Some might call me a cynic. Others may call me a nihilist. But when asked whether the glass is half full or half empty, I’m not sure how to respond. It’s half something, that’s for sure. But I don’t believe in such trivial phrases and questions. I don’t believe that such labels really have any bearing on my outlook in life. But then what do I believe in, you might ask? I believe in the perpetual, yet futile struggle of humanity and the self.
I’ve always had this belief, I suppose, but it became more prominent when I discovered two authors by the names of Chuck Palahniuk and Kurt Vonnegut. I distinctly remember the first time I picked up a book by Chuck Palahniuk. It was infamous Fight Club, if I’m not mistaken. The book had been recommended by a friend, who had said that it was one of the best books he’d ever read. A little bit skeptical, I chose to read it under the pretense that it was a mediocre book. But from the first page, I was captivated, entranced by the fact that someone shared the same hopeless feelings for humanity and the self as I did. I sped through the book, bedazzled by the fact that this man had managed to create a book with a sort of philosophy attached. After I finished the book, I didn’t rush to read more of his books, though. I just thought. I thought about how such a minuscule thing – pieces of paper with ink – could change my beliefs. Later on, the same friend recommended a book by Kurt Vonnegut. The same thing happened. I wondered about these books. I wondered about how these books could have such a large impact on my beliefs. But most of all, I thought about how these books had cemented my beliefs.
For instance, take mankind’s progression. Not much has changed, yet so much has changed. It is clear that it’s developed a plethora of cures, medicines, weapons, and other “scientific breakthroughs.” But what of them, then? Things have changed, but not in the way that mankind claims. Stone circles have turned into churches and cathedrals. Sticks and spears have progressed into atomic bombs. Pharmacists have taken the place of witch doctors. From my perspective, mankind has been existing for thousands of years, but what has come of love? Of hate? I’ve been on this same enormous hunk of rock for fifteen years. I’ve revolved around the same mass of incandescent gas for fifteen years. It’s just the same as it was then, so why would it have changed?
I believe that the self, in itself, is superfluous. I believe that the amount of potential that is stored inside of us is disproportionate to the amount that is put to use. The innumerable number of experiences I could have daily is incomprehensible. I could go fly a kite, or meet someone new, or bungee jump. I could do things I cannot even fathom, because I have conditioned not to be able to fathom them. But I am here, typing this essay. The self follows a gentle rise and fall of peaks and troughs throughout its existence, each day varying just slightly from the last. But the same thoughts are thought, the same things are seen, and it responds in a similar manner. Kurt Vonnegut’s and Chuck Palahniuk’s books, however, have brought this fact to my attention. They’ve provoked a thought process that involves thinking, to put it bluntly. Instead of repeating my days over and over again, I try to find the possibilities of the moment, searching and questioning for what every moment could become.
I’m not saying that I know how to force all of the potential out of myself. I’m certainly not saying that I know how to force myself into seeing the potential of each moment of every day. I don’t believe that a deus ex machina is going to solve all of these problems. But I do believe that the solution doesn’t involve conforming to societal norms. It doesn’t involve fitting a mold. And if you asked me sum up my belief in a couple sentences, I’d give you a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Cat’s Cradle. It goes like this. “I remembered the Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirely the night before. The Fourteenth book is entitled, ‘What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, given the Experience of the Past Million Years?’ It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period. This is it: ‘Nothing.’”