of things. If you don’t let a co-worker pawn their work off on you because their child is sick or they have tickets to see the March Madness tournament (you don’t know which is the case), you’re callous. If you don’t laugh at a dumb joke during a party or sing along to “Sweet Caroline,” you’re weird and unemotional. If you don’t express your personal troubles or something that’s bothering you to someone else, or provide a shoulder to cry on, you’re insensitive. If your mood happens to be in a funk and you feel horribly depressed, but don’t tell anyone about it and unburden your feelings on those around you, you’re seen as unemotional, withdrawn, AND insensitive.
Let me tell you something that goes against everything people have probably ever told you. Being unemotional and insensitive to the world can be very, very helpful, especially since it allows you to better help those you love, and can actually be healthy, beautiful, and fulfilling in the long run. It’s a precious gift. Your ability to not let others use you for their own, selfish gain and not be pulled in a thousand directions by the fickle world’s ceaseless demands, or your rioting emotions, is a talent that not many people possess, therefore many people do not understand.
Never let someone’s craving, criticizing, and grasping negativity towards this callousness bring you down. We are all guilty of thrashing against something that is unfamiliar to us: something that is different. We are all guilty of wishing someone would help or like us for no reason at all (because we’re all inherently likable). But take pride in knowing that the people you love and care about, deeply, are those who deeply love and care about you, and that you are doing your best to be a good, kind, hardworking person in your little corner of the world. You know that if you love everyone, you love no one. You know that if you try to please the entire world, you please nobody.
This gift of yours was meant to be utilized. It would not be a part of your personality if you were not meant to use it. Because of this gift, you will change someone’s life someday, someone like you who is also insulted for being callous and cold, but is still quietly trying to make the world a better place.
You might be the person who ignores the homeless man begging for a nickel and 5 minutes of your time, because your friend of 20 years is in the hospital and you’re rushing there to talk with him about his life and console his pain. You might be the person who doesn’t spend that extra hour in the bar talking to a stranger about their broken past, because you have a little daughter at home who you’d like to teach the alphabet. You might be that person who doesn’t have children and hurries past rehab centers and homeless shelters on your way home. Why? So you can compose a song that’s so achingly beautiful it prevents someone fifty years in the future from killing themselves.
To feel everything with every single part of your being is either a meaningless phrase or a horrifying thing. If you “feel everything,” then you’re like a rag doll being torn apart in a storm. If you put yourself out there for others too much, you risk serious and wasteful abuse.
So embrace every part of your monstrous self. There will be people who criticize your lack of heart and call you, “The Fucking Tin Man.” Feel sorry for them. There are people who are dishonest. There are people who are manipulative. There are people who are conniving and malicious. And the one thing these people say to put you down is, “You don’t feel anything at all. You don’t care about helping others. You’re nothing but a narrow, heartless bastard.” I’d rather not feel anything at all than expect others to feel things for me.
Life is not easy. It’s not easy if you have a facebook, or even if, god forbid, you don’t have one. It’s all about evolution. The people who are popular on the internet are usually better than everyone else and have a better chance of survival. And survival isn’t about putting particular moments of your life online, it’s about putting every shred of experience that means anything at all to you on your public wall: marriage, food, trips, pets, babies, plans, selfies, art, complaints, witticisms, call for donations, political opinions, blog posts, sports observations, or jokes. And when these things are “liked” you subconsciously want to post more and more, until you can’t stop and it consumes your life. Could you survive without facebook likes? Could you make it through one day without your second cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s brother validating your pineapple fried rice with a click of a button?
As a person who has never been a severe facebook-like addict, I can only speak from that perspective. My insight into your world is only through cyber stalking. I do not wish to sit in your comfortable desk chair and post twenty pictures of my dog in an hour. But I can tell you what it’s like to sit in mine – living extended periods of my life without a facebook.
Everyday I have people ignoring things I do and not caring at all about my discoveries or accomplishments. It may seem selfish and narrow, but I believe that the center of one’s being and the best emotions and experiences in one’s life are incommunicable and inexpressible. Yes, I like cyber pats on the back and documentation of what I’ve seen and done. But these pleasurable pricks of validation and ceaseless capturing of what you observe can cover up bigger things like powerful, life-changing emotions, self-development, insights, real laughter, real tears, patience, discipline, and actually listening to the people you’re spending time with. That being said, I believe that the desire for validation is no different for a facebook-like addict or a non-addict.
Daily, there are people out there who don’t care about what you think, observe, or do: this includes your friends, bosses, spouses, girlfriends, and parents – that is just a part of life. Being ignored and feeling angry because you didn’t take a picture of a beautiful sunset is as much as a part of living as joy, happiness, love, and having such a good time you forget to look at your phone. Dying alone and having everything pass away with time is the same for an addict as it is for a non-addict. The difference is how we react to and cope with this loneliness and transitoriness, whether our coping mechanisms are good or bad. I don’t know what hundreds of facebook likes does for an addict to help cope with the void inside of all of us. I don’t know the bursting high of receiving more than a thousand likes on a picture or a video. But I do know that my life would be boring and unsatisfying if I was always concerned with what the internet thought of my new haircut or political stance.
I have no doubt from observing you that you hated every day you were spending hours on facebook. I can see how your life was out of control, spiraling into a pit of hurt, hashtags, and despair. You were so lost that when your best friend came to your pigsty of an apartment and said, “Hey man, want to go on an all-expenses paid trip through the Amazon jungle with my nymphomaniac hot old sister?” you replied,
“Will there be wifi or cell phone service?”
I see your struggles without receiving facebook likes. More pain than joy. It’s a time in your life where the social scales aren’t balanced. You are working so hard to be a real person, when no one is there to react positively to your selfie in a mirror. There are so many confusions. What is the use, you may wonder? Do I even exist?
Being on facebook was the one place where you could craft your identity how you seemed fit. “I’m happy! I’m well-traveled! Look at me with friends! Look at the things I do!” It is a place that always accepted you. The life of facebook-likes you have known for just over a decade. That is the easy path to take.
But please know that the immediate pain and loneliness you will feel without facebook likes, now, will eventually fade.
Just as when my dog, Sheena, died when I was young there was terrible pain for me. I wanted to give her a ten minute belly rub in the morning to wake up her up, but I couldn’t. I flashed back to the good times, walking her everyday after school and letting her sniff around her favorite spot to shit, the neighbor’s front steps, but they were not to be anymore. I believe my desire to share my sadness with the internet and post pictures of her carcass on MySpace is something you are fighting against. Your old life must die, and there is tremendous pain with death. Each day you will want to post something on facebook to receive a “like” just one more time. And let me warn you that time may heal all wounds, but sometimes the emptiness you feel…when your co-worker’s son’s best friend doesn’t like your video of an orangutan swinging from a tree…lasts forever.
In time, the social scales will balance and you will be able to experience something without the reflexive thought: “I can’t wait to post this on facebook!” But for now, you must travel the difficult path of nobody noticing your life and find the will to be your own, glorious witness. You will become stronger and happier each time you think, “You know what, I’m not going take a picture of that sunrise, I’m just going to look at it and put my arm around my girlfriend,” and, “Hmm, maybe I’ll keep my opinions about the presidential candidates to myself.” It may be hard to see a path without cameras or status updates because the path to recovery is difficult. But please know that you can only walk this path alone – and that life is waiting out there for you to savor and grasp in all it’s brutal, fleeting reality. Just turn away from the screen, my friend, turn away…