Existence Is Futile21 March 2016
It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m spending the most romantic day of the year at home alone, listening to the gravitational waves of two black holes colliding (hey, it’s not as sad as watching another Colin Firth rom-com). If you’d asked me to guess, I would’ve thought two black holes impacting would sound really cool, like an explosion or like a really big rubber duck getting caught in the drain after a giant bath-plug has been pulled. Turns out, it sounds more like a crappy meditation track from the ’90s.
In case you were curious, pitting two vacuum cleaners against each other doesn’t create the same effect. Not that I tried or anything.
Now, there’s something about listening to an unfathomably massive cosmic event that happened 1.3 billion years ago via the Internet which can send you spiralling into an existential crisis. Mundane human life seems so insignificant when you look at the scale of things. Why are we even here? What’s the point? We could be in the Matrix, the creator of which could’ve said: “Do you know what would be really meta? If we put a movie into the Matrix called The Matrix”. Reality could be a lie, people!
Here’s the thing though: it seems to me as though everyone and their dog is having an existential crisis these days (are dogs even real? We’re completely reliant on our senses – what if they’re lying and there are no dogs, only people dressed in dog suits?). Conversations regularly turn into laments that death is inevitable. Sitting in horrified silence, steeped in the realisation that life might not have a meaning seems to be a completely normal procrastination method, preferable at least to the four assignments coming up. Has there been a cultural shift towards this kind of thinking or have people throughout time always been having these crises? Or maybe this is all because I’m an Arts student and surrounded by people paying for the privilege of being unemployed which, to be fair, is enough to send anyone into the clutches of spiritual agony.
So is our generation any different to those before it when it comes to contemplating life, death and the universe?
The phrase “existential crisis” really took off around 1960, according to the Google N-gram viewer, which is the most reliable source I could’ve ever used ever (look, I’ll even reference it: Google). As religion plays less and less of a role in our lives, most people don’t have as much of a cornerstone upon which to base their understanding of life, death, etc. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, you want answers now.
This is one explanation. Another is that education is more accessible nowadays, meaning that critical thought is encouraged and enlightenment – or downward spirals into despair, depending on how you want to think about it – is more prevalent. I also imagine that the media takes a role in this apparent shift. The celebrity culture we have is a reminder that we aren’t necessarily destined to move through life in an “education-job-marriage-retirement-death” fashion, and that the most ordinary-seeming people can shoot to fame and make a difference in the world. This gets us thinking about our own purpose here on earth. The internet, too, can be a forum for debating our existence and for discovering new viewpoints, particularly from other cultures, which could also be a cause behind these questioning states of confusion. Maybe our generation is indeed treated to more blissful pondering about death and colliding black holes.
On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong and this is all just because I’m in Arts and on a trajectory to unemployment. But employment is just a construct, right? RIGHT?